American Airlines’ Foreign Based Flight Attendants

I’m always intrigued by where airline crews are based. For US carriers there are crew bases at most of their hubs as well as some focus cities, though it’s the stuff beyond that which fascinates me. For example:

  • Cathay Pacific has flight attendants and pilots based in San Francisco and Vancouver
  • While all Emirates pilots and flight attendants are based in Dubai, they’ll sometimes give preferential bidding to pilots flying home; for example, when I flew Emirates out of Dallas they had the first officer make the welcome aboard announcement, and he stressed how he was from Texas
  • Korean Air has pilots based at many of their destinations

I’ve flown American a lot over the years, and I thought I knew where all their bases were. As you’d expect, they have crews based in Charlotte, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, etc.

I even knew they had flight attendants based in Buenos Aires. I’ve only flown with them a couple of times, and they were horrible (which I guess shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since my experience on LAN Argentina wasn’t much better).

I didn’t realize that American has flight attendant bases in other Latin American cities, though.

Flying American out of Miami is always a completely different experience. You feel like you’re flying a foreign carrier and in another country, but that’s typically true even if you’re flying with a Miami based crew.

So I didn’t think twice when we boarded our Miami to Bogota flight last week, and the crew greeted everyone in Spanish, and seemed to have a much better grasp of Spanish than English. That makes sense since 90% of the passengers were Spanish speaking.

But after landing, the flight attendant thanked everyone for flying American on behalf of this “Bogota based crew.” I had no clue! And apparently they have crews based in several other cities in the region.

On the flight back I had a Bogota based crew again, and I asked them about it. They explained that they fly between Miami and various cities in Latin America, though they’re not allowed to work domestic US flights.

So they were flying from Bogota to Miami to Guayaquil, then the next day from Guayaquil to Miami, and then the next day from Miami to Bogota.

Latin-America

Fascinating stuff, as I had no clue American had these bases.

Just like American’s other crew bases, the Bogota crews are a mixed bag. The crew on the way out was extremely professional and attentive, while on the flight back they served everything on one tray and then proceeded to sit in their jumpseats for the rest of the flight.

American-Meal

Bottom line

I think it’s smart to staff a flight with “local” flight attendants. I’ve been on many American flights to/from China which would have benefitted from Chinese flight attendants. While there’s usually one or two language speakers, they’re often American-born, and lack the cultural context useful for understanding flying in China.

These Colombia-based flight attendants didn’t just speak Spanish, but also handled the “culture” very well, which could be overwhelming for someone who has lived in the US all their life, even if they speak Spanish.

Similarly, I’m guessing this is also a huge cost savings for the airline. Colombia is cheap, so I imagine they have different wages and different work rules, so it’s probably quite advantageous.

Had anyone else not realized that American has flight attendants based in several Latin American cities? If you’ve flown with them, what was your experience like?

Comments

  1. I was really surprised when there were Tagalog announcements on our recent flight from NRT-DTW. Never had
    Tagalog announcements on a flight to the US. On behalf of this Manila, Narita, and Detroit based crew.

  2. Back when we were UA 1Ks before Smisek and company screwed us Million Mile Flyers, we noticed more than once UA’s SIN-based FAs when flying NRT-SIN. They stood out, and in a good way. 🙂

  3. @Adam. A DL flight you took NRT/DTW? The plane probably originated from MNL. I took SEA/NRT once and the flight code continued to TPE. So there was Chinese announcement on the SEA/NRT flight. And on the inbound, NRT/JFK (B772 aircraft), there’s also Chinese announcement, even though that flight number was different from the TPE/NRT flight (B767 aircraft) I was on earlier.

  4. I’ve flown with Santiago Chile based AA crews twice since the new year. I actually enjoy the regional based crews.

    As far as UA they have overseas bases in London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Though in UAs case they are all part of AFA so technically US based crews can bid to be assigned overseas. Previously UA used to have all local hire bases in Bangkok and Singapore but had to close them post 9.11.

