Southwest flight attendants agree to international and over-water flights

The Flight Attendants from Southwest agreed last week to changes in their contract which will allow them to work flights to international destinations or routes which require flying over water. The agreement, known as Side Letter 10, was approved by a narrow 53%-47% margin with ~57% of eligible employees voting. This vote was the second taken on the topic; the first failed with fewer members voting. The deal only covers “near international” destinations, basically the Americas north of Ecuador/Venezuela/Colombia/Peru. Should the company choose to expand to destinations further afield (e.g. Europe) there would need to be further negotiations on the contract. With this approval the company can move forward with planning their integration with the AirTran international service as well as expansion of that service.

The agreement is significant for Southwest and their flight attendants as it opens up several long-standing policies at the carrier to be changed. Redeye flights can now be added to the schedule, for example. There’s the potential for meal service, too; more than just a pack of peanuts. And certain flights will require FAs to be proficient in a foreign language. Big changes, indeed.

Flight attendants working redeye flights will receive a bump in their hourly rate. FAs who are language-proficient and working on a flight which requires such will be paid the foreign language speaker kicker even if there are more speakers on the flight than the minimum required. And all international flights will have a $0.50 bump in hourly per diem which will apply to the entire pairing, not just the flights which are international.

Also, flight attendants will now be required to carry passports at all times. The company will reimburse the expenses for acquisition but the FAs are on their own if they lose the passport.

Don’t expect huge expansion of international service in the immediate future, despite the contract approval. The company still also must upgrade their reservations systems to handle international travel. That is expected to occur at some point in 2013. Until then the AirTran service will remain separate from Southwest’s.

If you want to read more details on the arrangement the Transit Workers Union local 556 which represents the flight attendants produced a couple documents which are an interesting read: Tentative Agreement; FAQ.

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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, and LinkedIn.


  1. This is big news…

    It will be interesting to see what SW is / where they fly in 2014 / 2015…

    Legacies beware.

  2. There is already so much competition to Hawaii that SWA will have basically no impact other than a few extra seats. At least that is what it looks like to me.

    1. It might just be “a few extra seats” but capacity is already running pretty high these days. That’s why fare sales keep coming back. And Southwest is going to have to run them from west coast gateways because that’s basically the limit of the 738s they’ll be flying. There is a lot of competition but more will likely see fares pressured.

      There are also other destinations on the Near International list which will see service and which are more likely to see changes in the competitive landscape rather than just another player in a relatively saturated market.

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