My Way 
Or The Skyway
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
It’s high-fives all around the airline executive suites – again!
Paul Sakuma/Associated Press
United Airlines passengers check in at SFO
The airlines are raking in profits, but it’s really skyway robbery at the expense of taxpayers, airline workers, and the traveling public. The winners keep on winning and the losers keep on losing.
In last week’s newsletter, and in the Washington Post, FlyersRights talked about the passengers losing out.

This week, it’s the airline staff that’s losing. 

Airline Employees Are An Endangered Species
An email from United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek went out to employees last Thursday stating the company will outsource 630 gate agent jobs at 12 airports to companies that pay near-poverty level wages. The airports affected are Salt Lake City, Charlotte, North Carolina, Pensacola, Florida, Detroit and Des Moines, Iowa.
Here’s the memo: 

When it comes to running a safe, reliable and profitable operation, it’s important that we manage our staffing efficiently. If we’re under staffed, we can’t run our operation well. If we’re over staffed, we’re not managing our costs responsibly. Our staffing levels fluctuate to match our flight schedule, which, as you are seeing from our schedule announcements, includes more seasonal changes than in the past.

We review our staffing on an ongoing basis taking into account not only changes in flight schedules, but also new approaches and technologies together with efficiencies we’ve realized by the merger of workforces and the implementation of joint collective bargaining agreements. Sometimes we’re able to absorb small staffing overages with other work, and we look to do that when we can. However, looking ahead to this Fall, we have determined that we need to reduce staffing at some of our hubs and stations, effective with the change to our winter schedule on October 1, 2014.

These staffing adjustments include reducing below-the-wing staffing at our hubs in EWR, ORD and SFO as well as above- and below-the-wing at some of our line stations, all effective Oct. 1, 2014. About half of these adjustments overall involve full to part-time moves. While most of these are seasonal schedule adjustments, we are also making some non-seasonal staffing adjustments. Separately, we are adjusting staffing levels in BOS as a result of completing the integration of our separate operations there into one.

Airlines have long had reductions-in-force from time to time. It’s how we make seasonal and structural adjustments to competitively staff our operations. As I said earlier, there are times when we are able to manage seasonal staffing overages, but the current numbers are not manageable. While we’re accustomed to these RIFs, they are always difficult. Employees affected by these reductions, including moving from full to part-time, will receive notice either by mail or in-person over the next several days.

Over the past several months, we’ve introduced both broad and targeted early out programs related to our schedule and staffing changes in CLE and the transfer of work to outside vendors at 12 line stations. At the same time, we’ve worked with the IAM to bring positions in house in our DEN and IAD hubs as well as in PHX and, recently, HNL.

Along these lines, we announced at DEN yesterday that we’re making further changes by bringing in-house below-the-wing positions for our regional transfer of baggage (TOB) operation there. At the same time, we are moving our DEN de-icing operation to a vendor who will be dedicated to the United operation, both mainline and regional, and can flex up and down based on weather-related needs. These moves will not result in a net loss of jobs, nor any changes in pay, for our DEN employees, and we expect to improve our MBR and customer service by performing this work more efficiently.

We realize that there have been a number of staffing changes, both in-house and out to vendors. A number of employees’ lives have been affected by these, and we take this into account when we make these decisions. Please know that we are continually looking to create opportunities while taking the steps we have to in order to be competitive.

Last week, we announced our second-quarter results, which were a marked improvement from the first quarter. We want to continue to be profitable and have a sustainable business with a bright future. While we have a way to go, we are making progress. We hope that we can create further opportunities in the future, while making the difficult decisions today.

Thanks to each and every one of you for the great work you’ve done this summer. Our on-time performance, our MBR performance, our Customer Satisfaction scores and our financial performance are all moving in the right direction, and you should take pride-and credit-for that.

Substandard Service for Travelers

The hugely profitable airlines benefit from a ragtag army of poorly paid workers. 
Today, nearly all airport workers – baggage porters, janitors, cabin cleaners, plane fuelers, mechanics, gate agents, wheelchair assistance and even some pilots – have seen their jobs contracted out or wages sink. 

Their poor working conditions can wreak havoc on passenger service and safety.

Contractors lower costs to compete for airline contracts, resulting in lower quality service. For passengers, that means longer lines, lost bags and dirty cabins.

Airlines have allowed service quality to decline despite reports that find carriers that focus on people and processes have greater passenger satisfaction. 
If you were a passenger this summer, chances are very good that you were delayed at some point. Airport staffing at some airports is at such low levels that you can easily wait an hour for a ramp to be brought out to your plane at 1 a.m., your bags to arrive on the carousel, or in the winter months, to be de-iced.

Once your flight is late, chances are good you will miss your connecting flight. Mainline flights have been cut back so they are fuller and less frequent. Fewer direct flights means packed planes and less convenience for the traveler.

Then, you will miss the next two or three because they are flying so full.
Plane Greedy

Record profits and no relief for passengers, or employees. Steve Silberstein, Executive Producer of the film Inequality for All said:
“United CEO Jeff Smisek gave himself $8.1 MILLION dollars in 2014. If he had cut his salary to a “lousy” two million dollars a year instead — that would save about as much money as the purported saving of lowering the pay of those 630 jobs.”

