American, Southwest Crews Say Lodging Woes Lead to Fatigue

American Airlines Group Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. flight crews say they’re having problems securing hotel rooms, transportation and meals at the end of workdays, leaving them fatigued and threatening to delay flights.

The problems have reached “unprecedented, unacceptable levels,” Julie Hedrick, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, told union members at American.

Flight attendants have slept in airports or outside baggage-claim areas and spent hours on hold awaiting help from American’s hotel desk. Pilots at both carriers have had to search out and pay for their own rooms and meals after arriving in cities and finding that accommodations required under their contracts haven’t been secured.

Their troubles are revealing stress within the U.S. aviation system as domestic travel roars back faster than most airlines expected. Carriers are trying to fill thousands of jobs, ranging from pilots and flight attendants to workers loading bags or handling wheelchairs in airports. Some consumers are spending hours on hold to get help with reservations, and not all restaurants and stores have reopened at packed airports.

“We’ve never seen the type of abuse to which they are being subjected right now,” Paul Hartshorn, a spokesman for the flight attendants union, said Wednesday.

A three- or four-hour wait to get a hotel room delays the start of guaranteed minimum rest hours, potentially preventing flight attendants from being able to make an early flight the next day.

“That’s affecting the whole operation,” Hartshorn said.

Pilots and flight attendants are guaranteed minimum hours of rest overnight between flights. The APFA primarily blames the shortfalls on a third-party vendor hired by American to handle hotel and transportation reservations. Aviators at Delta Air Lines Inc. haven’t had similar issues, their union said. The union representing United Airlines Holdings Inc. pilots didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

Flight attendants at United, Spirit Airlines Inc. and Frontier Airlines also are being affected “due to erratic schedules caused by the pandemic,” the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in an email. Airlines should boost staffing to handle rooms and transportation as summer travel reaches its peak in August, the union said.

Flight Ramp-Up

“We are looking into the concerns raised by APA and APFA,” American said in a statement, adding that caring for workers during travel “is a priority.”

Southwest pilots are having similar problems, largely caused by the airline aggressively ramping up flights this summer, said Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. Flights frequently are re-routed and some parts of Southwest’s system don’t have sufficient staffing, he said.

“Something has to be done today,” Murray said he told Southwest during a Tuesday meeting on the subject. “We cannot look three, six, nine months down the road. It has to be done today.”

The “vast majority” of Southwest crews aren’t experiencing problems, the airline said in a statement. The company said it was monitoring and addressing reported problems, especially when operations are disrupted by weather or other issues.

Southwest flight attendants have filed a grievance, and the union is consulting with the airline to correct some of the same issues that result in “long duty days and fatigue,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of Transport Workers Union Local 556.

The carrier is hiring for some jobs, offering double-time pay for workers picking up extra shifts this summer and providing incentives to those willing to temporarily transfer to cities with the biggest needs.

“It’s everything around the industry,” Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said on a July 22 conference call. “Whether it’s van drivers, or maid services to clean hotel rooms, or people to work at restaurants, it just makes that entire environment difficult for our employees or customers to migrate through.”

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