United in-flight crews make efforts to bridge labor strife


As a spectator I’m oft amused but the labor integration issues associated with mergers of unionized companies. As a customer I’m horrified because it nearly always is bad news for me as the crews bicker over which set of rules will prevail and how the "other" side is so horrible. But as a spectator those same situations can be rather entertaining as the employees slowly move to integrated operations.

The current integration efforts of the legacy Continental and United Airlines‘ crews are the latest such spectacle, replete with the usual bone-headed "lobbying" of customers and complaints, either in the galley or openly to passengers, about how the changes are bad. I’ve heard far too many crews on United flights recently announce that a "Proud Continental Crew" is working the trip and even some "Real United Crew" announcements. It is petty and stupid and does nothing to make the situation better for anyone.

I’ve also had a few experiences where the crews are getting over it in more ways than one. A recent flight from Phoenix to Houston had a "trans-Con" FA working the flight. This was a sUA FA who chose to switch to the sCO side (CO is hiring and UA is not due to aircraft delivery schedules and the lack of an integrated workforce). She cited a number of reasons for making the switch while we chatted, mostly focused on improving her personal quality of life, even in spite of her union trying to limit the ability of the FAs to make that switch. Can’t say that’s a bad thing at all for her, though it is strange that the union is getting in the way rather than helping the situation.

Over the weekend I was introduced to another group of flight attendants working to change the way the split crews of the single company are interacting: The Sister and Brotherhood of the Traveling Scarves and Ties.

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OK, so the name is a bit unwieldy, but the idea is a pretty simple one and a pretty cool one. Flight Attendants are being encouraged to share the scarf or tie component of their uniform with a FA from the other side of the company. It is, by many accounts, a silly gesture. But it is also quite a symbolic one. They all really do work for the same company and serve the same customers. Remembering that is a good thing.

And the good news is that it seems they’ve got a decent number of folks participating from the beginning. In other words, maybe the labor situation really isn’t so bad, at least where the folks doing the actual work are. A guy can dream…

Oh, and can we stop with the silly "Proud Continental" and "Real United" crew announcements. Please??

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

7 Comments

  1. I see nothing wrong in a flight crew gently indicating they’re a “Continental” flight crew for some time to come. Part of the commercial imperative in the merger was reassuring Continetal flyers that service wasn’t going to fall off a cliff on account of the merger (remember, much of Continental’s premium growth at EWR in the early 2000s was a direct result of United’s plunge in customer service levels).

  2. Just a little clarification in regards the comment “it is strange that the Union it’s getting in the way rather than helping the situation”. Unfortunately the whole story was not communicated, the first crossover offer was presented during the Union election and without any input from the UA Flight Attendants Union. The second offer was incorporated into a tentative agreement and this time around the elected Union had control of the terms and modified them favorably to the flight attendants. Out of fifteen thousand flight Attendants only 119 wanted to crossover.

  3. A little more clarification about the crossover. When the crossover was first presented, the UA Flight Attendants Union had the opportunity then to renegotiate any term it found unacceptable. The only difference is the crossover then and now was a right to rescind period not contained in the original. The UA AFA rejected the original crossover because they ‘thought it gave them leverage in their negotiations’. After rejecting it, the company gave them a middle finger and said, fine, we’ll just hire off the street. Which is exactly what they did. Had the original crossover been extended at the time it was presented, many of those crossover would have held lines this summer in IAH. 99.9% of the crossover are happy with their decision. They are making more money and have more control and flexibility over their lives, even on reserve.

  4. Funny, I tied the behavior to the CEO’s comments about “culture” on the video at the beginning of the flight, and thought it might be sanctioned at the top as part of change management. Perhaps a little healthy competition and pride internally may encourage (what I see as) an inferior UA ethic to improve and prevent a (further) slide of CO morale and performance. As a flier of both former airlines, I imagine the goal is to make the combined airline look and feel more like Continental used to be and less like United. I have only heard the legacy CO employees identify themselves as such.

  5. I really don’t understand the inferior UA product bit. Are you talking about flight crews because in the last year I have seen some pretty bad legacy CO crews. As the Wandering Aramean said it’s time to put this UA vs CO stuff behind us. It’s either one airline or not.

  6. We have a small window of time to share a scarf, a tie and a good word. Soon our new uniforms will be distributed and we will all look alike as we move further into this merger. I support any idea that will bring us together helping to alleviate some of the strife that comes with merging two airlines. I’m trans-con and thrilled to have made the change to the other side.

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