Yesterday I wrote about the new policy that American Airlines announced for its flight attendants. Their union had quickly come out against it, so I set out out to ask rank-and-file American Airlines flight attendants if they supported their union's position.

Short answer: If your employees quickly start using words like "unacceptable," "ridiculous," "inhumane," "horrible," and "suitable for robots," you might want to consider taking another look at your policy.

Or at least, take a second look at the way you decided to roll it out.

(Seriously, the last time we saw something that created this kind of unified opposition was when United Airlines tried to roll out its "bonus lottery program" six months ago.)

The policy is described in greater detail here, but basically American says it will now "award" flight attendants points for things like taking off more than two personal days or calling in sick during certain busy periods. Accumulate 10 points in 12 months, and the penalty is "termination."

Almost every flight attendant who shared their thoughts with me objected to the policy, some quite vehemently. Most said that flight attendants get sick more often than others workers because of their working conditions, and it's unfair to penalize them further as a result.

Here's a representative sample of comments from currently serving American Airlines flight attendants, after I asked about the new policy:

  • "Unacceptable ... [T]hey are implementing [the policy] to get rid of more flight attendants. ... This attendance policy is HORRIBLE!"
  • "I'm an American Airlines flight attendant. Every year I come down with colds, flu and sore throats I've caught on the airplanes. I do not think sick flight attendants should be rewarded for coming to work with contagious illnesses."
  • "We're transporting upwards of 600 people a day in a flying Petri dish with recycled air, of course we're going to get sick more often."
  • "In a tube with all those germs we are more prone to get sick."
  • "I invite you to fly a four day trip with me that consists of 12 legs with [a] common cold, Good luck hearing at the end of that trip, not to mention what your sinuses will feel like..."
  • "This is the most ridiculous policy I've seen in my 28 years with AA."
  • "No, and NO!!!! We work in a steel tube with sick people, germs everywhere, long days, not enough sleep, we are going to get SICK!!! Just ridiculous."
  • "Although this may be a good and accountable fair system for other departments, it is not fair for flight attendants. They clearly didn't consider the outrageous trip schedules we get, short layovers [and] not enough rest time, commuting ... being on reserve and sleep deprived." 
  • "We are in a closed, confined area, touching all the same items. ...  I think most of us dedicated flight attendants should stay home while sick, without worrying we'll lose careers we've worked so hard to achieve."
  • "It's inhuman! This new attendance policy is suitable for robots."
  • "How does a company give you sick days but penalize you being sick and for using them?"
  • "This new policy is inhumane. ... We have to deal with sick people in a confined tube. Poor air quality, toxic fumes, jet leg, three or four flights a day."

A handful of flight attendants did say they thought some of their colleagues were taking advantage of the current system. One flight attendant said she regretted that the way some flight attendants try to find "loopholes" might lead the airline to restrict things for everyone.

Another flight attendant said: "I do like that the peak time [costs] more points, because people take advantage and call in on major holidays, and that makes it really difficult for the ones actually flying to be home as well."

This whole situation comes about against two backdrops:

First, the legal actions begun last year over American Airlines' new uniforms, and second the fact that Oct. 1, when this policy goes into effect, marks the day on which legacy US Airways flight attendants and American Airlines flight attendants "will be fully integrated into one operating unit with one set of rules." 

A silver lining for American Airlines? It looks like they've found a way to unite their flight attendants--even if it's in opposition to their own airline's policy.