A Stew’s View on the Airline Merger


In what is perhaps the only shocking news about the AA/US Air announcement, it coincided perfectly with the week I’d been planning to write about it for ages. What luck! I know you have questions about what it means for customers. And those are good questions! But there are many analysts and regular media blah blahs talking about what it means for you. I’m here to talk about what it means to their crews.

Right now, both companies’ attendants are dreaming of working to new destinations, but one question is flickering in their brains like a gaudy neon sign: what’s the other company’s seniority like? It’s the key to every fight attendant’s entire life. “Is it possible,” they might fantasize, “that a chunk of junior ‘stews’ from the other company is about to lift me out of the despair that is reserve,” or “…off of Kansas City flights and onto Copenhagen!?” They’ll know the answer is “unlikely” but it’s hard to resist dreaming! Why buzz kill the fun part?

Of course they’ll have the worries that everyone recognizes—redundancies, new bosses, plus pension and health care rules—but crews also face changes that could have tangible effects on their home lives. Friends will ask their crew buddies if they’ll have to move or start commuting (or commuting somewhere worse than they already do). The stews are wondering that too, but won’t have the answers for a couple of years yet.

They’ll also be looking ahead to a myriad of smaller questions. Ones about the minutiae that fill our textbook-sized contracts, but could have huge knock-on effects: Will I have to work longer days? Get less sleep between flights? Train on new planes? Work different kinds of trips? Work more days in order to earn my benefits or even just keep my job? Might I have to…[*gulp*]…serve reserve more/again? With airline mergers, the very shape of the job could change.

I wonder, though. Might the “New American” labor groups stress a bit less than United’s and Delta’s did, since US Air wooed the unions first in order to get their support? The US side got protracted contracts sorted, and the AA’ers signed one which reverses the most hated changes (e.g. see above) that were strong-armed out of its flight attendants in 2012. For those reasons alone this merger will have many celebrating. That could change when it’s time to merge under a single contract, but for now I’m tempted to hope this could be less traumatic for crews than the other big mergers were.

“What does this matter to passengers?” you might be (politely) asking. It matters because flight attendants and passengers have, I think, the most direct impact on each other. If the troubled merger at United and recent problems at “Old” American have proven anything, it’s that our airline destinies are tightly linked. It’s trendy for us to be depicted as glaring at each other cynically, but I think that’s such a waste. If passengers and crews were really smart, we might think about pushing in the same direction.

What do you think: Is there any link between how airlines treat passengers, and how they treat their labor?

Sarah can be found the rest of the week at sarahsteegar.com or on Twitter @FATravelWriter.

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Comments (Showing 2 of 2)

  • bigbuy at 11:25am February 20, 2013

    Why should it matter what the author thinks when the article states that “US Air” wooed the unions first”. The name of the airline is US Airways.

  • EsquireFlyer at 7:32am February 21, 2013

    What a nasty and unhelpful comment.

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