Unionized flight attendants — and flight attendants at airlines whose procedures mirror union work rules — get to work the most desirable trips based on seniority. Senior flight attendants at large international airlines can jet away to Sydney, to Buenos Aires, to Paris while more junior flight attendants overnight in Des Moines.
Humphrey Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca “we’ll always have Paris.” But you don’t always want to fly to Paris.
American Airlines flight attendants have created a secondary market renting out their seniority. They sell prime trip assignments to junior flight attendants, reportedly on average for $200 per trip.
Mid-career flight attendants hate the practice, figuring that if senior flight attendants don’t want to fly the trips they should go to whomever is next in seniority — them — for free. Airline management sent a memo to flight attendants, “We continue to receive complaints from your colleagues that certain flight attendants are not using these systems responsibly.”
Flight attendants who bid for a trip and are assigned that trip have a property right in the trip. American’s memo supports that position. However the airline says it is cracking down on trip trades, “rolling out new technology to actively monitor bidding and trading systems for suspicious activity.” Individuals may be investigated, with “suspension of individual trip trade capabilities” along with “corrective action up to and including termination of employment” a consequence.
This is apparently most common amongst legacy US Airways flight attendants, who will gain access to even more destinations worldwide when they’re merged into the same system as legacy American flight attendants and can work trips to places that are currently the exclusive province of pre-merger American Airlines crew.
The airline is giving something of value based on seniority to one group of workers, that’s valued more by others. Naturally a secondary market develops, and both parties benefit from the exchange. Problems here stem from inefficiently allocating what employees want most based on seniority, and then cowing to the envy of less senior flight attendants. Fighting the symptom of a broken duty assignment system seems the least good approach here.
From a customer service standpoint I prefer more junior – less jaundiced – crew working the ‘best’ flights and indeed working long haul business class. Assigning customer service duties to an airline’s most profitable customers based primarily on being around the longest makes little sense for a business.
Flight attendants interesting in working trips that go primarily to those with greater seniority can enhance their chances through language skills. Airlines assign flight attendants with language ability to international routes and that allows them to jump the queue because they hold out specific positions on the plane for flight attendants with language skills.