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American Airlines Told Jessica Chastain Why It Doesn't Pay Flight Attendants For All Their Work (It Didn't Go Well)

Inc. logo Inc. 2/12/2019 Chris Matyszczyk

Jessica Chastain looking at the camera: \ © Getty Images \

Jessica Chastain.

The way airlines work isn't exactly normal.

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

When it comes to taking advantage of their employees, it's quite something what corporations can get away with.

If you fly for business, fly economy. Oh, and while you're in that horribly cramped seat, make sure you do at least five hours of work.

Paid maternity leave? Don't be silly. Paid vacation? Oh, you're so demanding.

Airlines, though, do offer employees fine perks. Those free flights can be mesmerizing.

There are other quirks of the job that aren't so amusing. They can even seem baffling.

Or, as far as Golden Globe winner and two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is concerned, plain illegal.

Naturally, she took to Twitter to voice her outrage:

Just discovered that flight attendants don't get paid during boarding or delays. How is this legal when they are clearly working?! Anyone got info, please enlighten. @AmericanAir @united @Delta

Southwest must be disappointed she didn't direct her comments its way.

You might think, though, that no airline bothered to answer. Oh, you have so little faith in airlines. Or, at least, in their Twitter staffs.

American Airlines soared into the fray with an explanation:

Contracts are negotiated between the company and the unions to determine the details of any compensation package.

Those contracts enjoy their quirks.

One of which is that flight attendants don't get paid until the doors close. The pay stops when the airplane arrives at the gate.

Some rail against it.

For example, a United Airlines flight attendant told me a delightful story of how, after they had finished a transatlantic flight and landed back in the U.S., they were dragged away for a "random" drug test at Newark. With the pilot.

Oh, yes. This does happen.

They merrily peed away, but the time it took meant they missed their United flight connection home, more than two hours away.

They had to find another airline to accommodate them. As that plane rolled away, someone in first class decided to be a nuisance.

The plane had to return to the gate, to remove the entitled nuisance.

They got home past the devil's hour.

Was the flight attendant paid for all this lost time, never mind for the time she was serving first-class passengers their pre-departure drink?

Do you really think there ever existed someone called Goldilocks?

Still, the unions try to negotiate a number that at least attempts to partially compensate for the random eventualities of life.

Chastain, though, still couldn't cope with American's response. She replied:

How could it be legal to not pay your employees while they are serving your customers and performing safety related duties?

Airline contracts are a weird and very wonderful world.

American Airlines flight attendant and author Heather Poole tried to explain the realities to Chastain:

They pay us per diem, which is less than $2 from sign in -- the time we get back to base. Our pay rate sounds really great until you average in all the hours we aren't getting paid. All that time on the ground, connecting, delays, NOT PAID.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants -- which represents United's staff -- told Chastain how difficult life can be:

We had to fight hard to turn this job into a career. The pay is traditionally based on pilot pay structure and we've fought hard to increase the $ for flight hours w/ pay protections. But it's not enough. Boarding is often the hardest part of our day!

I commend American Airlines for at least responding.

I can find no similar response from United or Delta. They rather like American being the major object of public scorn.

Never imagine, though, that your flight attendant is paid handsomely. Try and imagine that many of them have second jobs.

Why else would some of them now be trying to get tips for the service they provide?

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