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United Moves Forward Returning Welcome Beverage Service Over AFA Objections

Date: November 19, 2021


WSJ GraphicsEarlier this week,  Inflight informed Flight Attendants through a Catering Alert that Welcome Beverages are to be offered in the Premium Cabin on all mainline flights, effective November 23.

Lest our objection to the return of this service become mischaracterized, we want to say upfront, this is not about Flight Attendants not wanting to offer this service to passengers on the aircraft.  None of the employees of United Airlines more than Flight Attendants wants to return to a sense of normal on the aircraft, sooner rather than later.  As United management’s most recent metric, the Net Promoter Score (NPS), indicates, we are delighting customers as never before. This metric shows how, despite the challenges brought about by the proximity of passengers in the cabin, we are making all of it work.  In fact, United Flight Attendants have not only earned our reputation for delivering exceptional service, we have consistently expressed that we want to be proud of the service we offer but also promote, as we clearly have been, our reputation in being the best airline in the world where safety, in all things, at all times, is our collective number one priority.

But what we do, the expectation we set, must actually make sense, and not create a situation where it appears we’re providing conflicting direction to passengers or setting an example that seems to countermand the recommendations we have been executing against for the past twenty months.  Given the recent data from the CDC, the addition of this service does not seem to acknowledge the recent information on the average new daily coronavirus cases in the U.S.

“According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average of new daily coronavirus cases in the U.S. has surpassed 85,000, a more than 14 percent increase from a week ago.”

Testing of the procedures to return the Welcome Beverage to the cabin occurred in August of this year on two routes out of SFO.  We immediately raised our concern to management over the return of this service identifying the closer proximity to passengers that Flight Attendants would be placed in while shuffling around boarding passengers and their baggage in our effort to deliver this service.  Further, we expressed concern about the visual this will create for other boarding passengers as they walk on the aircraft seeing those in the premium cabins without masks on as they drink the Welcome Beverages.  This “visual” created stands in stark contradiction to the messages to which passengers have been exposed prior to boarding about the need to keep your nose and mouth covered with a mask due to federal regulations.  We have expressed concern that this will only present additional challenges for Flight Attendants seeking to gain compliance with the Federal Mask Mandate.

While the Welcome Beverage service proposed should be more efficient for Flight Attendants than the pre-pandemic pre-departure ground service where a broader selection of beverages, including alcohol, was served, we have serious concerns about the timing of the reintroduction of this service. As safety and service professionals, Flight Attendants understand the role we play in contributing to the experience and satisfaction of the passengers in our care, all of them.  From our expert perspective in the cabin, now is not the time to reintroduce this component of the service. 

Now more than any other time in our history, management uses data to drive and, dare we say, justify their decisions.  It is absolutely critical that all of us continue to report issues with passenger mask non-compliance, alcohol-related issues, as well as any other issues or concerns arising from this change in policy. If it is not documented, it is not a problem and, from management’s perspective, it simply does not exist. 

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