It’s a story about American Airlines, flight attendants, simple economics, and the 21st century trend that many of us share: finding hustles and trying to make a little extra cash.
It’s also about “forbidden” practices, the risk of getting fired for taking things too far, and the law of unintended consequences.
Let’s start with the flight attendants and the scheme some of them have come up with, according to American Airlines and their own union.
In short, some senior flight attendants have found a way to use their tenure to their financial advantage.
It’s actually fairly easy. Flight attendants bid each month on the routes they wish to fly for the airline. Their demands are granted, largely on the basis of seniority.
This way, the most senior flight attendants get the best routes. By “best” we mean both the most interesting and the most exotic – think longer, international trips to South America or Asia, as opposed to a night in Omaha (peace Omaha readers ) – but also the most rewarding financially.
So, according to the airline and the union, senior flight attendants in some cities began bidding on the most desirable trips even when they had no intention of flying them.
Then they would turn around and sell those winning deals to more junior flight attendants.
This is not the first time this practice has come to light. In 2018, American Airlines reprimanded flight attendants who sold their deals — and allegedly did an average of $200 for each flight.
But, in the wake of the pandemic and the fact that there are now fewer coveted flights, it has apparently become much easier for airlines to follow the practice. So American Airlines and the union issued stern warnings.
“Management has made it clear that this illicit travel activity is prohibited,” the union warned its members this week, according to the flight attendants website, Row your own Kanoo. “If you switch or abandon trips outside of the means provided by our scheduling systems, you will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”
On Friday, the airline itself intervened, according to Wing view:
While it’s disappointing that some of your colleagues choose to manipulate our systems for personal gain, we also know that the vast majority of you follow the rules.
Simply put, if you are found to be abusing our systems, the consequences would most likely be the end of your career.
I suspect it was not the junior flight attendants who complained, but rather those who had just enough the seniority they might have bid on these more sought-after flights, had it not been for the fact that their more experienced colleagues were simply bidding to sell them.
Either way, it looks like the game is probably over, with American Airlines specifically putting jobs on the line. And, I think there are three big takeaways for business leaders of any sector:
- First, be on the lookout for cliques and ways some employees might take advantage of others.
- Next, beware of accidentally creating a market. The reason this situation appears to exist within the airline is due to what appears to be the unintended consequence of benefits designed to protect and reward seniority.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to lower the hammer when you determine that certain team members are playing with the system, especially to the detriment of their colleagues.
I contacted American Airlines for a comment, but heard nothing back. Yet this whole entrepreneurial escapade only reinforces what I explain in my free ebook, Flying business class: 12 rules for US airline executives, that is, if you had to pick one American industry that people from other companies should follow and learn from, and that’s the airline industry.
Think about it: a giant commodities industry in which all the big players are publicly traded and watched closely by analysts and journalists, and where they face most of the problems your business is likely to face.
They just do it on a bigger stage, and with more people watching – sometimes, apparently, even including their own employees.