In a mass email to flight attendants, American Airlines shared the following message:
“Today it’s with great regret that I let you know about our decision to close the SFO flight attendant base,” American Airlines executive Brady Byrnes said in the memo.
The San Francisco base closing is cited as a result of economic factors and a shift in customer demand. Consequently, the airline presented 400 flight attendants with a difficult choice ahead: leave the airline or leave the state.
Company representatives told SFO-based flight attendants in September that the carrier determined that operating a base out of San Francisco was simply not financially viable, according to an audio recording shared with Insider by a verified source.
The base is home to some of the carrier’s most senior flight attendants. Two-thirds of its SFO-based crew have been at the airline for thirteen years or more, according to the union representing American Airlines flight attendants. By Jan. 31, they must select an airport from a list of the airline’s hubs outside of California to work out of. For those who can’t or won’t, the only options are to retire early, if eligible, or resign.
In interviews with Insider, SFO-based flight attendants shared varying factors that make it difficult to leave the Bay Area. (Some have asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs, but Insider verified their identities and employment.) Some are single moms, some are battling health issues, and some have children with special needs. Others have divorced spouses with joint custody of their children, elderly parents, or partners who can’t uproot their careers.
“This is home,” said Marcia Brown, a flight attendant who has been based in San Francisco for 38 years.
Changes In Demand For American Airlines
A spokesperson for the airline said it decided to no longer have flight attendants based in San Francisco based on logistical factors including the airline’s changing size, shifting customer demand, and fleet changes.
“As we look at the future of our network, we expect that San Francisco will maintain the same level of flying it does today, but there are no plans to grow San Francisco and no future flying prospects based on our current network strategy,” they said.
In 2022, the carrier cut approximately one-third of its flight volume out of San Francisco due to poor profitability.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that a state law requiring workers warrant a break every few hours also applies to California-based airline employees.
American would have a “good business reason” to do so, said John Masslon, a senior litigator at the Washington Legal Foundation, especially when considering the airline’s $37 billion debt.
“You might have situations where the plane is unable to take off because of having to wait for a rest or meal break,” he said. “Planes will be unable to land and it will have a cascading effect on delayed flights and mess up the entire system.”
Flights Attendants Face A Tough Decision
Given the airline plans to continue hiring new flight attendants, several crew members feel the airline wants to replace veteran staff with new employees at lower pay rates.
Confusion continues to swirl for some employees on why they need to leave San Francisco if the carrier will still need to staff SFO flights. American has plans to keep flights at the same level as today, meaning the airline will still have to fly in flight attendants based at other airports.
Some SFO-based flight attendants suspect they won’t have the option to transfer to Los Angeles — a larger American hub — because the airline could exit California altogether.
The closest alternatives to SFO are Phoenix and Dallas, 2-hour and 3.5-hour flights respectively. However, all 400 of the affected flight attendants will likely not receive their first choice.
In an industry where seniority rules, less-senior employees may be stuck commuting across the country, adding dozens of unpaid hours to their schedules.