If it takes American Airlines a little longer to restructure in bankruptcy, that’s fine with flight attendants union president Laura Glading.
"As long as there is discussion about strategic alternatives, it’s good news to me," Glading said about the company asking the bankruptcy court for more time to submit their restructuring plan. "I really think these things take time and they can’t be rushed and if we need more time to look at those alternatives then so be it."
As the board of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants meets in Fort Worth this week, Glading spoke with the Star-Telegram about implementing a new contract and continuing to support a merger with US Airways.
Here is a transcript of the interview:
ST: Last week, American chief executive Tom Horton expressed confidence in the carrier’s performance and ability to restructure in bankruptcy. You support a merger with US Airways while in bankruptcy. Do you think American can emerge from bankruptcy as a stand-alone carrier?
Glading: I guess I’m always kind of baffled about his optimism on the stand alone. I don’t understand that. I think that there’s overwhelming support now for the merger and although he says he’s engaging and he’s looking at strategic alternatives, I hope that he’s not being disingenuous about it. I hope his heart is in that. I really hope that he’s trying to talk and reach strategic alternatives and approaching that strategy with an open mind and is willing to accept that as an alternative if in fact that’s going to be better for the company. I guess lately I kind of look at American Airlines as this beloved company where the employees really have so much invested and we really, really love it. Especially during the bankruptcy, there are so many different interested parties, yet it’s always been the employees that really have the most to loose and really have their hearts in the success of the company. The flight attendants, I can speak for the flight attendants, I think I can speak for all the employees, we still love this company. We love the brand. We want it to succeed. We want to work for a successful company, and I just would feel so much more comfortable if everybody else involved in this bankruptcy had that as their best interest and that was the focus and the goal of everyone involved and nothing else. I just wish we could get into a room and leave all other interests at the door, forget everybody’s other role in everything else and I think that’s what it’s all about in bankruptcy is to say how can everybody sort of win here? How can we come out with the most successful company and everybody can survive? I just would like to see the focus put on the most successful carrier without any other interests involved.
ST: As far as you know, are merger talks still occurring?
Glading: According to the NDA, yes, talks are to be continuing and so that would be the assumption that US Air is you know even mentioned in the filing as one of the reasons so we know that they are talking as long as they are still a party to it and the process continues then I think the extension is positive.
ST: How many flight attendants will be leaving American in the next year as part of the early-out programs and how are you dealing with it?
Glading: 2,260 or so flight attendants have taken up some option to leave. It was either travel separation or the voluntary early out. It’s interesting because I think a lot of people were waiting to see what was in the offer. They wanted to see what the last best final offer would look like, whether we were going to approve it or go through 1113. It’s hard to plan the future when you don’t know what the future holds and I think we kind of gave them an option and a plan, something to help them plan their own future. So it sort of gave people who were considering leaving the nudge. It gave other people the confidence and the financial security to have that bridge to possibly do something else. It was a very difficult decision, much of it was financial but a lot of it had to do with emotion. It’s very, very difficult for people to leave this job. Flight attendants love the job. Flight attendants love coming to work. We communicate. We coordinate. We sacrifice. We work together. We do everything we need to do to have a successful flight and a successful group of workers and there is just this bond that’s formed. It’s very hard to describe. It’s the camaraderie. It’s the lifestyle. A lot of it is the residual pride we felt when we first started working for American, what it felt like to put on that uniform and look in the mirror. To leave it is difficult. But most of the people I’ve spoken to that have taken the out have a sense of relief. They have the sense that it’s been a really tough last ten years and now I’m going to turn to a new chapter and I’m looking forward to it. I’m really, really happy for them. I’m a little sad for myself. I’m relatively senior and a lot of people that I’ve worked with for many years are going to be leaving and I’m going to miss them terribly. But it’s an opportunity to possibly hire and of course, we haven’t hired in many years and it’s an opportunity for seniority to move and I’m just really happy for them. As long as people are happy, I’m happy for them. I think we had strong response and I think it’s worked out very, very well.
ST: How did your members respond to the numerous flight delays and cancellations that occurred in the past few weeks? American had accused the pilots of intentionally slowing down operations, although the union denied it.
