American will reduce staffing on flights to cut costs

Jul 2, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

If you take a long-haul flight with American Airlines after Oct. 1, there will be fewer flight attendants on-hand to respond to your call button.

In a memo to the airline’s employees distributed on Wednesday, Jill Surdek, American’s senior vice president of flight service said that the airline is expecting to have significantly more staff on the payroll than it needs to support its planned schedule this fall.

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more aviation news.

“We expect to have an overage of between 7,000 and 8,000 flight attendants this fall,” she wrote. Overall the airline expects to be “overstaffed” by about 20,000 people by later this year.

Surdek added that the airline won’t necessarily furlough thousands of flight attendants, but she said American is looking for other ways to reduce its staffing.

Related: American tries to avoid the ‘old airline playbook’ on furloughs even as it shrinks.

One effort such involves cutting the number of flight attendants on widebody aircraft and A321T-operated services.

Doing so, she said, will make the airline more cost-effective as demand for international flights remains low. The exact plans are outlined below.

We will reduce staffing on international widebody and transcon flights to FAA minimums + 1 flight attendant (except on the Boeing 787-8, where we currently operate with FAA minimum crew), effective Oct 1, 2020. These new staffing models will make us more cost-efficient and are in line with recent changes implemented by one of our largest competitors. These changes to crew complement on widebody aircraft will begin with the Oct. 2020 bid month. We will be sharing the revised position assignments before the October bid month. Chart of staffing by aircraft: Boeing 777-300 11 Boeing 777-200 9 Boeing 787-9 9 Boeing 787-8 8 Airbus A321T 5 Note: As required by FARs, we will add staffing on longer flights (e.g., DFW-HKG). In cases where we fly a widebody aircraft in a transcon market, we’ll staff it with FAA minimum crew. We will operate all other narrowbody aircraft with minimum crew, which is our current staffing level except in a few cases.
(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

According to American, the changes to flight staffing are allowed by the current cabin crew contracts.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents American’s cabin crews, said it opposes the new policy nevertheless.

“We’re not obviously in support of the reduction,” Paul Hartshorn, Jr., an APFA spokesman, said in an interview with TPG.

“The staffing that we have today is what we’re trying to preserve and it’s not even as good as it was 15 years ago,” he added. “From a safety perspective alone, we’re not interested in eroding staffing.”

Hartshorn said APFA and a number of other unions are pushing for the payroll protection provisions of the CARES Act to be extended so jobs can be protected and flight attendants can remain on airlines’ payrolls (and off unemployment) so they’re ready to serve again when ticket sales rebound.

Related: Health officials criticize American Airlines for not blocking middle seats.

While the flight crew reduction may sound like a bad thing for passenger service as well, it may ultimately not be as noticeable as it may seem on paper, at least not in the immediate future if travel demand stays suppressed.

“Most long-haul flights are not fully booked,” said Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research, a travel industry analysis firm. “Between the cutbacks in what American is doing on the planes in meal and beverage service and the lighter than average passenger loads, I don’t think the passenger experience will suffer that dramatically.”

Harteveldt added that passengers in the pointy end of the plane are the most likely to notice changes, but he said no one should expect inflight service today or in the near future to mirror what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Review: American Airlines Flagship First class from Dallas to Hong Kong on the 777-300ER

“This is definitely not the time to fly if you’re expecting a lavish, highly-attentive onboard experience in long-haul first class or business class because it’s just not something that can be safely provided,” he said.

While the changes may be disappointing to passengers, Harteveldt added that they make good business sense in the current environment.

Read more: American removes capacity caps, increases health safety measures.

“It doesn’t make any sense for any airline to put 10 flight attendants on a long-haul widebody flight” at a time when many of them are only flying around 50% full. “Logically, I understand this,” he added. “American, as a business, wants to reduce losses and if possible break even or make a profit in a very challenging business environment.”

Related: Airline complaints soared 1,500% in April as flyers vented about refunds.

American is hardly the only airline preparing for staffing changes either. In June, Delta warned that it may furlough up to 2,500 pilots. Across the industry, airlines are getting leaner as demand for travel remains suppressed and the road to recovery looks uncertain.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on July 2, 2020. It has been updated to include comments from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.