  5. And so why do American people have a problem with Norwegian using their BKK based FAs on US routes? Seems like US based carriers have been doing that for YEARS.

  6. I live in the US and take about six flights a year to Europe for work and I am always impressed with the ground agents for AA (and the former US Air) who are clearly local nationals “based” in those cities. Always efficient, polite and helpful. As a passenger I find that AA is very well served by their foreign work force.

  7. @D I understand your point, but it is one thing to use a foreign based crew based out of a city you are flying between, it is another to just find a cheap source of labor around the world and then bring them in to fly a completely separate route. The Norwegian comparison is more akin to what cruise ships have been doing for decades.

  8. There is also a flight attendant base at RDU which serves just the nonstop LHR flight. Base is a leftover from the RDU hub days and it’s a VERY senior base.

  9. I heard most of these foreign based Latin american crews were not hired by American
    They came with the routes that eastern airlines and another airlines had when they took over the hub at Mia

  10. @AdamH We do not know the exact pay scales of the foreign based FAs from AA, DL, UA and others. Until we get that type of information, it is safe to assume that FAs are paid based on the standards at their base cities. Therefore a DL flight attendant based in Manila flying MNL-NRT-DTW-NRT-MNL is basically the same idea as a Norwegian flight attendant flying BKK-ARN-JFK-ARN-BKK. Even though the cities and routes are seen as to and from the USA, in terms of crew scheduling, the practice of having crews cover flights between two non-hub cities is the oldest method of crew scheduling in the book. The Norwegian crews have a “ten day trip” in which they probably do the BKK-ARN-JFK-ARN-BKK, while the Colombian crews that are based down in Bogota are probably on a four or five day rotation when they do BOG-MIA-GYE-MIA-BOG. Finally, Norwegian also has crew bases in LAX and FLL who can fly a bunch of routes. Does anyone care when a FLL based FA flies FLL-CPH-BKK-CPH-FLL?

  11. First time I see my city named on this blog! Too bad just now the press in Guayaquil is (justifiably) trash-talking AA on a weekly basis for their terrible delays and their awful 2-2-2 business class on the old 767s.

  12. Back in the day, NW and UA used to use Thai flight attendants BKK-NRT-BKK. As a rule, they provided far better service than the US-based crew, who were typically extremely senior. There was open hostility and racism from some (not all) of the US crew, who called the Asians “whores” and worse for “taking our jobs”.

    As a passenger, I much preferred the Asian service, particularly in first and business class.

  13. Ben – one point of clarification on the EK pilots. There is no preferential bidding. There is a seniority-based system with a rotating cycle of bidding schedule – in essence a blend of seniority and randomization.

    In practice though, a lot of pilots like to bid on their “home” cities. That’s why you see a disproportionate number of pilots from Dallas bidding on DFW, pilots from France bidding on CDG, and pilots from New Zealand bidding on AKL, etc.

  14. I think the LA (as in latin america) based crew is only possible in the (legacy) Eastern airlines routes.

    Having flown them quite a few times, I think they are better than the Miami based FAs. That is not saying a lot as Miami based crew is by far my least favourite.

  15. “As a passenger, I much preferred the Asian service, particularly in first and business class.”
    Hear ! Hear ! Totally agree. I have found US-based FA’s to be comparatively UN-attendant, and many seem terminally bored with their jobs. I LOVE the Asian FA’s ! SO attentive and polite. Have spent 15 years traveling to Asia. Was not impressed with the Lufthansa crew a year ago on my first Business Class flight with them (BOS to FRA). I adore Thai Airways ! My fave. Foot massage in BKK before flight. Awesome.

