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JLeslie's avatar

Why is it legal to not pay flight attendants until the doors are closed, or until take off?

Asked by JLeslie (58948points) May 16th, 2019 from iPhone

The way I understand it, flight attendants aren’t paid as we board the plane. I’ve heard that their pay starts once the doors are closed on the plane. I’ve also heard they start getting paid once the plane takes off. Which is it, and how is it legal not to pay then as soon as passengers begin to board?

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13 Answers

hmmmmmm's avatar

It’s wage theft. Apparently, there was recently a lawsuit that was won.

“According to court records in Bernstein et al. v. Virgin American Inc., the airlines didn’t pay flight attendants for the time spent prior to, after and between flights, or for the time they spent training, writing reports and going through the company’s required drug testing process. Flight attendants were also prohibited from taking rest and meal breaks – as required by state law – and some did not receive minimum wages.”

JLeslie's avatar

@hmmmmmm Interesting. That case was because of CA law though. If I’m reading it correctly. It looks like possibly the federal law allows it.

jca2's avatar

Are they part of a union? If so, there’s a contract they work under which will specify when their payable hours start and when they stop. I’m guessing this is clearly written in their contracts.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca2 Yeah, but even a Union can’t break the law. I’m surprised the law doesn’t require they be paid once they are interacting with passengers on the plane. In first class, pre-flight, passengers are being given food and drinks. Surely, the flight attendants should be paid for that? Maybe they are? I’m not 100% sure of the rules.

zenvelo's avatar

@JLeslie What complicates things is what the FAA considers “flight time” and limitations on how much flight time various jobs have.

Pilots are restricted both in “duty time” which is when they clock in at teh airport until they walk off the last parked airplane, and “rest time”. But they are also restricted in “flight time” : when the plane is moving under its own power before, during or after flight

The FAA sets limits on duty time and rest periods for Flight Attendants too. The union contracts with airlines tend to conform to the FAA regulations.

jca2's avatar

@JLeslie: Where did you get the information that they don’t get paid until the doors close?

JLeslie's avatar

I just asked a friend of mine who worked for Pan Am back in the day. She wrote Once the plane pushed back we were on the clock.You could be serving for hours on the ground due to a mechanical or bad weather and not get paid

Then she said that she thinks now it’s a different amount of pay while on the ground compared to during the flight. It might vary by airline also I guess

jca2's avatar

@JLeslie: I read the article in the link you provided. I see there is a great variation in the pay of flight attendants who work for small airlines vs. large airlines like United.

I also googled to see what their union is (Association of Flight Attendants or “AFA”) and I found their current contract. There are many provisions for things like paid parking at airports and flight discounts for family. I didn’t have time to read the whole contract, but I’m positive it includes provisions for holiday pay and things like that.

Here’s the current contract for the AFA:

I’m sure for a large airline like United, with holiday pay and overtime and whatever other benefits they make, the pay is not bad and a flight attendant is not known to be a bad job that is low paying. Now if you’re a flight attendant for a small airline, I’m not sure what their pay and benefits would be, and I’m not sure all flight attendants for all airlines are part of the union or any union.

JLeslie's avatar

Yes, the perks have always been great, like free flights. My girlfriend has a pension from her Pan Am days. Another friend of mine is retired and gets discounts on all sorts of travel like cruises, and can still hop flights. I’m not saying the whole compensation package is a bad deal.

I’m still shocked it’s legal not to pay them while on the plane serving people though. Usually WC applies to “working” hours, and paid hours are usually working hours. The hospital I worked for was sued, because we all had unpaid lunch time, but a lot of nurses got stuck eating at the floor desk, and wound up having to work in some capacity during that time. The hospital lost and had to pay a ton of time back to staff.

jca2's avatar

@JLeslie: I’m saying also that if you read the contract that I linked, it will clearly outline exactly what is considered “payable hours” and what is not. I don’t have time to read it now (as I am at work). Any union contract will clearly state what are considered work hours. I work for a union directly so we deal with this all the time.

JLeslie's avatar

I’ll read it. I appreciate the searching you did. I’m not arguing about the contract being clear, I’m only saying some of it surprises me that it’s legal.

I googled and there was a case regarding pay against Virgin Airways for California based flight attendants. I’m thinking CA has stricter labor laws and so they had a case. Here’s the link. I didn’t read it all the way through.

jca2's avatar

I was taking a quick glance at the pages in the contract that refer to pay and what they pay for.

Check out page 8, page 15, and pages 44 to 54. I see they also give paid time for flight attendants to go through Customs, so it seems like more than just when the doors close and when they open.

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