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United Airlines accuses its own flight attendants of an elaborate scam

United Airlines accuses its own flight attendants of an elaborate scam
[Photo: Pascal Renet/Pexels]

In any career, there are good tasks and less good tasks. For example, some reporters get to talk to Rami Malek, while others get to write about the glamorous world of *checks notes* pharmaceutical bankruptcy. The same is true for flight attendants. There are the good routes like international trips to Singapore or Sydney, where passengers just watch movies until they pass out, and less good routes, like high-turnover, high-volume, short-hop trips where everyone is tired, demanding, and cranky.

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Flight attendants work hard to get assigned to the good routes, and those routes are usually given to those with seniority through a bidding process. The routes are so desirable that some flight attendants are willing to even pay to get assigned to them.

United Airlines recently issued a stern internal memo chiding flight attendants for a black market in which flight attendants serve as brokers, selling access to some of the better routes, the Chicago Business Journal reports.

While flight attendants can swap flights with each other to ensure coverage, selling routes is not allowed, and the fact that senior flight attendants were reportedly preying on newer employees makes the practice even more unsavory. Not only did flight attendants come forward to complain, but after investigating, the airline reportedly searched social media and unearthed an elaborate system of code words to further the kickback scheme. Now United is threatening to fire flight attendants accused of the practice.

“We have zero tolerance for this prohibited behavior,” P. Douglas McKeen, senior vice president for labor relations, wrote in an internal memo, according to Skift. “When we discover that it’s occurring, we will fully investigate and take appropriate action, up to and including discharge.” In a rare move, the flight attendants’ union agrees with corporate. In their own memo, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) said frustrated flight attendants have come forward to complain about the “egregious activity” of “illicit trip brokering,” and said they will not protect members who defraud other flight attendants.

In a separate case, more than 35 United employees were fired earlier this month after the airline discovered they were abusing employee travel perks by selling travel passes, which are intended for employees and their friends and family.


Related: United Airlines in damage control after revealing Apple spends $150 million on its flights every year


Illicit trip brokering isn’t limited to United. American Airlines rolled out new software last year to actively monitor its own internal flight bidding and trading systems after some senior flight attendants were found to be selling prime international flight assignments to junior flight attendants. The going price for trips varied depending on a trip’s desirability, the Business Journal reported at the time, but the average price hovered at around $200.

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