Flight attendants are not happy about United’s new premium transcontinental service. In fact, they are up in arms.
I’m a blogger, an aviation enthusiast, and a very loyal United flyer. Over the years I have made friends with many FAs and been invited to certain online flight attendant forums. These password-protected or invite-only sites offer a “safe space” for which FAs and gate agents can vent about their airline.
And let me tell you: FAs are truly ANGRY about yesterday’s move.
Issue One: No Meals for All Economy Passengers
First, FAs are angry that only Economy Plus passengers and not all economy class passengers will receive complimentary meals on premium transcon routes. They worry about what they will tell regular economy passengers when they suddenly stop at row 22. After all, Untied Economy and Economy Plus are the same seats and there is no curtain or other barrier between cabins.
These FAs are not dumb: many pointed out that while American and Delta may only serve cold meals, they serve them to all passengers seated in economy, not just some passengers.
I dismiss this concern. Other carriers inside and outside the USA have no problem with a differentiation between service in premium economy and regular economy. For example, Alaska offers free snack boxes to its “Premium Class” passengers (first few rows of economy with extra legroom). Eurowings and SAS also offer meals/snacks to full-fare customers and skip around the cabin to distribute meals. It works just fine.
Issue Two: Inadequate Staffing Levels
Second, FAs are angry over staffing levels. They reason that flights are already “meagerly” staffed and that adding additional service will be too much work. FAs have already formally requested an extra FA on the 757 and 777 to warm meals and assist in the galley (United has already denied the request).
FAs further argue that this service will be so time consuming that it will take “two hours” to reach the last row of the aircraft.
I also dismiss these concerns, though more on ideological grounds than practical grounds. Provisioning additional staff would be welcomed, but is it really necessary? Let’s face it, if your transcon experience on United is like mine, it goes something like this: after-takeoff beverage + snack cart, 1-2 water runs mid-flight, a second beverage service prior to landing. That leaves a lot of time in between to sit in the galleys.
Thus, I believe (and know) there is more than enough time to do the additional service. It is indeed more work, but isn’t that your job? Carriers outside the USA manage to serve full meals on 1hr flights to the entire plane. Surely FAs have time to offer one meal service on a 5-6hour flight.
I don’t simply dismiss staffing concerns. For example, the new 777-300 has only eight fewer seats than the 747-400 but two fewer FAs, including only one pursuer. On the 747-400 there is a “Chief” purser and “aft” purser. Not so on the 777-300. The question again, however, is what is necessary.
Issue Three: 1K/Global Services Handling
FAs first worried that 1K/Global Services members sitting in regular economy would no longer receive free snacks and drinks. United quickly clarified this would not be the case. FAs then speculated how poor it would look for customers in regular economy class when 1K/GS members seated around them received free food and they received nothing.
Talk about talking out of both sides of the mouth…
United has already offered 1K/GS members a free snack and drink for over a year. Already these members are seated throughout the cabin and we have heard of no backlash.
This final issue seems the most petty.
FAs are angry they were not consulted and predict disaster. I don’t see it happening. My concern, however, is that if FA morale drops due this additional workload customers will feel the brunt of it. Let’s hope that does not happen either.