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Airline Industry Needs to Straighten Up, Fly Right

Date: December 30, 2004

WASHINGTON - Following is a statement of Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants:

"Flight Attendants all across the world are closing the book on a year of disappointments and retrenchments in their industry, more determined than ever to reclaim the once-promising careers they chose. Much hard work lies ahead in 2005, but the members of our union are up to the challenges.

"The difficulties that US Airways experienced over the Christmas holidays demonstrates that many airlines, having cut their personnel to the bone, are struggling to operate. Indeed, we believe that the review called for by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta will show that the problems of this past holiday weekend were not caused by an unusually large number of employees calling in sick, as widely reported, but by what threatens to be a potentially chronic problem: short-staffing during periods of peak loads. In fact, it appears that a similar number of Flight Attendants were sick in the same period in 2003, during the Christmas flu season, but US Airways had no cancellations then because it had enough employees to cover the contingency.

"It's the same with many other airlines. United and America West, for instance, issued urgent calls of their own for volunteers to fly more hours and extra trips over the holidays. In the case of United, it was the second time the company imposed "Critical Coverage," seeking volunteers to fly additional schedules, since it furloughed thousands of Flight Attendants earlier this year. At the same time, the company is seeking to abrogate the contracts of our members through bankruptcy proceedings.

"It's time that airline management stopped trying to shift blame to their employees for their disastrous business decisions. Since it was deregulated, our industry has fallen prey to cutthroat business practices that undermine our most important product - service to the flying public. It's not labor costs - or 'disgruntled' employees - that are driving airlines into the ground, but poor management that settles on low-cost fares instead of focusing on quality service and respect for the employees so critical to delivering that product.

"Until airlines develop a new business model that unites management and labor in service to passengers, we will be threatened with the downward spiral of our industry. Flight Attendants are prepared to work with management that respects our members and our work, but we will not stand by and be scapegoats for their poor management decisions. That's a New Year's resolution that our members will keep."

More than 46,000 flight attendants, including 5,200 at US Airways, join together to form AFA, the world's largest flight attendant union. AFA is part of the 700,000 member strong Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO. Visit us at http://www.afanet.org/

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