American Airlines jacks up flight attendant holiday pay to avoid more flight cancellations

Key Points
  • Flight attendants could receive triple their pay for holiday trips if they have perfect attendance.
  • All peak-period trips will be paid at 150% of their base pay.
  • Southwest Airlines offered staff extra pay over July 4 to avoid disruptions.

In this article

An American airlines Airbus A321-200 approaches Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia on February 24, 2021.
Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

American Airlines, jolted by mass cancellations last weekend, has offered flight attendants as much as triple their pay to work holiday trips if they also have perfect attendance through early January.

The offer comes just days after American canceled hundreds of flights, many of them tied to staffing shortages of flight attendants. The extra incentives show American is willing to pay up to avoid a repeat.

American said flight attendants and reserve cabin crew members who work trips that fall between Nov. 23 and Nov. 29 or Dec. 22 through Jan. 2 will receive time-and-a-half, according to an internal memo that was reviewed by CNBC. If they also have no absences from Nov. 15 through Jan. 2, they will receive another 150% pay for those peak-period trips.

"To ensure we're providing certainty for both our customers and team members, we're doubling down on our efforts related to our schedule and staffing," American's COO David Seymour said in a staff note on Friday. "On the schedule front, we've ensured that November and December are built to meet customer demand and that they are fully supportable by our staffing."

Other work groups will receive pay incentives, Seymour said in his note.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the labor union that represents some 23,000 American Airlines cabin crew members, said it negotiated the incentives with the company. The union has complained that flight attendants have faced frequent rescheduling and a shortage of hotel rooms and transportation during a grueling schedule this summer. The group has also raised concerns about an uptick in unruly passengers, including one that allegedly struck a flight attendant last week.

"From mother nature wreaking havoc on the operation, the myriad of policy changes you've had to keep up with and an increase in incidents of customer misconduct, you've been dealing with a lot," American Airlines vice president of flight service Brady Byrnes wrote to flight attendants Friday, announcing the new pay incentives.

Airlines spent much of last year urging workers to take leaves of absence or accept buyouts.
When travel demand bounced back in late spring and summer, some carriers didn't have enough staff to cover during routine disruptions like bad weather.

American's cancellations over last weekend followed similar meltdowns at Southwest Airlines last month and Spirit Airlines over the summer, which those carriers said cost them $75 million and $50 million, respectively, and prompted them to pare down their schedules.

Southwest also offered flight attendants double pay to get more people to pick up extra shifts during July 4 weekend.