As United Airlines continues to hire, should it call back international flight attendants?

While taxpayer bailouts have protected all US airline jobs during the pandemic, United has eliminated its international crew bases and many of those flight attendants are still out of work, even though United is now hiring new flight attendants. edge. Should United hire these flight attendants even though they cannot legally work in the United States?

It’s time for United Airlines to rehire international flight attendants

First, let’s be clear. United Airlines didn’t just lay off flight attendants at bases in:

  • Frankfurt (FRA)
  • Hong Kong (HKG)
  • Tokyo (TYO)

Instead, the flight attendants were offered a transfer to a US base (or London, the last remaining non-US flight attendant base, but only if openings existed). But this required documents to work in the United States and many of these flight attendants, who were Asian or European nationals, had no such documents. Thus, they were effectively fired.

> Find out more: United Airlines closes three international flight attendant bases

Under a negotiated agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), flight attendants at these closed international bases can still be rehired if they obtain documentation to work in the United States (or London) from here on March 31, 2023.

But as that deadline approaches, the AFA is pushing United to rehire those flight attendants regardless of their work status (i.e. reopening international bases) and issued a heartbreaking new video showing some of the faces and stories of the displaced FA:

Indeed, United is recruiting across the company, including new hostesses and stewards. Omar Idris, who is the head of United at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) recently noted:

“We have 500 new planes coming to United Airlines over the next few years. It’s a plane every three or four days for us, so we need people to help us run these planes.

Therefore, there is a need for these flight attendants. If not now, soon. But should United re-hire them?

My answer is yes. I realize this is a complex issue and there is some useful degree of uniformity to ensure that all flight attendants can work in the US (or UK). It is also true that the pandemic has changed the world and in East Asia United’s operations there remain weak.

But a former flight attendant based in Frankfurt put it well:

“With crew shortages everywhere, UA should bring in those excellent former flight attendants they knocked down in 2020 who had been praised for their dedicated service not only in online loyalty forums for decades before. These people would not need expensive initial training, all they need is requalification. They are scattered all over Europe. And those who were stationed at HKG and NRT are all over Asia. And many of them would start flying again today if offered. They are experienced and multilingual. Features desperately sought after by flight crews now more than ever.

United’s new slogan is ‘the good leads the way’ and although it is not legally obliged to rehire these flight attendants, it should. Many of these flight attendants have given decades to United and been cheerful and compassionate brand ambassadors in the air. Of course, their higher seniority will cost the company more, but it would be an important cornerstone in recognizing the shared sacrifice United employees have endured during the pandemic.

In terms of corporate citizenship, this gesture means much more to me than carbon offsets and electric planes.


United Airlines is hiring again, and the displaced flight attendants are knocking on the door. The coming months seem to me like the perfect time for United to show in a very tangible way that ‘good leads the way’ by re-hiring those flight attendants who have given their careers to United but (understandably) cannot get the right to work in the United States.

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