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AFA Flight Attendants, International Bases and the Words We Use

Date: May 13, 2020


As we approach what we should by now all anticipate to be among the most difficult period in the history of our airline, there are a number of items that are critically important to our collective success.  Above all, standing together in solidarity as one work group, regardless of where we are based, is essential.  In doing so, we must all understand that what we say matters.


Recent exchanges between Flight Attendants suggests there may be some confusion between AFA represented Flight Attendants at International bases and the contractual reference to “Foreign Nationals”.  


All Flight Attendants at United Airlines appear on the System Seniority list. Regardless of our seniority or status as a lineholder or Reserve, we all work under the same Contract and are entitled to the protections our ratified agreement provides.  


The term, “Foreign National” has a specific meaning as outlined in the Letter of Agreement on page 323 of our Contract. From a historical perspective, Foreign National Flight Attendants were limited in number and were assigned to bases in BKK and SIN. These employees of the company were not U.S. Citizens, worked designated flights (within Asia) and, most importantly, their names did not appear on the System Seniority List nor did they work under the protections afforded by the AFA Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Foreign National bases in BKK and SIN were closed after the events of 9/11 and all of these employees were released from United Airlines as required by the terms of this Letter of Agreement during a period of furlough. These bases no longer exist.


Flight Attendants based at our International domiciles are a diverse group of people from many different countries, some even from the United States. These Flight Attendants appear on the System Seniority list and are afforded all of the same protections of the AFA Contract that those of us based in the United States are afforded. It is important to understand that these Flight Attendants are not “foreign” to the nations in which they are domiciled. For example, a Flight Attendant of British descent flying from LHR is not “foreign” to her/his base. They are, in fact, at home in a country where United Airlines has established a base. These individuals were hired after incumbent Flight Attendants on the System Seniority List were afforded the opportunity to transfer to the established bases.  


In fact, U.S. citizens living in these nations work onboard United flights departing from those countries in which international domiciles have been established. These women and men wear the same United Airlines uniform as those of us based at domiciles or satellites in the United States and work under the terms of the same Contract. And, regardless of their nationality or country or origin, our Union’s Mutual Respect Policy and our Company’s Code of Conduct ensures these individuals are treated with the respect they have earned after decades of dedicated service to our company and our profession.


During any period of adversity, it’s easy to propose solutions to problems looking at the issue purely from our own perspective, with our own interests at the forefront.  As trade unionists, we look at solutions from the perspective of the collective. We ask the question, “How do we work together to find the solution to the problem that benefits the greatest number of Members?”  We take every opportunity to look at each other’s perspective in a way that makes it possible for us to understand each other. And, when I understand “your” problem in a way that it becomes “our” problem, we all benefit from that solidarity.


It should be clear by now that our airline faces serious challenges and that each of us, by our association with our airline, are facing a similar set of dire circumstances. We’ve asked that you focus your attention on getting your personal finances in order and that you exercise caution in all of your financial decision making during the short summer months ahead. We shared this information with you not to cause anxiety or fear but to allow you to focus your attention on your immediate needs in order to ensure you are prepared to take care of yourself under a constantly changing set of circumstances.  At the same time, we’ve pointed out that now is the time for us to be kind to each other and, where possible, to help each other out to the best of our ability. 


Now, more than ever, we need to be kind to each other, to be selective in our choice of words because words have consequences no matter how unintentional those words may be. What we say matters. We, that is, all of us, can ill afford to be at odds with each other in the months and weeks ahead. We are going to have to close ranks, pull together and make some very difficult decisions if our company is to survive and we are to have not just a job, but a career of which we, as essential workers and first responders, are proud to call our profession.  

We are stronger together, better together. Now, more than ever, we need to not only remind ourselves of this reality, we must live it.

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