The viral ‘courtesy’ letter American Airlines gives flight attendants shows how little they earn

The viral ‘courtesy’ letter American Airlines gives flight attendants shows how little they earn

America’s cost-of-living crisis has stung new flight attendants, many of whom have had no chance to renegotiate their contracts since the spiral of inflation began several years ago.

Employment confirmation letters that American Airlines gave to some newly hired flight attendants documenting their salaries were circulated on Reddit, drawing attention to their low wages.

The letter stated that a new American Airlines flight attendant would have a “projected annual salary [of] $27,315 per year before incentives and taxes” and concluded, “Any courtesy you can extend would be appreciated.”

The union that represents American Airlines employees, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), confirmed the validity of the letter, which is given to prospective landlords or for other services where attendants need to verify their employment and income. The union represents 28,000 American Airlines flight attendants, and it is working on their first new contract in five years – a deal that was in place before the pandemic and inflationary crisis.

American Airlines did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

While price increases are slowing, the letter shows how, for some Americans, a little inflationary relief isn’t enough. The low pay for starting flight attendants — a job once seen as luxury — underscores how many people are still struggling, despite what on paper appears to be a strong economy and job market.

This salary exceeds the federal poverty line of $15,060 for a one-person household. But that’s national and doesn’t take into account regional price differences, including in major metro areas where the cost of living can be significantly higher.

In some states, such as Massachusetts, new flight attendants are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly referred to as food stamps. For one-person households, Massachusetts residents earning less than $30,120 a year are eligible for SNAP benefits.

The union says the low pay of flight attendants compared to top airline executives is a prime example of “corporate greed.”

New flight attendants at American Airlines start at $27,000 a year. Robert Isom, CEO of American Airlines, earned $31.4 million last year — 1,162 times more than a new flight attendant.

“We have flight attendants sleeping in their cars,” APFA communications director Paul Hartshorn told CNN.

American Airlines flight attendants haven’t gotten a raise since 2019, and the union is stepping up its push for a new contract to raise wages.

Flight attendants for United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and other airlines are also pushing for a new contract to raise wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for flight attendants in 2023 will be $71,000.

Although being a flight attendant is a full-time job, many flight attendants only earn about 75 hourly wages per month. For most flight attendants, hourly pay basically starts when the plane door closes. They are not paid for the time they need to be at the airport or on the plane during boarding and disembarking.

APFA proposed a 33% wage increase to $91 an hour in the first year of the new contract and increases of 5%, 4% and 4% for the remaining years of the four-year agreement. The union is also calling for a retroactive full wage increase based on the number of flight attendants during the five years of negotiations.

Under federal law, flight attendants cannot go on strike without permission from the government. The law, known as the Railroad Labor Act, requires union members at airlines, among certain industries, to continue working until after federal mediators declare an impasse in talks.

But the union called on President Joe Biden and congressional leaders to urge the National Mediation Board to allow the union to proceed with a possible strike. The National Mediation Board is the federal agency that oversees labor-management relations in the US railroad and airline industries.

“American Airlines is not going to come to the table with an economic proposal that meets our needs unless they have the threat of a strike,” Hartshorn said. “Management needs the threat of a strike to move in the direction we need.”

Flight attendants at Southwest Airlines last month confirmed a new contract that includes a pay increase totaling more than 33% over four years.

“We expect compensation along the Southwest line,” he said.

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