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How Management Can Support Our Summer Operation

Date: July 27, 2021

If you weren’t watching, summer passenger loads arrived weeks ago and will apparently continue through the month of August.  While these passenger loads are ultimately part of what we hope will become our financial success story, they bring with them their own challenges.  Recognizing these challenges, John Slater, SVP Inflight, messaged all of us last Friday about what we can do to support United’s summer operations. 

Looking at the challenges we’ve collectively faced up until this point this summer, (No, it’s not August yet!) John recognized our efforts and thanked us for our contributions in caring not only for our passengers, but for taking care of each other as well.  Despite all of the operational challenges, taking care of United passengers is job number one and John acknowledged, Flight Attendants have done a superior job.

John emphasized how dependability is perhaps the most important factor in boosting United’s Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and is critical in getting our passengers to their destinations, on time.  We could not agree more. Dependability is vital in creating a positive experience. However, the responsibility for dependability does not just fall on frontline employees. What is equally important for the success of our airline is for management to be dependably relied upon to assist Flight Attendants during times of disruption.

Two weekends ago, it’s fair to say that anything that could go wrong, did.  All in the same weekend.  We experienced first-hand Reserve shortages, drafting, white & purple flag days.  For those who worked through these challenges, the only thing worse was the inability to contact crew scheduling or the hotel desk culminating in crew having to sleep in the airports. 

To be fair, crew scheduling and the hotel desk probably did the best that they could with the resources available and given the unpredictable nature of the events that culminated in creating “a perfect storm.”  Nonetheless, those support structures that are in place to assist crew members during these irregular operations were not sufficiently staffed to provide dependable assistance.

Fortunately, we have a Contract that empowers Flight Attendants during irregular operations to seek self-help when the systems designed to support them become overwhelmed and inoperable. 

This past week, we’ve referenced in Union publications, the ability for Flight Attendants to use our Contractual protections for Self Help in times of scheduling disruptions. These provisions protect us in the circumstances we experienced recently, but to do so successfully, they require us to be familiar with them and be proactive in using them. 

Understandably, it may be unexpected, even uncomfortable for some of us to deviate from what is a normal procedure. Our professional instincts tell us to follow the normal procedures and to expect scheduling and the hotel desk to get back to us, dependably.

However, when there are insufficient contingencies in place, such as we’ve recently experienced, we must remember it is incumbent on us to act in our own self-interests.  We must work together to take care of each other during these periods of adversity.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen crew scheduling and the hotel desk meltdown in the face of an imploding irregular operations situation.  In fact, this is the third or fourth time we’ve had this same outcome in the face of similar situations in the past.  While we might cut management some slack the first time they were caught unprepared, the second & subsequent times should have been opportunities to refine and improve the processes in use. Regrettably, it doesn’t appear this has happened. It is simply unacceptable that management was not prepared to dependably demonstrate their preparedness to address circumstances demanding their attention in order to care for the employees on whom we all rely to keep our business operating.

Management needs to step up their game. Flight Attendants cannot be expected to be dependable, that is to contribute toward the all-important NPS, when out of position, un-rested and out of contact.

So, one might consider a few suggestions on how United’s team can better support Flight Attendants and “Help our Summer Operation.”

  1. Be prepared. When Reserve coverage may be tight, and other scheduling options may come into play, have a plan and staff for it.  Have additional crew schedulers available to balance the workload.  United has implemented plans for this department to work remotely throughout the pandemic, activating a “Reserve crew scheduling” team would help get calls and questions from crew members answered.
  2. Be ready. Weather rarely comes out of nowhere. While it may develop quickly, United employs a robust and competent meteorological team. When weather may be a problem, begin staffing (from home if necessary) to get crew scheduling and hotels, on-line and in position to respond. When time is of the essence and re-starting the operation is reliant on minutes, management should be prepared to respond with the same urgency that is expected of crew.
  3. Be staffed. When irregular operations are forecast, ensure the hotel desk is prepared for contingencies.  Where are the potential trouble spots where we may have crews without hotels?  Are these domicile locations or are we talking about potential diversionary points?  Get better prepared for hotels and, where necessary, implement a plan for hotels that is locally executed. Get the Flight Attendants to the hotel to rest to ensure staffing is available for recovery operations as soon as possible for the next day.
  4. Be supportive. During IROPS, staff up in advance with local supervisors and have them in the crew rooms and on the concourse to support Flight Attendants. Empower them to make decisions and act to get the crews what they need.  Perhaps meeting individual crews will prevent the “pile-up” and resulting back-up in the base. 

Flight Attendants are a crucial component in the operational equation on which our airline relies to be successful. Failing to adequately care for your crews, simply makes it impossible to deliver on our corporate objectives. Good airlines can operate on clear weather days.  Great airlines operate through adversity. Putting together a superior effort to care for front line employees when irregularities occur is the lynch pin between good and great.  Working together, we can ensure the lynch pin is properly in place so that we can ultimately become the airline that our customers consistently refer their friends and family to fly.

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