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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Supreme Court Could Decide if Flight Attendants Are Entitled to Longer Breaks

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After the airline industry lost an appeal last year, the Supreme Court must rule whether flight attendants are entitled to hefty break rights under Californian law.

Employees who work for more than five hours are entitled to an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break, and for every four hours they work, they must be provided at least a 10-minute rest period, according to California’s Labor Code.

A group of flight attendants at the now-defunct Virgin America airline filed a lawsuit against the carrier because they weren’t given the same benefits, but lawyers representing the airline argued that the federal government set airline work conditions under the Airline Deregulation Act of the 1970s.

An appeals court in San Francisco disagreed, siding with the flight attendants, who are now suing Alaska Airlines, which bought Virgin America in 2016.

If the Supreme Court appeal fails, a trade sector organization says that airfares will have to rise to cover the cost of hiring additional flight attendants and providing longer ‘turns’ between flights. Flights may possibly be canceled.

Airlines for America’s warning comes on the same day as major US-based carriers are predicting a substantial increase in prices due to the rising cost of jet fuel, which is being exacerbated by the situation in Europe.

The trade organization compared California’s Labor Code to a state that requires airlines to staff every aircraft with an additional flight attendant in its argument to the Supreme Court.

“The only way airlines can comply with these laws is to add more flight attendants on ‘longer’ flights and to schedule longer ground times between ‘shorter’ flights,” the submission argues.

According to Airlines for America, adding one flight attendant on mainline flights would be “exorbitantly” expensive and would deny passengers seats.

“Providing mid-flight breaks will also be a scheduling nightmare,” the argument continues. “Airlines will have to build flight attendant schedules so that mid-flight breaks occur when California law dictates they must.”

“Obviously, that is impossible. What happens if a flight is delayed 30 minutes, such that a flight attendant’s break is now scheduled during landing? What if there is serious turbulence and the captain requires the flight attendants to remain in their seats? Or an altercation? Or an emergency?”

The Supreme Court has requested that the Solicitor General prepare a brief outlining the Biden administration’s position on the subject. A response has yet to be received by the court.

Flight attendants are also advocating for an increase in the minimum rest time between flights from nine to 10 hours. A law allowing the hike had already been enacted, but the previous administration postponed the necessary regulation, which is now being expedited.

Airlines had been outspoken in their opposition to the hike, claiming that it would result in higher prices due to the increased demand for flight attendants.

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