SkyWest has just become the second airline in the United States to start paying flight attendants during boarding. This follows a similar move by Delta in 2022, and has some interesting implications.
SkyWest’s new flight attendant boarding pay
Many people are surprised to learn that flight attendants in the United States generally aren’t paid for boarding, but rather start getting paid when the aircraft door closes. This of course sounds ridiculous, since you should get paid when you’re working. At the same time, the logic has been that flight attendants are instead paid a higher rate than they might otherwise be once the door closes.
The lack of pay during this period has gotten more attention post-pandemic, and we’ve seen calls for airlines to start paying flight attendants during these periods. Delta led the way with this, and as of June 2022, started paying flight attendants for boarding at 50% of the standard hourly rate.
Another airline is now following in Delta’s footsteps. Specifically, as reported by Aero Crew News, regional airline SkyWest will also start paying flight attendants during boarding. For those not familiar with SkyWest, this is one of the largest regional airlines in the United States, and the company operates flights on behalf of Alaska, American, Delta, and United. So it’s possible that you’ve flown SkyWest without even realizing it.
The union implications of this are interesting
It might seem random that SkyWest is the second airline to introduce boarding pay, rather than another major legacy airline. It’s not a coincidence, though — Delta and SkyWest are the two largest airlines in the industry with non-unionized flight attendants.
Furthermore, both airlines have seen significant efforts to get flight attendants to unionize. So clearly management at both airlines is trying to keep flight attendants happy, in hopes of them not unionizing.
I can’t help but be reminded of the February 2022 comments by Sara Nelson, considered by many to be the most powerful flight attendant in the world. She was asked if we’d see boarding pay return, and her answer was that the only way to get this done would be to unionize Delta and SkyWest flight attendants, and make this an industry-wide demand.
Now we’re seeing the two airlines without flight attendant unions be the first to introduce boarding pay, while all the airlines with unionized flight attendants haven’t been able to do this yet. Admittedly I’m sure boarding pay will come for unionized flight attendants, but it will come as part of a larger contract negotiation, and presumably there will be an opportunity cost to it.
Delta and SkyWest management are playing a smart game here, and are putting those trying to push for unionization at Delta and SkyWest in a tough position.
SkyWest has become the second major US airline to add boarding pay, after Delta led the way with this in 2022. SkyWest is a large and well regarded regional airline, which operates flights on behalf of other major airlines.
It’s no coincidence that SkyWest followed Delta here, as these are the two airlines with non-unionized flight attendants. The way management at these airlines view it, this is a small investment to encourage flight attendants not to unionize. I’d say that’ll work pretty well, and it’s a smart and mutually beneficial move in this way (well, mutually beneficial for management and the flight attendants).
What do you make of SkyWest adding flight attendant boarding pay?