Soon you wil be able to fly coast to coast and never interact with the airline’s real employees – only outsourced contractors. From the gate agents, baggage handlers to the regional jet pilots and crew- none will work for the airline. 

As FlyersRights has pointed out previously, being a virtual airline does not end so well if anything goes wrong.
American Airlines said the vast majority of its domestic airports already are staffed by Envoy or other contractors. Delta said only 42 of its 230 domestic airports employ Delta employees exclusively. Thirty-three airports have Delta workers as customer-service agents and Delta Global Services workers employed as ramp workers. In 80 airports, Delta Global Services workers perform both functions. Another 75 airports use other outside vendors.

Employees that work directly for United have an incentive to help the company and themselves by providing superior customer service.  Subcontractors, on the other hand, have no such incentive and are very likely to provide poor service to customers, reflecting very negatively on the company.
How is it that an industry can profit through fewer services, more wait time and reduced flights?

It all started with food services cut, although the meals weren’t very good. Now passengers pay extra for everything from bags, to a better seat or early boarding. This is being allowed because travelers have very few options. There are only a few major airlines left in business. 

Add it all up and it means skyhigh rates and far less convenience.

Your Letters!

Dear FlyersRights,
Not the worst problem…but still maddening.

Ninety minute flight: Chicago O’Hare to Washington National, arrives on time 
or a bit early. Then 45 minute wait for luggage to arrive on carousel. 
First our flight number was displayed on carousel monitor, then another 
flight was displayed. Then (after long delay) PA system apology for 
delay. Then (after another long delay) bags arrive after our flight 
displays again. 
This was bad enough when bags traveled free but really, it’s outrageous when we’ve paid for bag checking. 
I understand this might be UA, or National Airport, or team screwup. But for it to take half the flight duration to deliver bags from plane to claim ought to at 
least get bag check fee refunded. Fat chance, of course but I’ll gripe 
to UA/National and see what happens.

Thanks for what Flyers Rights does for us all!
Complain to the airline and ask for compensation.  Complain to the DOT in hopes that they will note a pattern of complaints from one airline or one airport. 
Should we add to our list of consumer demands that luggage be delivered in a timely manner or the baggage fees (where applicable) would be refunded?
Joel J Smiler DVM
Hotline Director
Dear FlyersRights:
This is what I sent to the TSA – I am surprised that there is no press about this at all and I am wondering if other frequent flyers are talking about it.
I  signed up to participate in the TSA Precheck program when it was initially available.  As a frequent traveler I spoke highly of the program.  I paid 100.00 to join, I was finger printed, my background was checked, I was photographed and interviewed by a customs agent.  I felt sure that that all of the steps were taken to insure that not only was I a known and trusted traveler, but those who participated in the program were as well.  However, the recent push by TSA to signup additional travelers has me concerned about security and in speaking to several TSA agents while traveling recently, they agree.
Here’s what concerns me:

  1. Random travelers selected to enter the precheck line – how is that secure?
  2. The precheck line merges with a non-precheck line as it enters into security screening – how is that secure?
  3. As TSA signs up more infrequent travelers the pre-check line will grow as long as the non-precheck line – so I ask what is the point?  Trading revenue generation for security?
  4. New enrollees now pay 85.00 versus my payment of 100.00 and when I spoke to a recent enrollee he informed me that he was not interviewed by a customs agent…so again I ask how is the system secure?
I will continue to use the precheck program until the lines become as long as the non-precheck lines, which I am certain they will and hopefully by that time, I will be retired and an infrequent traveler like the majority of the people being pushed into the program.

Dear DS, 
Yes, the most distressing aspect of TSA moving non-approved people over to the Precheck line is the fact that it completely undermines the intent of the program. The program was designed and promoted as an expedited screening process for those travelers who were willing to subject themselves to a background check and pay the fee to cover the program. The concept was that these are “known travelers” (based on that background check) and thus do not need as extensive of screening. But if anyone can be shifted over to the line, doesn’t the integrity of the program become lost?
I posed this question to TSA media relations, and here’s their answer:
—— Original Message ——–
Subject: RE: Precheck inquiry – media request
From: “Feinstein, Ross” <>
Date: Wed, July 30, 2014 4:19 pm
To: kendall creighton <>
To improve the screening process, TSA leverages a number of programs to direct eligible passengers to the TSA Pre✓™ lane, where travelers may receive expedited screening.  Managed Inclusion, a risk-based approach, combines the use of multiple layers of security to indirectly conduct a real-time assessment of passengers at select airports. This enables TSA to identify eligible passengers for expedited screening through TSA Pre✓™ lanes, which improves security, efficiency and the passenger experience.
Ross Feinstein
Press Secretary
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) | U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Kendall – that’s the same response they sent me and that may make sense when they select those people through the boarding pass process, but when they just merge lines it doesn’t.  The lack of security for increased revenue concerns me and as a few TSA agents told me…it concerns them too.  Thanks for the reply


Cartoon Of The Week!

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Thank you.
Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President

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