Flight attendants sleeping on airport hallway floors is becoming “the new standard,” according to a prominent union head who believes airlines aren’t doing enough to protect frontline workers during operational meltdowns caused by inclement weather, air traffic control problems, and internal IT troubles.
Flight attendants sleeping in airports during ‘irregular operations,’ or ‘irrops,’ as the industry calls them, was unheard of until recently, according to Gary Peterson, vice president of the Transport Workers Union’s (TWU) air division.
“Sleeping in the hallway at the airport – that never used to happen in the industry, and now it’s becoming the new norm,” Peterson told The Gaurdian newspaper.
In recent months, a number of flight attendants have claimed that they were abandoned by their own airlines during irrops and left to fend for themselves.
Flight attendants were forced to sleep in the airport after airlines failed to supply basic essentials such as hotel rooms and transportation. Recent examples include flight attendants at American Airlines and Spirit Airlines, where disgruntled employees have launched a new campaign to improve conditions.
“We had flight attendants who were getting kicked out of airports in the middle of the night,” said Don Reno Intreglia, a flight attendant at Spirit and the airlines’ vice president at the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA).
“It’s been horrible on the morale for the flight attendants because you’re sleeping on an airport floor, you’ve got pretty much nowhere to go
The Miramar-based airline has been heavily struck by inclement weather and air traffic control troubles in the Florida area, but the union argues Spirit’s handling of the irrops has further exacerbated the problems.
During a recent operational collapse, some Spirit flight attendants were kept stuck for about 30 hours, according to Intreglia. During that period, no one from Spirit is said to have made contact with the crew to check on them, and the airline did not make any accommodations for them.
Instead, the crew found themselves sleeping on an airport floor until Spirit finally found a plane to get them back to their home base. “It’s been horrible on the morale for the flight attendants because you’re sleeping on an airport floor, you’ve got pretty much nowhere to go,” Intreglia said.
According to the union, this isn’t an isolated incident, and another operational collapse this summer could lead to a much worse incident.
It’s no surprise, then, that Spirit’s flight attendants have begun picketing the airline at airports across the country. Spirit has broken pledges and is continuing to break the flight attendant union contract, according to the Association of Flight Attendants.
Spirit’s spokeswoman declined to comment on specific reports of flight attendants sleeping on airport floors, but the airline stated in a statement that it “is committed to exploring methods to better assist our Team Members and address the issues that are most important to them.”
“We’ve been through so much together throughout the pandemic, and we are committed to making the necessary investments to build a stronger and more resilient airline for both our Team Members and Guests,” the statement continued.