United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: July 1, 2009
Type: Report

United/Continental/Star Alliance Application for Antitrust Immunity:  Last week the US Department of Justice (DOJ)  filed a 55-page objection to the broad antitrust immunity preliminarily granted by the Department of Transportation (DOT), for Continental Airlines to join United and their Star Alliance partners. The DOJ believes that the application for antitrust immunity was too broad and that the airlines should receive more limited immunity than requested. The DOJ objection cited concerns about diminished competition on some international routes, the potential for higher fares and lack of consumer benefits. 

After receiving the DOJ’s objections, the Department of Transportation granted interested parties five business days to submit comments on the issues raised by the DOJ. The deadline for submitting those comments was July 6, 2009. United MEC President Greg Davidowitch submitted comments to the DOT and wrote to US Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, and US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, expressing concern for the broadening scope of airline alliances and the need for adequate protections for labor. Greg calls on the Department of Transportation to include meaningful provisions that insure an equitable measure of protection for workers, as part of any final approval for antitrust immunity.

We continue to encourage our Members to call the White House (202.456.1111) to urge the Administration to help protect US aviation jobs.  Once connected to the White House comment line operator , Flight Attendants should state their name, and city and state (or country) where they live and deliver the following message: “The Department of Transportation is currently reviewing the joint application of United Airlines and their Star Alliance partners for antitrust immunity. As airline alliances grow into global deregulation, provisions need to be included to protect our jobs.  I am calling to urge the Administration to support US aviation workers and ensure immunity from antitrust provisions will not lead to greater job losses for American workers.”  

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) United Master Executive Council has also been communicating their concerns to the Department of Transportation. The ALPA UAL MEC is asking the DOT to fully review the joint application of United and Continental for Star Alliance antitrust immunity “with input from all entities involved.” As we are, the ALPA UAL MEC is asking the DOT to use all resources to include language that clearly protects American jobs, with any approval of this joint application for antitrust immunity.

Flying Blind/Airline Deregulation Reconsidered: A new report released by the Demos Group, uncovers a three-decade-long pattern of declining profitability and rising instability in the airline industry. The report traces the industry’s current problems back to the decision to lift most federal regulation of air travel. “Deregulation was supposed to lead to a dramatically expanded universe of airlines – companies big and small, old and new, competing and innovating for the public benefit,” the authors write. Instead, “Today’s industry is more concentrated than ever, yet lacks the resources and motivation to make crucial investments in equipment, technology and human capitol.

And most of the major U.S. airlines appear to have no long-term strategy except more of the same – more outsourcing, more service cutbacks and hidden charges, more wage and benefit reductions, and more consolidation in the hope of surviving long enough to be in a position to turn a profit and expand during a future economic recovery.”

The authors call on Congress and the relevant agencies to make a thorough study of the airline industry. They recommend the creation of a federal task force to examine the industry’s problems and propose solutions.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) strongly support the report’s key recommendation of a task force to examine deregulation and its failures. A group of AFA-CWA and APFA Government Affairs Committee members distributed this report to every Senate and House office on Capitol Hill, last month, with a letter from Pat Friend and APFA President, Laura Glading. Pat and Laura’s letter urges members of Congress to support a full review of deregulation and “to consider the legislative steps necessary to rectify the damage it continues to do to airline employees, consumers and the corporations serving the industry.”


Cell Phone Ban:     The House approved Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill included an in-flight cell phone ban, which the cell phone industry adamantly opposes. The cell phone industry has begun an aggressive lobby campaign to stop any efforts for an in-flight cell phone ban to be included in the Senate FAA Reauthorization bill.  As safety professionals, we understand that cell phone usage in the cabin would create a new security risk by comprising our ability to maintain order in the cabin. Safety is also compromised, if we cannot safely perform our safety duties or execute an emergency evacuation.

We now need to mobilize our Members to contact their Senators. The AFA-CWA International Government Affairs Department has launched an e-activist campaign to let our Senators know this is a very serious concern. Besides the e-activist, the Government Affairs Department has drafted a letter urging Senate members to support a ban on in-flight cell phone usage. The letter has been e-mailed to Local Government Affairs Committee members for circulating to all Flight Attendants to sign.  

The only way we can fight the cell phone industry’s determination to kill a ban on in-flight cell phone usage is to get as many letters, as possible, sent to members of the Senate to demonstrate widespread support for a ban.  CWA, which represents a large number of employees working for these wireless companies, endorses our efforts to ban cell phone usage in-flight.  At the recent CWA Convention over 1750 postcards were signed by CWA members in support of a cell phone ban and these postcards were delivered to the appropriate Senate offices.

In addition to letters, everyone should be calling their two Senators with the following message:

“As a constituent and a member of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, I am calling to urge Senator ____________ to show support for our nation’s flight attendants by ensuring that a ban on in-flight cellular telephone usage is included in any Federal Aviation Reauthorization legislation that passes out of the Senate. Cell phone usage in the cabin creates a new security risk by comprising my ability to maintain order in the cabin. Passenger safety is also compromised when cell phone usage distracts passengers from viewing and listening to safety demonstrations or emergency evacuation instructions. I strongly urge Senator ___________ to take the necessary steps to help ban cell phone use during flight.”

