Starting in June, United Airlines will fly a Boeing 787-9 between Los Angeles and Newark. Do you know why?
It has little to do with ensuring domestic passengers can fly United's most modern aircraft. Instead, it is the result of a recent dispute between United's management and the Association of Flight Attendants, or AFA.
First some background. United has two groups of flight attendants, and each works under a distinct collective bargaining agreement. One is a group called the Continental flight attendants, and as the name suggests, it mostly consists of flight attendants who worked at Continental before the merger. The second group is former United flight attendants. United has hired new flight attendants since the merger but even they are assigned to one group or the other. [This will go away when United reaches a single contract covering both groups, but negotiations have been slow.]
Since flight attendants are split in two, United's fleet also has two halves. Roughly half the planes belong to the United side, and the rest to the Continental side. If a plane belonged to Continental before the merger - like a 10-year-old Boeing 737 - that aircraft is always flown by Continental-side flight attendants. The same goes for United's planes. Continental never had Airbus A319s or Airbus A320s, so if you fly on one today, your flight attendants will be working under United's years-old union contract.
But what about new planes?
Aircraft delivered after the merger must be assigned to one of the two flight attendant groups. Usually, though not always, the system is simple: If old United ordered the plane, it goes to United. If Continental ordered it, it goes to Continental.
But United and Continental both ordered the 787s. And this recently became a problem for United's new management.
Since the merger, United has been assigning all 787s to the Continental side. Executives apparently did this good faith, believing all the planes would have gone to Continental had there been no merger. However, the AFA recently filed a grievance. The union suspected at least some of the 787s should have gone to the United side. This is important to flight attendants, because the 787s fly some of the cushiest routes, like trans-Pacific flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Asia.
United checked, and realized it had made a mistake - but only on one 787. So starting in June, it is transferring one 787 from the Continental side to the United side.
This is now an operational issue. United has 28 Boeing 787s, but one of them must be isolated from the rest. It can only be flown by United-side flight attendants.
This means United can't send it to Tokyo or Shanghai or Melbourne or Shanghai. If it did, there would be no flight attendants who could fly the plane back. The aircraft would have to sit in Asia for 24 hours while the flight attendants who flew it over rested in a hotel room. That's not viable, so this plane is going to fly coast-to-coast for awhile.
By August, things will improve. By then, according to the AFA, United will assign two more 787s (both new deliveries) to the United side. With a subfleet of three aircraft, United believes it can use them internationally. These planes will be isolated to the San Francisco-Taipei route, according to the AFA.
Does this make any sense? Did you realize it was so complicated?
Here's a release United and the AFA put out about the issue.
United and AFA reach settlement on B787 allocation
March 18, 2016
United and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) are pleased to announce that we have reached a settlement to AFA’sgrievance related to the allocation of B787 aircraft.
United investigated AFA’s grievance and discovered that the B787 aircraft delivered in July 2015, tail number 956, was erroneously assigned to be flown by subsidiary Continental Flight Attendants. Under the terms of the settlement, this aircraft will be reassigned to be flown by subsidiary United Flight Attendants effective at the schedule change during the June flying month. In addition, in recognition of the erroneous assignment of the aircraft, United will make a payment of damages, to be distributed to subsidiary United Flight Attendants. We expect the individual payments to be reflected on their May 16thpaychecks.
“The aircraft order book and resultant allocation of aircraft is complex, and in this case, we made a mistake. We are committed to correcting our error as quickly as possible.” said Doug McKeen, Senior Vice President of Labor Relations. “We are glad that we were able to work together with AFA to successfully resolve this issue.”
“AFA and the company worked expeditiously to correct the mistake in the assignment of the 787 aircraft. We believe the agreement that we’ve reached will compensate Flight Attendants for the impact of the error on the entire system,” said Ken Diaz, AFA United MEC President. This resolution is necessary in order to move forward in building a new United Airlines based on a foundation of trust and transparency.”
In the spirit of working together to ensure that future additions to the United fleet are properly designated, United will be meeting monthly with representatives of the Flight Attendant groups to discuss upcoming changes to the fleet.
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