  16. Certain landing rights are tied to their employment and this dates back to the purchase of routes from Eastern. And here are the rest of bases at AA:

    LAA Bases:
    BOS
    DCA
    DFW
    LAX
    LGA
    MIA (and ATL satellite)
    ORD (and MSP satellite)
    RDU
    SFO
    STL

    LAA Foriegn National:
    BOG
    EGE
    LIM
    SCL

    LUS Bases:
    CLT
    DCA
    PHL
    PHX

    The foreign national count has fallen significantly through attrition in recent. They only fly from their base to MIA & back, but there are occasional circumstances they fly with APFA. All other flying is exclusive to APFA, some months froiegn nationals do different sequences, but currently EZE-MIA is split one frequency foreign national one APFA for example. They have entirely different compensation and terms of enjoyment with the company.

  17. Josh G’s post wins my Best Post of the Day prize . . . for having more knowledge about this topic than most mere mortals would even consider safe. I’m truly impressed.

  18. It’s great they have international crews to serve their international shitty meals………Were you in economy? Why would that motivate anyone to want to fly that routing? If you didn’t get mugged in Bogota your stomach looks like it got mugged on the flight…………….

  19. When NZ opened a Shanghai cabin crew base some years ago there was a severe drop in service level on the relevant flights.

    The cost savings to airline can be very significant – if I recall correctly Shanghai based staff cost less than half NZ based staff. Having said that, some bases are for logistical reasons rather than costs (e.g. NZ’s London base).

  20. You’ll see big groups of AA F/As in MIA walking through the airport concourses… 767/777 sized groups of F/As, speaking entirely in Spanish to each other.

    Always assumed these were groups of the south American based flight attendants.

    Saw somewhere that they recently pushed a new class of South America based flight attendants through the training program… their first class in 4 years or so.

  21. Might be a bit late for this, but I think “tough” should be “though” in your first paragraph.

  22. I am from a “foreign national”, so I can tell you some things.
    1- we are all from AA and we are all hired by AA.
    2- we have exactly the same training than US bases (almost 2 months in Dallas)
    3- the only US city we touch is Miami.
    4- our bases are really small. No more than 120 people.
    5- in 15 years AA hired just 55 FA between the 4 bases.
    Nice post 🙂

  23. Nice post!

    Hi Roberto!
    Do you know something about new hiring process in LA? It was rumored last year that AA would have opened new flight attendant positions on March 2016… Any news?
    Thanks in advance!

  24. It is a Violation of US Law for the” Foriegn Nationals” from Columbia, Argentina, or any other South American Country to work on American Airlines or any other American Carrier beyond a “Gate Way City”, or their first point of entry to the United States. They are not on Work Visa’s and to work beyond the gate way city would be interfering with the rights of US Citizens to be gainfully employed by US Companies on US Soil or on a US owned Aircraft.
    This practice is actually a big point of focus among the Various Flight Attendant Unions across the United States. These foreign nationals are taking jobs away from American flight crews. The Pilot’s on these flights are US Citezens, but the Foriegn National Flight Attendants are just cheap labor pawns being used buy US Carriers to pinch a few pennies in labor cost.
    As for the language and culture to which you say the American based crews lack, bull! There are plenty of fully competent Spanish speaking and culturally aware Flight Crews from America. Cultural awareness is a training requirement, as well as a very highly conditioned component of being a fully qualified “Speaker”. American Crew members flying to South American destinations are very familiar with customs, and the South American Customers.
    The Foriegn Nationals are hidden routinely by American, because they are controversial in all respects to United States Labor Laws.

  25. The legal definition of a foreign national working beyond a gateway city in the USA from a South Amrerican departure city is Cabatoge. Here is the definition:

    EditWatch this page
    Cabotage
    Not to be confused with sabotage.
    Cabotage /ˈkæbətᵻdʒ/ is the transport of goods or passengers between two places in the same country by a transport operator from another country. It originally applied to shipping along coastal routes, port to port, but now applies to aviation, railways, and road transport as well.

