Airline flight attendants are in the news today, and we're not talking just about the latest moves of the most notorious in the profession, Steve Slater, perhaps late of JetBlue. (If you don't know who Slater is by now, you don't watch enough so-called TV news and you can skip this.) Today's development is very serious flight-attendant stuff: Federal regulators have determined that Delta and the former Northwest Airlines now are operating as one carriers, triggering a process for more than 20,000 Delta employees to vote whether to join a union. For the very serious reader, here is a link to the National Mediation Board's decision. It's long, detailed, and deals mostly with the single-carrier issue, so here's what it means:
As you may know, Delta is the least-unionized of the major airlines, with only its pilots and a handful of others now in a brotherhood, and the airline has fought valiantly to keep its FAs from joining together in a union. The mediation board, a little-known agency that oversees airline and rail labor issues, now has two Obama-appointed members who earlier this year changed a key procedure when workers petition it, asking for a union representation election. Now it takes a simple majority of all the employees in a work class (such as flight attendants) to approve unionization in an election; previously, representation had to be approved by a majority of those voting, which meant those not voting were counted as "no." It remains to be seen if the Delta employees will vote for the Association of Flight Attendants to now be their bargaining agent. Count on Delta telling the employees the company thinks it's a bad idea.
Back to Mr. Slater. His action, ranting, grabbing two beers and activating the emergency slide on his JetBlue jet, has prompted a number of serious looks at the stresses of being a flight attendant. Practically everyone who flies -- customers and FAs alike -- is cranky these days because of crowded conditions, a less-than-hospitable welcome by some employees and fees that have prompted more of us to do carry-on bags. The last problem has made the life of the cabin crew even more unpleasant, as people try to cram too much into overhead bins, stealing space wherever they can find it and stretching out the boarding and deplaning process.
What's worse, many airlines have cut the pay of many of their employees, and there are far fewer employees at the major airlines than there were a decade ago -- 23 percent fewer, to be exact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The number of fulltime equivalent workers has even gone down 2.4 percent in the last year, since the depths of the recession, BTS reported today. Among the good commentary I've read about the attendants' situation is today's New York Times business travel column by Joe Sharkey.
As always, I try to look on the bright side: At least the number of flight attendants per aircraft is governed by federal regulation, based on the number of seats on a plane, so the ratio for each model plane has stayed the same as workers in other airline jobs have been cut.
One more idea: The next time you fly, why not try giving a real 'thank you' to the flight attendants. Or fly an airline (Southwest is the only one I know of ) where the cabin crew may sing songs, make jokes during the safety briefing and wear costumes around holidays. You may actually relax during a flight, and you will really mean it when you say 'thanks for the ride.'