Glading: The flight attendants were incredibly quiet and I don’t think there was any, if any finger-pointing, or accusations. Look, we’re faced with weather delays, grounding of different aircraft. Nobody made any assumptions about how it was happening and why. They just put one foot in front of the other and would take the delay just like they would take any other delay if there was one. I think the flight attendants handled this very well. Obviously, we don’t know if there were any intentional delays. I know the APA was not endorsing or sponsoring any and I’m very confident in that. We just move on and accept it. It’s part of our jobs.
ST: How did flight attendants deal with customers who were fed up with the delays?
Glading: I can honestly say that I didn’t have people calling me and flipping out about that. I think that is because we are a senior workforce. We’ve handled delays and frustrated customers and so many other things coming at us that people have just developed the tools to handle these things regardless of the circumstance and sure it’s frustrating, especially for the flight attendants because we’re always chasing the time and when our flight is delayed we’re not paid. We’re paid when the door closes and we’re actually in the air. So there were cancellations that affected them in a negative financial way...I have so many people tell me, you get the testimonial after people fly about how the nice the flight attendants were and conscientious. They really enjoy their job. They like the customer but they also realize that these are very difficult times and the customers are very important and give them their best service every single flight.
ST: Your union board is meeting this week. What are you focused on now that you have a new contract with American?
Glading: We’re just doing updates, right now concentrating on the implementation of our last best final offer because there are many, many changes. We’re talking about the scheduling of the people who are leaving under the voluntary early out programs. Some bases like Raleigh Durham International there is going to be a lot of people leaving so I think our focus right now is trying to transition everyone into the smoothest changeover from the contract to the last best and final offer. The idea was to make everyone’s work-life a little bit easier by maybe getting some transfers through and getting people on international who want to be on international. This is the opportunity to make those adjustments now and get information out about the last best and final offer.
ST: How long will the implementation take?
Glading: I think most of it will take about a year. It’s coming in stages. The preferential bidding piece will probably take a lot longer than that because that’s a lot of programming and we’re working with the pilots, trying to find a company that will handle preferential bidding systems. So that will take longer.
ST: Is there anything that you want customers of American to know about how the bankruptcy has affected flight attendants?
Glading: The bankruptcy process hits the employees so much harder than everyone involved and yet the employees are the people that have the greatest stake in the company. I think bankruptcy is screwed up in that regard. The very people who have made the sacrifices all along to make it a great company and have cared the most about the outcome of the company and I just would like them to know that is still our focus. And anything we do and getting behind a merger is because we really believe it’s the best thing not just for ourselves, not just for the employees but for the customers and the company and for its survival.
ST: Why does the flight attendants union still support a merger with US Airways?
Glading: We have to look at the industry and see what’s happened with other mergers. Having two giant network carriers instead of three makes it even more expensive for the passengers. I think when you have three there is more competition and more competitiveness. I’d also like to point out that despite what’s happening at American, you really need to look at United and Delta and see how they’ve grown and really stabilized and that was a result of growing and getting stronger. Part of what I don’t understand about American’s confidence in their own plan is that they don’t assume any competitive aggressiveness. They think that whatever they want to do won’t have a competitive response. I can’t imagine that Delta and United are going to sit back and let American grow in any rapid way and sit back and not compete. That’s what the business is all about. So I think any growth will be answered by one if not both of them. That’s just the reality.
ST: Can you reveal what the unsecured creditors committee is discussing right now and if they are leaning towards supporting a stand-alone restructuring plan or a merger with another carrier?
Glading: I really can’t talk about that at all. I can tell you though that I think the creditors committee has been working in a very deliberate way. I think that their considering everything. I do think that I’m very fortunate to have the people that are on the creditors committee. It’s a very good group of people and I would say that despite bankruptcy not being fair to the employees, I find that my fellow creditor committee members are willing to listen and to really understand where the unions are. I think the PBGC has been wonderful. I have to say I thoroughly enjoy working with this group of people. I think they have the best interest of the company at heart. And they are certainly willing to talk and compromise and really be very, very thorough. I guess that’s why the extension is fine, as long as everyone is doing what they need to do and really look at this carefully and making sure that it’s done correctly then it’s really a good thing for everybody.-Andrea Ahles