United shuffles staff, fleet supporting seniority


Typically crew schedules are built around where airlines need particular planes to be and where the schedules those planes will fly. But for United Airlines, some seven years into a merger with Continental Airlines, crew scheduling remains a problem, one that the company is now forced to address by adjusting schedules to better accommodate flight attendants.

The company operates three separate flight attendant groups, one from each of the legacy airlines that make up the current operations. That separation is terribly challenging for scheduling as certain aircraft can only be staffed by those crew. Getting past work group merger integrations is a major milestone for a merger and United is woefully behind there. And, once again, union integration issues are messing with the company’s operations.



Last year United moved it relatively small 767-400 fleet to the hub at Dulles Airport to support transatlantic flights. The 764 sub-fleet comes from the Continental side of the merger so only flight attendants on the Continental union contract can work on those flights. The goal was better dispatch and on-time rates with each fleet dedicated to that airport.

But Dulles was not historically a base for that crew and few chose to move after the merger saw a base open. The net result is that working the Dulles flights is generally considered less desirable for the Continental crews, especially for the more senior flight attendants used to getting their first choice of routes and dates.

The 764s were replaced by 763s at Newark, aircraft that can only be flown by legacy United crews. The “JFK” base from United’s history covers that operation but, much like the Continental shift, working those flights was generally less desirable and went to more junior crews.



Now the 764s are moving back north to Newark, giving those senior crews better opportunities to work the flights they want. Some 763s will move back south, giving the more senior United crews better opportunities as well. From a memo sent to flight attendants by United’s VP In-flight operations John Slater (via FlightGlobal):

This additional flying means that we will be able to help reduce senior flight attendants being on reserve while adding flying positions. While this isn’t the most cost-efficient way to fly the schedule, it’s just the right thing to do.

Of course, for the lower seniority crews working the 764s out of Dulles today this could be seen as a downgrade. Fortunately for them some 787s are being repositioned to Dulles this fall and those will operate with sCO cabin crews pending the final flight attendant integration in October 2018.

It is also worth noting that United explicitly called out the new arrangement as “not the most cost-effective” in its messaging. That serves (at least) two purposes:

  1. Try to convince the flight attendants that everything isn’t only about money and that the company cares about its relations with the union.
  2. Let Wall Street know that costs are likely to increase, even just a little bit, to soften the impact should the company take a hit moving into the Q4 earnings numbers.

The fleet shuffle is not the only adjustment being made, according to the flight attendant union. The company is also opening up additional slots at a number of bases, allowing FAs to transfer in to those locations and adjust staffing to better reflect the flight schedules:

Many of those seeking to move to another domicile location for pre-merger UAL are within their first five years of their careers and will therefore serve continuous Reserve until after their fifth year anniversary.  This will have the immediate impact of reducing the senior designated reserve at the locations to which they transfer.  In a similar way, pre-merger CAL transfers into IAH will provide the more senior Flight Attendants a respite from the demands of Reserve.

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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 .

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