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The Island Hopper

Date: August 3, 2018

HNL, MAJ, KWA, KSA, PNI, TKK, GUM.  These seven airport codes spell out the westward route for one of the world's most unique (and longest) flights more commonly known as the Island Hopper. The Island Hopper has been a rich part of the history of Continental Micronesia (CMI) and our Flight Attendants based on Guam. With the merger of our three airlines – Continental, Continental Micronesia and United Airlines, the history of the Island Hopper is now a part of the rich history of the airline we all know today as United Airlines which will continue providing essential service to these islands in the Pacific.

In order to fly this sequence, there was a special duty day carve out for CMI Flight Attendants providing the carrier with an extended 16 hour scheduled duty day which, in the actual operation, could be extended to 17:30.

As part of our bargaining history for our Joint Collective Bargaining Agreement (JCBA), United Airlines was offsetting the increased costs of our JCBA through efficiencies realized by the combining of the pre-merger Flight Attendant groups under a single set of rules for all Flight Attendants. The company and the Union realized that the single set of duty time limitations which were agreed up would not allow the Island Hopper to be flown as it historically has been, by a single crew. In the final hours of negotiations, the company and AFA sought an accommodation that would provide for the continued operation of the Island Hopper by a single crew.  However, no agreement was reached. The main issue preventing the accommodation was that management sought to maintain this extended duty time exception and apply it to the Island Hopper sequence. This would mean that any Flight Attendant from any base operating the flight sequence would do so under this exception. The Union proposed maintaining the exception exclusively for GUM Flight Attendants.  

Without the duty time extension, the flight would not be able to be flown as a continuous sequence by one crew of Flight Attendants. Instead, the flight would now need to be flown by two crews changing at a single point along the sequence. It was determined that the best point for this crew change to occur would be Majuro, the capital and largest city of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. 

As we got closer to scheduling all Flight Attendants on a common scheduling platform, and it became necessary to schedule layovers on Majuro, the United MEC Officers began to hear from Flight Attendants on both GUM and HNL asking that the Union approach the company to seek alternative arrangements that would eliminate the need for the Majuro layover. In addition, the MEC Officers heard from GUM Flight Attendants who sought to maintain the Island Hopper in its current form and under the provisions of the extended duty day with some Inflight crew rest improvements.

With the concurrence of the United Master Executive Council, that is the 16 Local Council Presidents who comprise the decision making body of our Union, the MEC Officers began discussions with Inflight management to determine if these stated priorities could be met.

Over the course of several weeks’ discussion, United management and the Union leadership came to an agreement on a possible accommodation to meet the Union’s request for our Members in HNL and GUM. The United MEC Officers shared the outcome of those discussions with the Members of the United MEC at the Summer 2018 Regular Meeting of the United Master Executive Council.  

Specifically, layovers on Majuro would be eliminated through a unique provision to isolate the flying exclusively to GUM Flight Attendants. The terms on which agreement was reached are as follows:

  • Extension of duty time provisions applicable only to the Island Hopper sequence of 16 hours scheduled, 17:30 actual as has historically been provided.  
  • Crew Rest - Provide thirty minutes of crew rest for each member of the crew during the sequence.  The understanding includes the soft blocking of Seats 7AB which would be last used for revenue customers on every Island Hopper sequence to provide a designated crew rest area on the aircraft. When these seats were needed for revenue, crew rest, consistent with the contractual fifteen (15) and thirty (30) minute crew rest provisions of the JCBA applying to all United Flight Attendants, would be permitted on the cabin jumpseat.
  • Partial Trade Exception - Provided for a partial trade exception to allow the west bound Island Hopper sequence originating in HNL to be traded, as a block, as much as 48 hours prior and as little as 4 hours prior to departure not as a jetway trade (requiring the physical presence of both Flight Attendants at the airport) but as a regular trade.
  • Drafting Pay - To provide drafting pay whenever it was necessary to remove a GUM Flight Attendant from her/his scheduled flight in HNL to operate the Island Hopper due to an irregularity or en route sick leave call.
  • A limitation of no more than seven (7) segments in a single duty period

 

During the recent MEC Meeting, the United MEC directed the MEC Officers to attempt to enter further discussions with management to hard block the crew rest seats, obtain out of base pick up and secure additional compensation/pay for GUM Flight Attendants flying this sequence. 

In subsequent discussions with management during the week of the MEC Meeting, it was determined:

 

  • The out of base pickup provisions of the JCBA were unaltered by the agreement assigning this flying exclusively to GUM.  This flying is eligible for out of base pick up consistent with the provisions of the JCBA.
  • With regard to the hard blocking of seats 7AB, the company expressed their view that these seats would be available a very high percentage of time on a soft blocked basis.  The company was comfortable with the decision that soft blocking the two seats would meet two objectives.  First, it would provide the desired crew rest location.  At the same time, it would meet a second objective of allowing the company to capture additional revenue opportunities when they presented themselves and use the seat for revenue customers.
  • Finally, discussions regarding additional compensation for the sequence took place.   Had we been able to reach agreement on the other terms, United would have been giving up efficiencies worth a considerable amount of money and they were willing to do so. However, adding additional compensation on top of the loss of those efficiencies would have represented an unacceptable increase in costs to operate the Island Hopper.

Because the outcome directed by the United Master Executive Council was not obtained, there is no agreement to isolate this flying to GUM Flight Attendants or to maintain the historical single duty period sequence of the Island Hopper. As a result, the company will fully comply with the terms of the JCBA and will move forward with scheduling the Island Hopper sequence with a crew change and layover on Majuro.

More specifically, Guam crews will operate the Island Hopper starting in Guam making all scheduled stops through to Majuro. The Guam crew will layover and a Honolulu crew will fly the last leg of the Island Hopper sequence to Honolulu. Operating in the opposite direction, a HNL crew will take the first leg of the Island Hopper to Majuro where they will layover and a Guam based crew will cover the balance of the flight segments of the historical Island Hopper sequence through all stops along the route back to Guam.

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