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Frontier’s New Flight Attendant Policy Is Sick

Before Frontier Airlines made news with its big policy change last week, which cut cabin crew sick time by at least half, attendance management is probably not something even “aviation geeks” ever thought about.

One-size-fits-all policies are generally problematic for crew since the range of possible schedules is so varied. In a year we might be assigned 110 flights or 400, depending on what kind of trips and flight combinations we can hold. Yet airlines obviously want to minimize absence and make it unattractive for us to use sick time when what one really has is a schedule conflict. That’s understandable!

Even in that context, Frontier’s new policy is ridiculous. Here’s why:

It is a sudden, draconian cut

Previously, one trip counted as one attendance “instance” and a flight attendant’s record could sustain up to eight instances per year. Under the new system each day out sick is counted (now called “points”) at a rate of one-and-a-half. Being sick on day one of a single four-day trip would put one at the limit of all of one’s sick time for the year. That’s completely unrealistic.

It doesn’t distinguish between illness & other reliability issues

This new policy also gives points for late sign-ins, and missed trips (i.e. just not showing up). These points are weighted between 2.5 and 4 points, and they’re kept in the same count as missing work for illness. Those are different dependability issues. Getting stuck in traffic on the way to work should have no bearing on an individual’s health expectations for the rest of the year.



Our job can make us prone to illness

The U.S. Bureau of labor Statistics states that we (and other airline employees) suffer illness and injury at twice the rate of coal miners or constructions workers! The job is undeniably hard on the body, while our work environment is super-germy.

In addition, illness or injury that wouldn’t keep one home from an office job can be prohibitive for us, like blocked ears from a simple cold. And at my company, if your eardrum ruptures in flight, it is considered your fault for coming to work, regardless of how pressured we were to come in. Same with injuries for lifting passenger bags.

Fatigue is up

These changes come in an environment of working harder for less rest. Across the board, scheduling trends in the US are for more hours worked per month in the air, with shorter rest times. Our schedules average 10 to 15 hours more (in the air) per month than they did a decade ago, with shorter rest times. Yet Frontier wants its cabin crew to be at least 50 percent less sick.



Frontier hasn’t really explained

Claiming the change is about “on time performance,” a company spokesman says: “When employees are tardy or miss a trip, this can have ripple effects on multiple flights throughout the day.”

When flight attendants are out, their trips are covered by reserves. It is standard etiquette for us to try and not call out last-minute as not to make a reserve scramble unnecessarily. It happens, sure, but we generally try to be considerate. If flight attendants are affecting on-time performance — a big “if” since the statement doesn’t even mention them specifically — the question is, how exactly?

Are flight attendants at Frontier all calling out at the last moment? If so, there is something else going on there. Or are reserves late because scheduling isn’t calling them as soon as the sick calls come in? Or do they not have enough reserves? The crew sick policy/on time performance link isn’t obvious in reality and the official statement is generic on the point.

Has Frontier addressed the cause of sick calls?

Union spokeswoman Molly Sheerer asks what they’ve done to improve the wellness of cabin crew to decrease sickness and injury:

“Is there adequate rest? Nourishing crew meals? An affordable and good health plan? Time off to go to the doctor? A clean workplace? A healthy workplace where sick employees are encouraged to stay home to prevent others from becoming ill?”

These are great questions. They seem like a great place to start for companies that are actually interested in resolving the issues that underlie a problem instead of just penalizing the result.

[Photo: iStock]

Comments are Closed.
Lakeviewsteve January 22, 2016

They should jump airships.... Frontier has to be the worst airline trying to fly.

onehipdad October 29, 2015

I dreaded flying Frontier before they went no-frills, now I avoid them altogether. This might be the the beginning of the end for them.

Mjoellnir October 29, 2015

This would never be accepted in most European countries who protect their workes sick-days by law. The power American empolyers have is sickening.

SSteegar October 26, 2015

Teevee, The union has nothing to do with this. At some carriers sick policies are contractual; at others they are not. Frontier is in the latter category. In truth, many eyebrows are being raised that such a harsh policy is being unilaterally pressed upon them during contract negotiations, but I decided not to get into that stuff in the column. Point is, nothing to do with the union in this case.

Icecat October 24, 2015

Welcome to the world of William Franke. It's only going to get worst, ask any employee that worked for America West while he was the big boss.