    “Cabotage rights are the right of a company from one country to trade in another country. In aviation, it is the right to operate within the domestic borders of another country. Most countries do not permit aviation cabotage, and there are strict sanctions against it, for reasons of economic protectionism, national security, or public safety. One notable exception is the European Union, whose members all grant cabotage rights to each other.” ****EU is going to reverse this soon. Due to the increasing Economic pressures of the individual EU country membership.***

  26. Flew in F from EZE the other day, sitting on the purser’s side.

    I knew something was up when my champagne was a lot cooler than the previous glass. I assume they must have ran out and switched from the pricey stuff to the cheap stuff. I was never told.

    After meal service was done. About 5 FAs came up to the front galley to hang out for the rest of the flight. No one came around for drink refills. Pretty sad I had to leave my seat in row 1 to ask for a drink refill.

    I’ve noticed that LUS cabin crews seem to provide better service up front that LAA crews.

  27. I’ve read quite a few offensive words about the Foreign Crews. It is silly to think of them as merely “cheap labour”, should that be the case how do you explain Cathay Pacific hiring in the USA, or All Nippon, Qantas, Air New Zealand and Japan Airlines hiring in London? Of course it makes financial sense, as everything that airlines do. For example Qantas has London based crew doing London-Dubai-London, and the SYD based crew takes over. This saves them money, but it’s hardly “cheap labour” to pay London salaries.
    Some airlines, such as British Airways have what they call ICC (International Cabin Crews) and they operate about 1 or 2 per flight. This means that they will always have at least one native speaker on the flight. (They have in DEL-HKG-SIN-BJS-GRU-EZE-MEX and not sure if any more)
    As someone rightfully said as well, some International Crews are tight to the landing rights. American Airlines acquired the route MIA-EZE (one of the most profitables at times) and the condition was to maintain the existing Eastern crew. I believe it’s the same case with BOG/GRU etc.
    For the people who said that Foreign Crew “steal our jobs”, they do not steal anything because they are not allowed to fly domestic. And in any case, the route would not exist without them.
    On another note, I would like to point out an interesting fact. The foreign based crew in Latin America are quite senior and have been hired when flying was still a luxury (no the 50s of course! but late 80s or 90s) They are mostly posh, upper class people. Because they were required to be educated, bilingual, etc, only highly educated people could do it, and the pay was not that great, so anyone that was educated at that level would rather get a much better paid job. I think that is why you get mostly women, whose husbands are wealthy, so they fly for fun or to get the concessions to fly First Class to Miami. This may explain why you think the Buenos Aires based crew was so unfriendly!!! AA EZE based crew was renown for believing they were top models, rather than cabin crews. I did have great experience with the male crew, they were friendly, but female crew was totally the opposite.
    British Airways has opened new bases in China, Japan and other places with “cheap” cabin crew, but they have actually changed the conditions of their LON based crew as well, they all get peanuts regardless of where you live. So again, this has no connection to hiring cheap labour, but more with cultural factors.

  28. “Marcos says:
    August 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm
    I’ve read quite a few offensive words about the Foreign Crews. It is silly to think of them as merely “cheap labour”, should that be the case how do you explain Cathay Pacific hiring in the USA”

    Marcos, Cathay Pacific, although it “hires in the USA” does not pay unemployment insurance, disability insurance, Social Security or Medicare taxes for the US-citizen, US-resident cabin crew and pilots who are employed at its bases in LAX, SFO and JFK, and who live in the US.

    This saves Cathay Pacific millions of dollars per year in social taxes while leaving the employees with nothing if they become disabled, lose their jobs or retire.

    Disgraceful.

  29. CXCrew,
    I cannot give an opinion about CX Crew because I am not aware of their conditions. However, surely you are aware that Airlines exist not only to provide transport, but mostly to make profit. It is evident that they will seek the most cost effective options and if the US Laws allow them to not pay everything that you have mention, they will do it. I do not think the US crew will be cheaper than HKG based crew though. Salaries are usually still higher in the USA.
    Saying all this, CX crew in the USA are still American citizens, and not foreign crew. What is usually considered “cheap labour” are the crews hired internationally.

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