American adds pay incentives to avoid holiday staffing woes

Nov 11, 2021

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American Airlines will offer incentives to its employees to avoid a short-staffing situation like the one that led to a massive system meltdown late last month, causing thousands of cancellations and delays.

The airline told employees this week that it would offer pay incentives for working on days surrounding the holidays that are expected to see peak travel demand and, in some cases, an additional bonus for those who have perfect attendance through the periods surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

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The decision to offer increased pay rates and bonuses comes as the airline seeks to reassure customers that it will not have a repeat of the last disaster.

“All the things that we’re doing are going to make sure that we have the right resources in the right place, at the right time, to run a great airline over the holidays,” American Airlines President Robert Isom said on Wednesday, speaking at the Baird Global Industrial Conference.

“We’re certainly mindful of making sure that when disruptions happen, which they inevitably will, we have the resources in the right place to recover as soon as we can,” Isom added. “So that was the intent [of the pay incentives], and we’re looking forward to the holidays.”

Under the airline’s plan, flight attendants would be paid at 150% of their normal rate if they work as scheduled between Nov. 23 and Nov. 29, and again between Dec. 22 and Jan. 2. That holiday pay rate will increase to 300% for flight attendants who have no absences on any dates between Nov. 15 and Jan. 2.

More: Recent airline meltdowns raise specter of holiday travel woes

The airline also added similar pay incentives for other front-line workgroups. Tech ops, fleet service, dispatch, training, crew schedulers, customer service representatives and other similar employees will get a $1,000 bonus for perfect attendance on all scheduled workdays from Nov. 15 to Jan. 2. Airport service representatives and reservations agents can also get paid at 150% of their normal rate for working on peak days surrounding the holidays.

“This has been a challenging year, and I, for one, look forward to closing the books on 2021,” Brady Byrnes, American’s vice president of flight services, wrote in a memo to flight attendants seen by TPG. “Now more than ever, it’s important we continue delivering on our customer promise.”

One workgroup, however, was notably missing from the pay incentives: pilots. The Allied Pilots Association, which represents pilots at American, declined the offer of 150% premium pay and double pay for pilots who picked up open trips on peak days. The union, which is in the middle of long-term contract negotiations with the airline, said it wants to see more permanent changes to how pilots are scheduled.

The holiday pay incentives come less than two weeks after the airline suffered the collapse of its network, triggered by strong winds surrounding its Dallas-Fort Worth hub, which was significantly worsened by a shortage of available flight attendants and other workers. The airline canceled more than 1,500 flights during one weekend as it struggled to correct its network and move crews and aircraft back into position.

American’s scheduling mess came on the heels of a similar meltdown experienced by Southwest Airlines in October and another by Spirit this summer where seemingly modest weather events cascaded into multiday networkwide disruptions.

Since the meltdown, the airline has been adamant that it would have the staff to manage the peak holiday period without a similar catastrophic disruption in the event of thunderstorms or winter weather.

In a memo to employees during the cancellations, American Airlines Chief Operating Officer David Seymour said that about 1,800 flight attendants would return from pandemic-driven leaves of absence between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1, joining 600 new flight attendants who would be hired by the end of the year.

“The hiring of pilots and within Tech Ops continues to take place, and we already began ramping up hiring in Reservations so more team members will be in place for the holiday season,” Seymour wrote in the memo.

More: Here’s what’s behind the Southwest Airlines cancellations

“Additionally, hiring for our Airports is well underway, and we anticipate 4,000 new team members joining us across the system in the fourth quarter.”

Featured photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

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