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Union complains about United Airlines’ plan for fewer attendants on international flights

Union complains about United Airlines’ plan for fewer attendants on international flights
Starting in February 2019, United Airlines plans to cut one flight attendant position from each international flight. (Karen Warren / Associated Press)

The union that represents flight attendants for United Airlines is objecting to plans by the Chicago-based carrier to eliminate one flight attendant position on most of its long-haul international flights, starting in February.

The airline says the move won’t “impact our customer experience” and is meant to align United’s staffing levels and “remain competitive” with those of its rivals, Delta and American airlines, United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said.

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But the Assn. of Flight Attendants, which represents 50,000 flight attendants from 21 airlines, complains that one fewer flight attendant on each flight means a bigger workload for the remaining crew.

“It means fewer flight attendants to respond to medical emergencies, back each other up with aggressive passengers, maintain a safe space for everyone and follow through on addressing any issues of sexual assault or hostile situations,” the group posted last week on its website.

The union said the airline is being run like a hedge fund, with a focus only on short-term gains.

Under the change, United Airlines’ widebody international flights will operate with 10 flight attendants starting in February, down from the usual 11. Those flight attendants removed from the flights won’t be fired but will be reassigned to other flights, Guerin said.

One way the airline can reduce staffing is by preparing or “pre-plating” meals when planes are on the tarmac, instead of having a flight attendant do that task in the air.

Guerin said the staffing change does not reflect any financial hardship at the airline. He said United plans to add up to 2,000 new flight attendants by 2019 to meet the growing demand for air travel. United Airlines employs 23,000 flight attendants.

“We want to continue to invest in the growth of the company,” he said.

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