It should come as no surprise that the airline industry is full of disagreements between airline management and their respective employee unions. What might come as more of a surprise is the contention between various unions within an airline.
Even after a merger, many airlines don’t integrate their work groups. For example, America West and US Airways merged over a decade ago, but their pilots are still on separate contracts. So now that the merger between American and US Airways has taken place, you have three groups of pilots needing to be integrated.
The same is true at other airlines. Even though the merger between United and Continental took place over five years ago, the two airlines’ flight attendants are still on separate contracts. There are legacy Continental flight attendants who exclusively work legacy Continental planes, and then there are legacy United flight attendants who exclusively work legacy United planes.
For the planes delivered since the merger, they’re allocated to one group or the other. Most of the new planes have been delivered to the Continental side, meaning legacy Continental flight attendants are staffing most of those flights.
United has 28 Boeing 787 aircraft (12 787-8 aircraft and 16 787-9 aircraft), which were delivered to the Continental side. That means if you’re flying a United 787, the flight attendants working the flight are former Continental flight attendants.
It appears as if that’s not how it’s supposed to be, as legacy United’s flight attendant union (the AFA) is claiming that one of the 28 aircraft should be operated by legacy United crews, rather than by legacy Continental crews. They filed a grievance regarding this, which has now been resolved.
Per the AFA, one Boeing 787 will be assigned to legacy United flight attendants, given the error which was made:
United investigated AFA’s grievance and discovered that the B787 aircraft delivered in July 2015, tail number 956, was erroneously assigned to be flown by subsidiary Continental Flight Attendants. Under the terms of the settlement, this aircraft will be reassigned to be flown by subsidiary United Flight Attendants effective at the schedule change during the June flying month. In addition, in recognition of the erroneous assignment of the aircraft, United will make a payment of damages, to be distributed to subsidiary United Flight Attendants. We expect the individual payments to be reflected on their May 16th paychecks.
“The aircraft order book and resultant allocation of aircraft is complex, and in this case, we made a mistake. We are committed to correcting our error as quickly as possible.” said Doug McKeen, Senior Vice President of Labor Relations. “We are glad that we were able to work together with AFA to successfully resolve this issue.”
Given that United flight attendants now have one 787 to work with, United will be launching daily Boeing 787-9 service between Newark and Los Angeles between June 9 and August 1, 2016. The flight will operate with the following schedule, per airlineroute.net:
UA1817 Newark to Los Angeles departing 9:00AM arriving 11:34AM
UA1729 Los Angeles to Newark departing 1:10PM arriving 9:19PM
The reason the plane is flying domestically is because a single aircraft couldn’t fly roundtrip to Asia or Australia in a day, as two planes are needed for such a rotation. In theory they could fly the plane to Europe, though I guess for the time being they want to stick to a manageable route.
Presumably the plane will be flown internationally starting in August, once legacy United flight attendants get a couple more 787s on “their” side of the contract.
On top of that, United will pay the legacy United flight attendants a $3 million settlement to make up for their lost wages resulting from not having staffed this flight since the airline took delivery of the plane.
I understand union issues are a two way street, so I don’t fault the union for wanting what they’re rightly entitled to. At the same time, there’s something about the overall setup which is so destructive.
In theory both parties should want the same thing — for the airline to perform as well as they can, and for United’s employees to do as well as they can. Yet somehow in the process they still have segregated work groups five years after a merger, management is paying $3 million for incorrectly assigning a plane, and the airline is under utilizing a plane because of technicalities.
(Tip of the hat to Brian Sumers)