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United flight attendants picket at Logan, push for communication with management

“We’re waiting on hold to talk with our company for 4, 5, 6, 7 hours, and it’s not a one-off, this is a regular thing all summer.”

United Airlines flight attendants picketing outside Boston Logan International Airport on Tuesday morning. Madeleine Aitken / Boston.com Madeleine Aitken / Boston.com

Andrew Fahy, 57, has worked as a flight attendant with United Airlines for 35 years. He’s never seen an issue this bad, he said Tuesday morning outside Terminal B of Boston Logan International Airport, where he was picketing with other United flight attendants.

Represented by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), United flight attendants demonstrated outside airports nationwide Tuesday morning, including Boston, to demand United management confront the operational disruptions that have affected them, as well as the public. 

Fahy explained that all summer, he and his colleagues have had a difficult time reaching United management for rescheduling them onto flights when something happens to their original assignment — something that has happened a lot, considering United has had 67,485 flight delays and 6,780 cancellations since May of this year.

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“We’re waiting on hold to talk with our company for 4, 5, 6, 7 hours, and it’s not a one-off, this is a regular thing all summer,” he said. 

It’s also caused a domino effect, according to Fahy: If a flight is canceled and a flight attendant can’t get home in time for the next flight they’re scheduled on because they can’t get in touch with United, that flight’s coverage gets messed up, too. 

“Boston might cover a Newark trip, Newark might cover a Chicago trip, but if everything’s being delayed because of a contact issue the company doesn’t seem to realize exists, then we’ve got severe problems,” said Fahy, who was joined by five colleagues Tuesday.

The idea behind the picketing, scheduled for this morning at 15 major airports around the globe — Guam, Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Phoenix, Houston, Austin, Denver, Chicago, London, Newark, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., and Boston — is that it will make United notice how fed up the flight attendants are, said Fahy. Their only goal is to get United to have more people on their phone lines so flight attendants can get in contact with assistance more quickly when they need it. Fahy acknowledged thatit’s not an easy job, and it takes a lot of hours of training, but noted that he and other flight attendants “can’t do our jobs if they don’t have enough people there doing theirs.”

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“We’re saying, ‘Hey, we need to get someone to answer us so we can be where we need to be without spending half of our workday sitting on hold,’” he said. “Maybe United will say, ‘Yeah, maybe there is a problem.’”

In response to a request for comment, United said only that they’ve “worked hard to reduce wait times for flight attendants to talk to a crew scheduler, including more hiring and adding digital options for some items.”

But Fahy hasn’t noticed any changes. He said this issue started prior to the summer but was exacerbated by airlines returning planes to the sky in greater numbers as we move out of the worst parts of the pandemic.

“It’s never been this bad,” he said, adding that even at times in the past when multiple airports closed, phone rates were excessive temporarily, but would always go back to normal, whereas this summer it was an everyday occurrence. As the president of the union for Boston, he bore the brunt of a lot of the complaints. 

“Flight attendants would call me and send a screenshot of them being on hold with the crew desk for 6 hours and 17 minutes, saying, ‘What do I do?,’ and I really didn’t have a perfect answer for them because I can’t schedule them,” Fahy said. 

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And the issue doesn’t just affect flight attendants, but travelers, too. This summer saw packed airports and an abundance of flight delays and cancellations, and Fahy noted that this picket is as much for the good of the public as it is for him and his colleagues. 

“We hope the company is willing to work and make it really work, not just make it fit,” Fahy said. “If they fix it for us, it’s going to get fixed for the flying public, too, and that’s the main goal.”

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