Skift Take

United flight attendants are the latest to express their frustrations over stagnant pay and taxing work conditions.

Around a dozen United Airlines flight attendants picketed outside LaGuardia Airport on Thursday, demanding better pay and working conditions. 

The protest was part of a wider initiative by United’s flight attendants, with picketing at the carrier’s major hubs and bases in the U.S. and U.K. The recent disclosure of United CEO Scott Kirby’s pay sparked the protest — he made close to $19 million in 2023. 

Flight attendant wages, on the other hand, have been stuck. The median salary of a flight attendant is around $68,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“All the work-life balance things that we’re asking for, they just haven’t even sent us proposals yet,” said Lily Meyer, a United flight attendant based out of LaGuardia. 

Meyer said at a town hall Thursday that the company suggested flight attendants work 18-hour shifts. Typically flight attendants work anywhere from 10 to 15 hours a day, but are not paid for the full shift.

“If you can imagine working for 18 hours, not just on the ground — you’re doing multiple flights a day,” Meyer said. “Then, we don’t have enough time to rest. It’s actually unsafe.”

United said it was continuing negotiations with the flight attendants’ union.  

“Since last month we’ve been meeting with the Association of Flight Attendants and the federal mediator they requested as we continue to work toward an industry-leading agreement for our flight attendants,” United said in a statement. “Our negotiations are continuing this week and we have additional dates scheduled later this month.”

Tensions Between Airlines and Flight Attendants Rise as Pay Stagnates

These protests also mark another contentious flash point in contract negotiations between flight attendants and airlines as talks have continued for years. Meyer said United flight attendants have been in negotiations with the carrier for 29 months and it’s unclear when they’ll reach an agreement. Meyer added that negotiations have historically taken around 24 months. 

“It’s beyond maddening that it’s been 29 months at the table,” Meyer said.

Flight attendants at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines had previously voted to authorize a strike. Alaska Airlines flight attendants staged a similar protest in February. Southwest flight attendants recently reached a tentative agreement with Southwest, but the union needs to ratify the new contract before it can go into effect.

One of the biggest issues for flight attendants across the industry has been pay. Flight attendants are only compensated for the time worked inside the plane, once the door closes — they are not paid for boarding or for any work on the ground. 

Flight attendants last received wage increases in 2020, according to United.

Pilots across the industry received hefty pay raises since the pandemic, with some airlines offering pilots as much as 50% raises. 

Airlines are expected to eventually reach agreements with their flight attendants, with some Wall Street analysts predicting that their labor costs will grow significantly in 2024. 

Meyer said this was the fourth time LaGuardia flight attendants were picketing and that they would continue to put pressure on United. 

“It’s hard when you’re like ‘Alright, I have to pay rent,’ and let me now have to choose what groceries I can buy,” Meyer said. “It’s not fair, this is my full-time job. I’ve been doing this for 18 years.” 

Correction: This story has been updated to note that United flight attendants last received a wage increase in 2020. An earlier version of the story reported that the last increase was in 2016.


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Tags: american airlines, association of flight attendants, flight attendants, New York LaGuardia Airport, newark airport, Scott Kirby, southwest airlines, united airlines

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