As Charlotte Airport Traffic Hits 48 Million, Its Flight Attendants Decry ‘Life In A Flow Chart.’

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On the day that Charlotte Douglas International Airport reported that 2022 traffic rose 10%, American Airlines flight attendants in Charlotte protested the slow pace of contract talks as well as stepped-up pressure from the airline, amidst the rise in travel, to perform or be disciplined .

About 100 flight attendants demonstrated Tuesday, across the street from an airport parking lot, during a day of demonstrations at 11 key airports. Charlotte is American’s second largest hub. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American flight attendants, has 25,000 members including 3,000 in Charlotte.

The pandemic made the lives of American flight attendants far more difficult, not just because they were placed on the front line of the culture wars over mask-wearing, but also because the carrier imposed more rigid policies regarding attendance and scheduling. At first, the carrier downsized rapidly. Then passengers returned suddenly, overwhelming shrunken infrastructure.

“The job has changed in many ways since Covid,” said APFA President Julie Hedrick, in an interview. “There is more stress. Our flexibility has decreased quite a bit. Our trips have more duty days, longer duty days and less rest. And we have a very punitive attendance policy,” due to a change in 2021.

“The policy we have today is not humane,” Hedrick said. “The company is not taking into consideration the reasons for illnesses. The change in policy has caused a lot of discontent among flight attendants.”

While American is rapidly hiring flight attendants, turnover is high, Hedrick said. Several hundred left in the past year, some because of stepped-up discipline.

In Charlotte, the number of grievances tripled last year to about 170, said Scott Hazlewood, APFA base president. He said about half of Charlotte’s flight attendants have been disciplined in some way. for offenses that could include a negative letter from a passenger, a crew that doesn’t get along, or being late to work. “There are more people on the disciplinary track here than there have ever been,” he said.

The five-year contract became amendable in December 2019. Negotiations that began in 2018 were shut down due to the pandemic. They resumed in August 2021. Now, “We’d like to get a deal done,” Hedrick said. Flight attendants need flexibility changes as well as wage increases.”

At the demonstration, flight attendants focused on their demanding work environment as well as their need for higher wages. They have received seniority increases, but no wage increases since 2019. Under the current contract, they top out at $68.25 hourly after 13 years. The busiest flight attendants work 80 hours a month. They are paid only for flight time, not for sitting in airports or spending nights on the road.

“Picketing events like the one taking place today aren’t out of the ordinary during contract negotiations and will have no impact on our operation,” American said, in a prepared statement.

“American remains committed to reaching a contract that’s good for our flight attendants and our airline,” the carrier said. “We continue to meet regularly with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, have made meaningful progress, and continue to make reaching a new agreement our highest priority.”

Leslie Boone, a 35-year flight attendant who once worked for Piedmont Airlines, said “Scheduling issues are terrible now.” In bad weather events, the airline “is in a panic to get flight attendants on an airplane,” she said. “It’s like living in a flow chart.”

Trevor Taylor, a 29-year-flight attendant who started at America West Airlines, said. “We are not unsympathetic to the company’s wanting to get people to their destinations. But we shouldn’t be the fall guys for their lack of planning and their scheduling issues.”

Meanwhile, the airport said 2022 traffic reached nearly 48 million passengers, about 5% below its record 50 million passengers in 2019. During the pandemic, American boosted flying at Charlotte and Dallas, eclipsing other airlines in its push to restore domestic service.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve outperformed national trends, and we’re showing no signs of slowing down in 2023,” said Haley Gentry, airport CEO, in a prepared statement.

“What we’ve experienced over the past three years really demonstrates the resiliency of this airport and the aviation industry as a whole,” Gentry said. Airport traffic fell from 50 million passengers in 2019 to 27 million in 2020, then rose to 43 million in 2021 and to 48 million in 2022.

Despite the gains, Charlotte appears likely to lose its 2022 status as the sixth busiest airport in the world. Orlando International, which was seventh, and Las Vegas Harry Reid International, which was tenth, and Miami International Airport, which was 12th, have gained traffic faster than Charlotte. In the 12 months ending November 30, Orlando traffic was up 30% to 49.7 million. Through the end of November, Las Vegas had 48.3 million passengers. Miami has said it will reach 50 million passengers in 2022.

Forbes Business
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