MIAMI — Earlier this month, United Airlines announced that it intended to furlough 688 flight attendants. However, United now says there may be a way to keep the 688 flight attendants who were to be furloughed on April 1.
The airline plans to offer the furloughed flight attendants work in its Continental unit.
While this would have struck many as the obvious answer, moving staff to the Continental side is not as easy as it may sound. Although United and Continental merged in 2010, flight crews are still separated by former affiliation. For example, former Continental Airlines flight attendants only fly planes that used to be part of the Continental fleet. At the moment, it is not known when they will be fully integrated.
Association of Flight Attendants-CWA spokesman Christopher Clarke told USA Today that furloughed flight attendants have been hired as far back as 2006, but moving back is a major issue due to seniority. Seniority is crucial as it governs layoff protection, bidding for vacations, and the most desirable trips. Mr. Clarke aslo said that the union must approve the deal to allow them to cross over to Continental.
Plus, moving to the Continental side would mean a pay cut.
“Allowing flight attendants who wish to work the opportunity to do so is definitely the right thing,” Sam Risoli, the airline’s vice president for in-flight services, wrote in a letter to flight attendants announcing the offer.
Despite the flight crews not working together, some crews from the United side and some from the Continental side have been flying together for several months. Last fall, flight attendants from the United side began to fly some of the new Boeing 737-900ERs as the 757-200 is being retired. Continental pilots fly the Boeing 737-900ER aircraft as United is in the process of training pilots from the United side on the new aircraft.
Since the merger, the United side has had an excess of flight attendants, while Continental side has had a shortage. Many flight attendants from the United side have voluntarily joined the Continental side since the merger. United says the furloughed flight attendants will still have the right to be recalled to the United side if there are future openings.