American Airlines shuts down its San Francisco crew base and orders 400 flight attendants to leave California or leave the airline

  • American Airlines is closing its San Francisco base, potentially displacing 400 flight attendants.
  • Two-thirds have worked for the airline for 13 years or more, according to union accounts.
  • 10 flight attendants tell Insider that a myriad of factors make it difficult to leave the Bay Area.

Mass email hit some flight attendants’ inboxes mid-flight.

“Today, with great regret, I inform you of our decision to close the flight attendant base at San Francisco International Airport,” American Airlines CEO Brady Burns said in a September memo obtained by Insider.

In closing its San Francisco base, citing economic factors and changing customer demand, American Airlines presented its 400 flight attendants with a choice many said was impossible to make: leave the airline or leave the state.

The base is home to some of the airline’s top flight attendants, two-thirds of whom have been with the airline for 13 years or more, according to the association representing American Airlines flight attendants. By January 31, they must choose an airport from the airline’s list of hubs outside of California to operate at. For those who can’t or won’t, the only options are to retire early (if eligible) or resign, the union told Insider.

In interviews, 10 flight attendants at San Francisco International Airport tell Insider that a myriad of factors make it difficult to leave the Bay Area. (Some asked not to be identified for fear of losing their jobs, but Insider verified their identities and hired them.) Some are single mothers, some are battling health issues, and some have children with special needs. Others have divorced spouses with joint custody of their children, elderly parents, or partners who can’t uproot their careers.

“This is home,” said Marcia Brown, a flight attendant who has lived in San Francisco for 38 years.

American Airlines flight attendants Luis Rangel and Uma Arunachal/USA planes are seen at San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Flight attendant Luis Rangel (left) began working for an American company in 1988 and has lived in the Bay Area his entire life. His two daughters are enrolled in the local schools there.

Uma Arunachalam Court (left)/Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images (right)

An American Airlines spokesperson said it decided to no longer have San Francisco-based flight attendants based on logistical factors including a resizing of the airline, changing customer demand and fleet changes.

“As we look at the future of our network, we expect San Francisco to maintain the same level of aviation it has today, but there are no plans to grow San Francisco and no future aviation opportunities based on our current network strategy,” he said.

According to flight analytics company Cirium, most routes that originate from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) rank poorly in terms of profitability compared to other routes across the US network. This year, the carrier has reduced the volume of flights from San Francisco by about a third, Cirium told Insider.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that a state law requiring workers to take a break every few hours actually applied to airline employees in California.

Some flight attendants at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) suspect that they don’t have the option of relocating to Los Angeles—a larger American hub—because the airline could move out of California altogether.

John Maslon, a senior litigator at the Washington Law Firm, told Insider that the American would have a “good business reason” to do so, especially when considering the airline’s $37 billion in debt.

“You may have situations where the plane can’t take off because you have to wait for a rest or a meal break,” he said. “The planes won’t be able to land and it will have a cascading effect on delayed flights and messing up the whole system.”

bitter end

San Francisco International Airport-based flight attendant Cynthia Duarte and her husband, who is battling brain cancer.

San Francisco International Airport-based flight attendant Cynthia Duarte and her husband, who is battling brain cancer.

Cynthia Duarte Court

Brown, 64, plans to retire early, though he would like to continue working.

“It hurts that I gave them 38 years of my life, and that’s how I get out,” she said. “I hate leaving feeling so angry and bitter. I wanted to leave feeling sad because it’s been such a great career.”

Flight attendants who can’t afford to retire early or relocate will have to commute, which in aviation means getting ready to get to and from their new base.

The closest bases to San Francisco International Airport are Phoenix and Dallas, with flight times of 2 and 3.5 hours respectively, and not all of the 400 affected flight attendants will get their first choice. Lower-ranking employees may be stuck moving around the country, adding dozens of unpaid hours to their schedules.

Cynthia Duarte, a 38-year-old veteran, worries that the extra time she will spend commuting will make it impossible to care for her husband, who has brain cancer.

“Right now, I only go one day, twice a week, and he can hardly afford it. I add a three-hour commute to that, and my time outside three times,” Duarte said. “I never thought in our time that we would be dealing with a disease that makes every moment count. We don’t know how much we have left.”

Many of her colleagues face similar difficult situations.

A single mom and flight attendant over 20 doesn’t know how she will navigate and secure additional childcare for her young child, who needs to change her insulin pump every three days. A 30-year-old veteran battling a life-threatening illness said she can’t afford to lose the company’s health insurance, so she plans to fly three hours to Dallas and back each shift.

Anthony Cataldo, a flight attendant of 33 years, said he plans to fly to the US base in New York City — a 5.5-hour flight in which he’ll compete with other flight attendants for a spare seat. He estimates commuting would cost him up to $700 a month between hotel rooms, which the company does not provide in such a situation, and parking.

If a flight attendant misses a shift due to a lack of standby space, only three missed shifts per year are allowed. After that, each missing commuter shift results in two “points” for attendance. Employees with 11 points are subject to termination, according to US attendance policy.

A flight attendant, a single mother who has worked for America for more than 20 years, said she is looking for a new job to avoid having to relocate or move out of state. “I don’t have anyone else anywhere. This is where my family is. This is where my support system is.”

dream denied

Host Anthony Cataldo and her husband, Martin Ortiz Cataldo, along with their mothers, who take care of them.

Anthony Cataldo runs a rental unit in San Francisco. His husband works at a local university, and their elderly mothers also live in the Bay Area, he said, making it “impossible for us to get up and leave.”

Courtesy of Anthony Cataldo

In an industry where seniority determines scheduling and pay, each year flight attendants get closer to operating international flights, higher wages of $68.25 an hour, and more flexibility in scheduling and customization. For many, this is an ultimate goal that can make lower starting wages, night shifts, and grueling standby hours all worth it.

A flight attendant told Insider that decades of experience aiming to achieve this lifestyle are now virtually wasted.

“I’ve had it for over 20 years, and now they’re telling me I may not be able to continue the rest of my years,” she said. “My plan was to retire to America.”

At a city council meeting Sept. 27, company representatives told flight attendants at San Francisco International Airport that, after several calculations, the carrier had decided that operating a base outside of San Francisco was not financially viable, according to an audio recording shared with Insider by a verified party. . source.

Some employees expressed confusion as to why they would need to leave San Francisco if the carrier would still need to staff SFO flights. American specifically expressed plans to keep flights at the same level as today, which means that the airline will have to fly flight attendants at other airports.

Given that the airline has also said it will continue to hire new flight attendants, several crew members said it feels as if the company wants to replace its veteran employees with new employees who are paid much less.

“We have a 17-year-old daughter who graduated from high school this year, and an 11-year-old daughter. It just doesn’t make sense for me to ask my family to move,” said Luis Rangel, who began working with Americans in 1988 and grew up in the Bay Area. .

“I don’t know how to start over,” he continued. “It’s hard for many of us to think that someone you’ve been devoted to for 30 years or more and then just, no, that’s it: take it or leave it.”

Are you a flight attendant? Do you have a story or advice to share? Email this reporter at from an address outside of work

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