Dozens of United Airlines flight attendants plan to picket LAX on Tuesday, Sept 27, claiming a shortage of crew schedulers, caterers and other service workers often leaves them stranded for hours waiting to know when they’ll be headed out for their next flight.
The workers, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), say staffing shortages throughout the company have heavily impacted travelers as a result, with 67,485 flight delays and 6,780 cancellations since May.
“The company hasn’t staffed enough people since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when they were furloughing employees or letting them go,” said Kimberly Burckhalter, a United flight attendant for 29 years and president of AFA Council 12 at LAX.
Long waits to learn scheduling
Burckhalter said there’s a phone number flight attendants call to get updates on scheduling, but they often spend four hours or more trying to reach someone on the other end. The waits are long, she said, and they sometimes eat into their required 10 hours of rest time between shifts.
“We’re calling, not only for our flights, but for information on the hotels where we’re staying,” she said. “They don’t have enough people to answer the phones, so we’re just put on hold for hours.”
The workers, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants, say staffing shortages throughout the company have heavily impacted travelers, with 67,485 flight delays and 6,780 cancellations since May.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Working to fix the problem
In a statement issued Monday, United said it’s working to alleviate the problem.
“We’ve worked hard to reduce wait times for flight attendants to talk to a crew scheduler, including more hiring and adding digital options for some items,” the airline said.
The flight attendants’ contract expired in August 2021, although they are in labor negotiations and still working via a contract amendment that preserves their same benefits.
The union said the understaffing situation worsened last week when United management caused a day of cancellations after failing to do mandatory inspections on some of its Boeing 777-200 planes.
Management continues to deny responsibility for delays and cancellations, the union said, and instead blames others, including air traffic control, flight attendants and pilots.
“This is one of the worst summers in my 29 years at United,” Burckhalter said. “I get phone calls from my union members here in L.A. asking for help because they’re trying to clock out or check in.”
United flight attendants will be demonstrating Tuesday outside 15 airports throughout the U.S. and in Guam and London to demand that management fix the ongoing disruptions that have impacted them and the traveling public.
The LAX protest is scheduled to take place between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the upper departure level of Terminal 7.
“We’re just tired and we need the company’s help,” Burckhalter said. “We want management to come up with a solution to this situation. We just went through summer and now the holiday season is right around the corner, so it’s going to start all over again.”