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United Backs Down on Liquor Ban for Flight Attendants

May 25, 2014 9:00 am

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United still doesn’t have legacy Continental and United flight attendants on a unified contracts, and labor relations are frayed. The flight attendants saw the liquor-possession ban as an overreach, and further evidence of management’s disdain for the unions.

— Dennis Schaal

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United Airlines

United Airlines and its flight attendants on May 21, 2013 celebrated the 25th anniversary of the airline's Terminal C hub facility at Newark Liberty International Airport. United Airlines


United Airlines’ new no-booze policy for flight attendants got a swift smack-down.

A rule banning attendants from possessing alcohol while on duty, even in luggage, was withdrawn within a day after United announced the move, a union spokeswoman, Corey Caldwell, said May 23 in a telephone interview. Chicago-based United backed down after the Association of Flight Attendants balked, she said.

“In less than 24 hours, AFA was able to pressure management into reversing the policy,” Caldwell said. While attendants accept existing rules against on-the-job drinking, they objected to the reach of United’s regulation, she said.

The short-lived dispute flared in the middle of United’s effort to create a single collective bargaining contract for attendants at the two carriers that merged in 2010 to create parent United Continental Holdings Inc. Some employees of UAL Corp.’s United and those of Continental Airlines are still operating under separate union contracts.

United “chose to update” its alcohol rules during a “regular review” of company policies, according to a statement from the carrier. “After we received feedback from our flight attendants, we rescinded this policy for further review.”

Megan McCarthy, a United spokeswoman, declined to comment beyond the statement.

The carrier’s management has had an often-fractious relationship with the union representing pre-merger United attendants since the Continental deal. The slow pace of talks on a unified contract has left the airline with a staffing imbalance, prompting furloughs on the legacy United side even while it adds employees to the former stand-alone Continental.

Layover Purchase

Caldwell said some attendants saw the alcohol regulation as infringing on their rights. For example, the policy would have barred an employee from buying a bottle at a wine shop during a long layover and taking it on board in luggage, Caldwell said.

“No one knows where this came from,” Caldwell said. “There was no incident, no triggering factor. It just came out of left field.”

The union learned of the change on May 21 when United published it in an internal publication called “Inflight Services Weekly.” The regulation said flight attendants weren’t allowed to possess alcohol at any time while on duty without management’s permission.

United made an exception for alcohol bought between flights at a duty-free shop, and required a receipt in such cases, according to the airline’s statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Sasso in Atlanta at msasso9@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net Ben Livesey

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