After United Airlines Senior Vice President of Inflight Services John Slater announced plans to fly some international routes with fewer flight attendants on board in a memo to employees, cabin crew members wasted little time publicly pointing out that the cost-saving measure will negatively affect passenger safety and lead to a dramatic decline in inflight service.
United Airlines Senior VP of Flight Services John Slater started his recent communication with flight attendants by praising cabin crew members for stepping up and making strides to improve inflight customer service. Slater also thanked employees for feedback that led to increased efficiency including doing more catering prep work on the ground and simplifying the Polaris Class cocktail program.
Then, in pitch perfect corporate parlance, the airline executive quickly segued to explaining how those laudable extra efforts will result in extra work and fewer crew members on some future flights.
“Those were important steps, but there is more work to do,” Slater wrote in part. “That’s why, starting February 1, 2019, we will begin repacking galleys and our catering team will plate entrées ahead of time, further speeding up the meal service and eliminating the need for the mid-galley position on certain international wide-body flights … Based on the conversations I’ve had with many of you who regularly bid the international premium cabin, I know this is difficult news. However, this is a necessary step for us to stay competitive and continue growing.”
Terming the announcement “difficult news” may have been something of an understatement. Flight attendants didn’t waste any time at all pointing out that the reduction will negatively impact passenger safety as well as reducing the time cabin crew members have to tend to passengers’ comfort.
AFA United Master Executive Council President Ken Diaz, who represents United Airlines flight attendants, summarized the announcement as “Great Job! Now here’s your punishment.” He vowed “to out the real reason for diminished service: Short-term gain for Wall Street with billions in stock buybacks funded on our backs.” Diaz indicated that the plan to eliminate an economy class flight attendant is a classic case of being pennywise and pound foolish.
“Staffing is about safety and service – we can’t accept the lowest level in either case,” Diaz wrote in response to United’s announcement. “We need to stand up for the resources and tools we need to interact successfully with the passengers who are paying all of our salaries. These staffing levels do not give us the people resources we need to develop the relationships with passengers that will encourage them to choose to fly United Airlines – in good times and in bad. While management may view these positions as a “service role”, we know that having the right Flight Attendant staffing allows us to board faster, deescalate situations proactively and to respond effectively in those situations where the investment in our training really pays off.”
According to Slater, however, the move to eliminate a single cabin crew member for some international routes will simply mean matching the staffing levels of American Airlines and Delta Airlines on their Boeing 777, 767 and 757 long-haul routes. He noted that increased efficiency such as this in one area will allow the company to hire as many as 2,000 new cabin crew members over the next year.
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