‘We’re just robots’: US airline workers stranded by staff shortages | Air industry

youS airlines always know staff shortage as air travel rebounded from the initial Covid-19 shutdowns in 2020, when many airline workers were encouraged to go on leave, quit or retire early.

The phenomenon promises to disrupt travel for travelers even as Americans broadly seek to return to many pre-pandemic habits, including air travel for work and tourism.

At JetBlue, flight delays and cancellations have been attributed to staff shortages. Transport Workers United, which represents about 5,000 flight attendants at JetBlue, critical the fact that the airline blames flight attendants for not accepting enough assignments, which leads to delays and cancellations.

The union argued that JetBlue had responded to staff shortages and operational issues by increasing disciplinary action against workers, including increasing the number of critical cover days workers must be available for work or otherwise accrue. disciplinary points of presence that could lead to dismissal.

“Historically, JetBlue has always operated a small team of crew members in all of its departments,” said a longtime flight attendant at JetBlue who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The flight attendant said Covid-19 related issues such as canceled, rescheduled or delayed flights that extend service time or away from home and transportation and hotel accommodation difficulties for flight attendants have made many workers reluctant to accept additional assignments.

They also said that many flight attendants experiencing flight delays or changes waited several hours for JetBlue to get them a hotel room or transportation to a hotel in a layover city, reducing their rest time. . Some have given up and paid for a hotel or transportation out of their own pocket.

“Sometimes you are taken hostage and you cannot go home. It’s really difficult for people who have children or relatives that they help to take care of, ”said the flight attendant. “They don’t see us as humans. We are still human beings involved in all of this too. We want to see our business succeed and we all want to come to work, we want to do our best, we want passengers to come back, but I feel like the thought of us as real human beings has been taken out of the equation. We are just robots who are here to do the job and I think that is the thing we struggle with the most, that there is no respect for workers anymore.

Gary Peterson, vice president of the airline division of Transport Workers United, argued that JetBlue and other carriers have gone head-to-head in a race to the lowest terms on how workers are treated, retaining enough workers and maintaining airline jobs as career jobs.

“I think there’s a systemic problem in the industry – everyone is trying to compete with the lowest carrier, instead of setting themselves up to be the number one carrier,” Peterson said. “Sleeping in the airport hallway – it never happened in the industry, and now it’s becoming the new norm.”

At Spirit Airlines, staffing issues have contributed to four collapses of operations since August 2021, an unprecedented frequency according to the Association of Flight Attendants – Communications Workers of America (AFA-CWA).

Spirit Airlines workers protested outside Las Vegas, Orlando and Dallas airports in recent weeks due to airline breaches of contract, mass cancellations that stranded flight attendants and ongoing staff shortages.

Don Reno Intreglia, a Spirit Airlines flight attendant based in Orlando, Fla., and AFA-CWA vice president for Spirit Airlines, said the airline’s cancellation team and a separate team that handles flight attendant scheduling will get out of sync or fall behind, causing a domino effect in operations and leaving flight attendants to deal with frustrated passengers without any information.

The result, he said, had been that flight attendants were stranded away from home with no hotel accommodations, left up to 30 p.m. with no response or resolution.

“It’s been horrible for the morale of the flight attendants, because you sleep on the floor of an airport, you have basically nowhere to go. We had flight attendants getting kicked out of airports in the middle of the night,” Intreglia said. “We want the traveling public to know that we’re trying to pressure management to make some serious changes, so we’re ready for summer travel.”

The pilots experienced similar difficulties.

Alaska Airlines pilots are vote on a strike authorization as new collective bargaining negotiations continue and the airline experiences a shortage of pilots.

At Delta Air Lines, pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association have been protesting for the past few weeks outside Delta hubs in Seattle, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Detroit, Los Angeles and Minneapolison excessive hours and fatigue.

“Our pilots are tired and weary,” said captain Evan Baach. “Our pilots are working a record number of overtime hours, we are working longer days, we have shorter nights between our duty periods. We want the company to put its words into action and make changes to pilot schedules. »

A Delta Air Lines spokesperson said in an email: “Pilot schedules remain in compliance with all requirements set forth by the FAA as well as those outlined in our Pilot Agreement. All of our employees, including our pilots, are working hard to restore our airline and deliver to our customers as we emerge from the pandemic. We are grateful and proud of their efforts.

JetBlue and Spirit Airlines did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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