June 25, 2024

American Airlines Flight Attendants Struggle to Afford Basic Necessities

Contemporary air travel is frequently dreadful. Crowded seats, small luggage compartments — the catalog goes on. However, most of us in those snug seats actually have it far superior to the individuals strolling the aisles, who — at least on American Airlines flights — make barely above $27,000 per year while compelled to reside in major metro areas, often sleeping in their vehicles to make up the cost difference.

Fortune conversed with representatives from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union presently negotiating salaries with American — and preparing for a strike if those salaries don’t rise enough. The sentiment on the union’s side of the struggle appears to be one of having little remaining to lose:

APFA and American Airlines have been negotiating over a new contract intermittently since the previous one expired in 2019, APFA president Julie Hedrick informed Fortune.

With American’s proposed 17% increase, the starting wage rises to $31,959 per year, or $35.5 per flight hour. That rate elevates junior flight attendants who live solo above the threshold for qualifying for food stamps in states like Massachusetts or Florida.

The majority of new flight attendant recruits are mandated to reside in cities like Dallas, Miami, and New York, which have exorbitant costs of living that they cannot afford, Hedrick pointed out.

American flight attendants are residing in their vehicles, she remarked. Some of them compete for trips solely for the opportunity to partake of the plane meals, if the pilots don’t consume their meals first.

“Our new hire flight attendants are grappling,” Hedrick stated, adding that new hires vehemently opposed the 17% raise.

American has formerly issued new flight attendants a “courtesy” letter, like a type of doctor’s note for late-stage capitalism. In it, the company states that flight attendants only earn $27,315, and requests the reader to provide courtesy where possible. Having dealt with landlords, I’m certain they’ll all accept this piece of paper in lieu of rent.

The optimum prospect for American Airlines flight attendants resides in a strike, but that may not be a choice. The Biden administration has formerly signaled a readiness to uphold workers with unsustainable contracts to preserve the flow of commerce, and it’s possible it would do the same thing here — Fortune even presents it as a real hazard to the union’s plans:

That’s because railway and airline workers are prohibited from striking unless granted permission by federal mediator groups, through the 1926 Railway Labor Act. One such group, the National Mediation Board, will supervise the American Airlines negotiations, and can authorize a strike to occur if it deems that the groups are deadlocked. Nevertheless, the federal government can also obstruct a strike—as happened in December 2022, when President Joe Biden signed a measure passed by Congress to enforce a contract between rail companies and workers that many workers had dismissed.

The employees at American Airlines require this authority, but it can only be bestowed through governmental intervention — a government that’s all too inclined to favor the corporations in disputes. Maybe that’s why wages are so low to start with.


Q: What is the current salary range for American Airlines flight attendants?

A: American Airlines flight attendants earn barely above $27,000 per year, with the proposed increase bringing it to $31,959 annually.

Q: What are some of the challenges faced by new flight attendant hires at American Airlines?

A: New flight attendant hires often struggle with high living costs in cities like Dallas, Miami, and New York, leading some to sleep in their cars.


The ongoing struggles of American Airlines flight attendants highlight the disparities and challenges faced by workers in the airline industry. The need for fair wages and living conditions is crucial for the well-being of these employees. It is essential for both companies and governments to prioritize the rights and welfare of workers to ensure a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

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