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Working at American Airlines: PROS & CONS of a Flight Attendant

american airlines pros cons

American Airlines is the largest airline in the world in terms of fleet size, in terms of employees, but is it a good company to work for as a flight attendant?

I certainly think so, but I might be a little biased.

Having worked for American, I can say with confidence that it is a good company to work for. Of course, no airline is perfect from an employee’s perspective.

In this article we’ll explore my opinions about the company, and why I think it is overall a worthwhile airline to work for.

PROS CONS
The  Union Seniority Moves at a Snail’s Pace
Top Paying Airlines Bases are Impermanent
Great Non-Rev Benefits Moral
The Company Culture
The Reserve System

Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details.

PROS of Working for American Airlines

Here are the top five reasons I believe American Airlines is a good airline to work for as a flight attendant.

Pro #1. The American Airlines Flight Attendant Union

Having a union in this day and age is rare but they are very important when it comes to ensuring that employees are treated fairly by their employers.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) helps ensure that AA flight attendants oversees everything from how we are paid, to the hotels we stay in. They are there to negotiate our contracts with the company and can help protect flight attendants from company abuse.

The APFA, in partnership with the other flight attendant union the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA CWA), was instrumental in securing Pay Roll Protection as part of the COVID-19 relief packages in the US during the pandemic. A legislative measure that helped employees at American, as well as in other industries.

Side note: I’m a historian now, and I can only tell you that flight attendants unions were key drivers of fair employment protections for women in the US. If you are interested, I highly recommend the book From Sky Girl to Flight Attendant by Georgia Panter Nielsen.

Pro # 2. One of the Top Paying Airlines

Based on the average annual salary, American Airlines is the top-paying airline in the world, with the average flight attendant earning $43,460 per year.

This is kind of a weird measure to go by since pay varies based on your seniority and the hours you work, but I can attest to the fact that American pays well. And there are many ways you can earn extra income as an AA Stew including:

  • Flying a galley position adds to your hourly wage
  • Flying as the lead or purser can also increase your hourly wage
  • Certifying as a language speaker increases your hourly wage on certain flights
  • Participating in the American Airlines Advantage Aviator Credit Card program
  • Collecting “Above and Beyonds” and cashing them in for visa cards

As a side note: I earned an extra $400-1,000 a month by participating in the credit card program, it’s really nothing to sneeze at.

👉 Related read: American Airlines Flight Attendant Salary Breakdown

Pro # 3. Great Non-Rev Benefits

American Airlines has great non-rev benefits. I took them for granted until I was comparing notes with a friend who used to work for Lufthansa.

At American you can have the following people added to your benefits:

  • A “Travel Companion” – If you are legally married this person, is your partner. If you are single, you can designate a specific person, (one per year), and they will get to fly with the same benefits as the employee (excluding jump seat privileges of course).
  • Parents: You can list two parents on your benefits, they can either be your own parents or your in-laws. Parents have essentially the same travel privileges as your travel companion, they just are at a slightly lower priority on the standby list.
  • Dependents: Any children under 26 may be added to your benefits. They will travel with the same benefits as the employee.
  • Buddies: You can add other friends to your benefits, you get 16 passes a year for friends to use. They will travel at the lowest priority on standby.

American also participates and partnerships with other airlines, allowing you to use your benefits on a number of different airlines including, Lufthansa, Alaskan, JAL, Delta, and many more.

Pro #4. The Company Culture

One of the things that drew me to working at American is the culture.

I got the impression right away that American offers a somewhat more laid-back culture compared to Delta.

I never felt like management was out to get me at American. There were several situations where my personal flight service manager (FSM) went out of their way to help me out with personal matters and to check up on me when they knew times were tough. My manager called me five times during the furloughs that happened during the Pandemic to make sure I was able to successfully file for unemployment and to reassure me we would be called back soon. Put simply, the management cares.

If I had to describe the company culture on an employee-side I would describe it as warm, welcoming, supportive, and diverse.

Pro #5. The Reserve System

These might be fighting words, depending on who you ask at American, but I really do see the reserve system at American as a positive for two reasons.

First, it is a rotating system (after your first year) so you will not be stuck serving year after year of reserve with no sense of control over your life.

After the first year, you have the option to rotate on and off of reserve, giving you a break from the unstructured nature of reserve.

Second, reserve at AA runs on a preferential bidding system, which means you get more choice over your assignments on reserve.

👉 Related read: The Flight Attendant Reserve System at American Airlines Explained

CONS of Working for American Airlines

No airline is perfect, that said I could only think of three true “cons” of working at American.

Con #1. Seniority Moves at a Snail’s Pace

American Airlines is a senior airline, meaning the vast majority of the airline has 10 or more years with the airline, and a high percentage of the flight attendant’s corps has over 25 years of seniority.

This means it takes a lot longer at AA to gain the kind of seniority needed to hold good trips and desirable schedules.

To put it another way, you probably won’t hold winter holidays off you’ve put in 20 years with the company.

The reason for this is the hiring freezes after 9/11 that left so many flight attendants stranded at the bottom of the seniority roster, with no new hires to push them forward, and no retirements to pull them up.

Con #2. Bases are Impermanent

Recently American closed a major base at St. Louis and greatly reduced the size of its bases in San Francisco and Phoenix.

This kind of base planning can cause flight attendants to be forcibly displaced to other bases.

This may happen at other airlines too, of course, but since the American Airlines, we know today came to be through many, many mergers, it inherited bases from the airlines it bought out.

Those bases are often not attractive to the executives at American, but they are home to the flight attendants acquired through the mergers.

I know a number of flight attendants who were displaced and are now faced with the decision to either commute, often trans-continentally, or relocate entirely. That’s a choice I wouldn’t wish upon even my enemies.

Con #3. Moral

The company culture may be warm and welcoming, but morale at American has been suffering recently.

There are a few reasons for the low-level gloom that has taken over the hearts of some flight attendants at American.

Nostalgia for how things were run at the “legacy” airlines that American acquired is a major source for bitterness within the ranks of (senior) flight attendants.

They miss the way things were run at airlines like TWA, and US Airways, and tend to be hyper critical of the way American chooses to organize everything from reserve, to service procedures.

Is American Airlines a Good Company to Work For?

Overall, yes American Airlines is a good company to work for. It’s one of the best-paying airlines, with great company culture and excellent non-rev travel benefits.

They take care of their employees and there are many more “pros” of working for American that I didn’t have the time to go into in this article, but I honestly had to think hard to come up with three honest “cons.”

Again, I may be biased, but I really enjoyed working for American Airlines, and it would be a privilege to return to them if my life ever returns to place where I can work for an airline again.

Wrap Up

All airlines have their pros and cons from an employee standpoint, but if you are looking for a good airline to work for as a flight attendant, American Airlines is certainly a safe bet and a great opportunity!

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