Last week was probably one of the most frustrating and infuriating of my career as a flight attendant. As the clock ticks towards the October 1st furlough for aviation employees, Sara Nelson, head of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), has been ramping up her efforts to help secure an extension of the payroll protection for workers in our industry. This would keep employees on the payroll until the end of March and prevent the October furloughs from happening.
I must admit, I do not share the same enthusiasm as my flying partners when it comes to the proposed extension of the payroll protection. I have already been through several stages of grief, mourning and depression over the thought of my impending furlough, which began in April and came to a head when I finally received my WARN notice. It has been emotionally draining, but I did (and continue to do) what I need to do to make my peace with the situation and be ready to move on. Enter Sara Nelson—doing her cable news channel appearances, bombarding social media, all in her efforts to help shine a spotlight on her desire to have payroll protections extended for aviation workers. I could get behind her cause if it made sense. The problem is that what she is proposing is actually going to hurt us in the long run.
Sara somehow earned the title of “America’s Most Powerful Flight Attendant.” It was one of those odd blurbs from a news story used to describe her ambition and chutzpah, and sadly, it stuck. The more the phrase is associated with her, it would seem that she, to some degree, believes it. She, and many of the AFA’s members, might believe she can move mountains, but lately I find her tactics and strategies to be similar to that of a two-bit mob boss.
It’s an odd thing to witness someone becoming drunk off the power they think they possess. As if she were falling victim to her own hype, Madame Nelson exhibits all the signs of someone who leans into their narcissistic tendencies, all under the guise of fighting the good fight and being a champion of the little guy. Has she done some decent work as the leader of one of the largest flight attendant unions in the country? Yes; however, for every one of her triumphs there have also been missteps. Peruse her Twitter timeline and you will see her ill-fated backing of
one two-time presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders. There is also the matter of her messy attempt of trying to lure Delta flight attendants under the AFA umbrella as if she were Jennifer Lopez in the movie Hustlers asking them to climb in her fur.
Now Sara is at it again. This time she is trying to mobilize her union members to bombard Senators’ phone lines and “pressure” them into voting through an extension of the payroll protection we received under the CARES Act. (Pressure is in quotes because that is the wording used in the AFA’s communications to its members. PROTIP: Politicians cannot be pressured into doing what we want them to do.) The problem is that the bigger picture is not being looked at. Sure, having my job protected until the end of March would be nice, but does it really put an end to the possibility of being furloughed? Absolutely not. Airlines are not making the kind of profits they need to make in order to justify keeping all of the employees on the payroll that they currently have, and it is highly unlikely that there will be a full recovery by March of next year. Payroll protections from the government are not going to bring back the air travel demand that existed pre-COVID-19. Unfortunately, in order for that type of demand to return there is going to have to be a rebuilding process that does involve furloughs.
The other problem with Sara’s strategy is that she is constantly using the narrative of flight attendants as essential workers. I don’t take the safety components of my job lightly; however, let’s keep it real. A furlough would not cause a shutdown of the airlines because there will still be flight attendants employed in the industry. So this thought process of flight attendants being these untouchable employees who have to remain on the payroll just doesn’t make sense logically. Doctors are essential…nurses are essential…trying to place flight attendants in the same essential worker bracket doesn’t sound authentic when you look at the term from that perspective.
The reality is the airlines need to scale down operations in order to refocus on growth. The only way this is going to happen is if they downsize, or as they like to call it, right size. Furloughs suck…no one, including me, wants to lose their job. But my thought process, and what I encourage my flying partners to think about, is this: Accept that furloughs are a cyclical part of this industry. They have occurred before, and they will probably occur again. It is a downside to working in aviation, but if you are furloughed and you really love this career, be ready to return when the industry starts to pick back up. Because once the airlines begin to rebound, they have to recall the people who were furloughed before they can start hiring new flight attendants. That’s the silver lining of our contracts when it comes to this matter.
It’s hard out there for a pimp, and unfortunately, Sara’s hustle doesn’t serve her constituents in the long-term sense. She has the opportunity to educate and empower flight attendants on how to successfully navigate through a furlough and come out stronger on the other side. I’m sure she has experienced a furlough at some point in her career. Surely, there must be some knowledge she can pass on to those of us who have never been through this before. Where are the Facebook Live posts with those kind of tips? Instead, she is opting to promote a pipe dream and delve into a realm of delusion, rather than deal with the optics of our current reality. This in itself is baffling, disappointing and hurtful to my work group.
Stripped from all the grandstanding, hype and hoopla, I don’t believe Sara Nelson is the most powerful flight attendant in this country. But as a result of the misrepresentations she is peddling right now, in my opinion, she is certainly the most dangerous.