To reach Senate offices, the U.S. Capitol switchboard number is 202.224.3121. Non U.S. citizens should call the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid.
Carry-On Baggage Standard:   Representative Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) has introduced The Securing Cabin Baggage Act, HR 2870, which would standardize and clarify the dimensions of carry-on bags brought onboard the aircraft.  The legislation would require the Transportation Security Administration to set up templates on luggage conveyor belts that would block  pieces that are larger than 22 inches x 18 inches x 10 inches.

The rule excludes child safety seats and devices to assist disabled passengers and has exceptions for crew member luggage.  HR 2870 has been referred to the House Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.   

The number and size of carry-on baggage has long been a concern of AFA’s and AFA has a long history of pressuring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to adopt and enforce a uniform policy for carry-on baggage. In 1984, AFA first petitioned the FAA for rulemaking for improved carry-on baggage rules. The only rule in place at the time was that “only bags that could be stowed properly” were allowed onboard the aircraft.

Three years later the FAA issued a rule that each carrier must have a carry-on baggage program in place, disregarding AFA’s recommendation for a uniform baggage limit.

AFA then filed a Petition for Rulemaking to require airlines to screen and limit carry-on baggage. Our pleas fell on deaf ears, so AFA worked with Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Representative William Lipinski (D-IL) to introduce legislation to limit the size of carry-on baggage and the number of pieces that a passenger may bring onboard the airplane. At about that time, United Airlines implemented a new carry-on baggage policy and was then supportive of our legislative efforts. Other airlines also adopted strict carry-on baggage policies. However, Continental Airlines made carry-on baggage a marketing tool and aggressively lobbied to kill any carry-on baggage regulations.

Now that most airlines are charging a fee for checked baggage, the problem has become much worse.  An increasing number of passengers are carrying all of their luggage onboard the aircraft adding to our existing safety and security responsibilities.

Today, the airline industry opposes any efforts for an enforceable, uniform carry-on baggage industry-wide standard.

In order to move this legislation forward we need to mobilize our Members to help build support for HR 2870. A number of AFA Government Affairs Committees have recently lobbied on this issue but currently there are no cosponsors on the bill. A recent New York Times Editorial endorsed Representative Lipinski’s legislation and a poll in the Chicago Tribune shows support for a limit to carry-on baggage. Nevertheless, some Letters-to-the-Editor have been opposed to any efforts to limit oversized and excessive carry-on baggage. A Letter-to-the-Editor that I submitted to the New York Times in support of Representative Lipinski’s legislation, was published on July 11, 2009.

Government Affairs Committee members are now distributing a letter for Flight Attendants to sign, urging their US Representative to cosponsor the Securing Cabin Baggage Act, HR 2870. These letters should also be mailed to Shane Larson, and can be sent along with the signed Senate cell phone ban letters. 

In addition to sending letters, everyone should call their US Representative with the following message.

“Hello. My name is _______ and I live in ______ (city), ________(state) As a member of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA I am calling Representative _________ to urge her/him to cosponsor the Securing Cabin Baggage Act, HR 2870, introduced by Representative Daniel Lipinski. This bill would standardize and clarify the dimensions of carry-on baggage. Carry-on baggage has become such a distraction that it is difficult to perform my other safety responsibilities during passenger boarding.

Physical and verbal abuse, injuries to passengers and crew members and delays during boarding and deplaning are just of few of the problems that result from excessive and oversized carry-on baggage. I urge Representative __________ to help ensure the safety and security of the travelling public by cosponsoring HR 2870.”

To reach U.S. House offices you can go through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202.225.3121. Non US citizens should call the Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi.

Airline Flight Crew Family and Medical Leave:    Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will be introducing a Senate version of our FMLA bill this week.  Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jim Webb (D-VA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have agreed to be original cosponsors when the legislation is introduced.  As we did in the House, we want to keep this legislation non-partisan. For every Democrat who agrees to support the bill we want one Republican as a cosponsor.   

Our incredible grassroots efforts in the last Congress were the reason this bill passed so quickly in the House this year.  The same grassroots will be necessary to achieve a victory in the Senate and send the bill to the President for his signature.  Unlike the hurdles we faced with the last Administration, President Obama has signaled that he will sign the Airline Flight Crew Family and Medical Leave Act into law.


Our mobilization efforts for our current legislative issues provide a great opportunity to promote FlightPAC.  In order to remain engaged in advancing our legislative agenda, it is critical that we educate our Members on what FlightPAC is and encourage them to participate.  Through FlightPAC, AFA-CWA members can combine small monthly contributions in support of legislators interested in improving our profession.  Helping to elect Flight Attendant friendly members to Congress, also provides us with opportunities to attend political fundraisers and  have the critical one-on-one conversations with Representatives and Senators who are running for office.  Once elected, these members of Congress fully understand the issues that are important to our profession and are then in a position to stand up and champion these issues.
AFA’s goal is the enactment of legislation on issues affecting our jobs and workplace so we are not forced to address them in the negotiations process.  This allows our Negotiating Committee to focus on improving our wages and benefits. FlightPAC is a critically important tool to get us to that goal.  Members of Congress who have received support from FlightPAC understand that Flight Attendants are among the most under appreciated workers in our country.   FlightPAC enrollment forms can be downloaded from the AFA International website www.afanet.org in the Government Affairs section. 

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