With inflation a persistent problem, the stagnant wages of flight attendants at American Airlines have meant that many new hires technically fall into poverty and AA is delivering “poverty verification letters” to attest to this.

New-Hire Flight Attendants At American Airlines Receive “Poverty Verification Letters”

As shared on reddit, American is offering letters to new-hire flight attendants attesting to their poverty and asking that “Any courtesy you can provide would be appreciated.”

A couple of observations. First, the $30.35/hour starting pay is somewhat misleading since flight attendants are only paid once the aircraft door closes: they are not paid for boarding time or necessarily paid for time spent waiting. Second, many new-hire flight attendants do hold second jobs (i.e. the traditional solution to insufficient wages), though this is difficult. New-hire flight attendants are placed on “reserve” meaning when they are scheduled to work they are told to wait for a phone call for their actual duty assignment. Like a substitute teacher, they will fill in where needed, whether that be a short haul trip or long haul journey. That does make holding multiple jobs a difficult task.

On The Matter Of Flight Attendant Wages

I’m speaking purely from personal opinion, but it is situations like this that I waver on how to handle from a public policy perspective. In the past, I would have simply said that 1.) entering into this association is voluntary and 2.) American Airlines pays what the market will bear, including poverty wages in big cities. The ratio of applications to hires of flight attendants indeed resembles an elite college university and that does (and should) place downward pressure on wages.

But I have a huge problem if the duties and obligations of a company are transferred onto taxpayers. In other words, in the richest country in the world, I would hope there would be an agreement that a worker who works full time should make enough living. That may mean sharing an apartment in an expensive city, but it should not mean obtaining benefits like subsidized healthcare and an EBT card for groceries, which means that the low wages are being propped up by taxpayers.

Robert Isom made $31.4 million in 2023…pilots got huge raises and often earn more than doctors and lawyers. Meanwhile, flight attendants, even if they voluntarily choose to live in a city like Boston or New York, cannot even survive. There’s something very wrong with that picture.

American Airlines is issuing “poverty verification letters” to new-hire flight attendants, recognizing that wages have fallen behind and that the disparity in wages between veteran and new-hire flight attendants is quite substantial. I find letters like this unacceptable if taxpayers are left to pick up the burden.

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