Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Delta Flying Into Union Storm
Ted Reed 10/07/09 - 04:16 PM EDT
TheStreet) -- Delta(DAL Quote) is flying into the toughest, most crucial labor battles it has ever faced.

In October 2008, Delta merged with heavily unionized Northwest, bringing thousands of union members into the tent. The following month, Democrat Barack Obama was elected president, enabling him to alter the composition of the National Mediation Board, which oversees airline industry labor issues. Obviously, both events involve potential drawbacks for Delta.

Over the past few decades, unions have repeatedly made runs at Delta, an outlier in one of the country's most unionized industries. As an example, Northwest was 96% unionized at the time of the merger. At Delta, only pilots and dispatchers, or 15% of workers, are unionized.

Now, two of the airline industry's biggest unions, which for the moment continue to represent thousands of Northwest workers, are organizing at Delta and gearing up for a series of elections. The stakes are extraordinarily high, because if the unions lose, they not only fail to gain new members but also lose members they already have.

"If Delta is the largest airline in the world, then we are going to be the largest union at the largest airline in the world," says Robert Roach, general vice president of the International Association of Machinists. "With the support we have both from current Northwest members and from Delta employees who have shown interest in organizing, we think we have a good chance of winning these elections."

Unlike the IAM, the Association of Flight Attendants has a benchmark by which to gauge its prospects. It staged a union election at Delta in May and won support from about 5,300 of the 13,400 eligible flight attendants. "As in every organizing campaign, we built support and structure," says Ed Gilmartin, AFA general counsel. Now the list of eligible voters has expanded by about 7,000 Northwest flight attendants. "We are very optimistic," Gilmartin said.
Shares of Delta closed Wednesday at $8.28, down 17 cents.

It would be unwise, however, to underestimate Delta, which has been successfully executing its various strategies since entering bankruptcy in 2005. Before its Chapter 11 filing, Delta seemed bent on squandering the world's biggest hub in Atlanta on connections to Florida and a mystifying effort to match fares with low-cost competitor AirTran(AAI Quote).

But a restructured Delta utilizes its hubs to connect passengers to premium global destinations.
Delta did not rest on its laurels, but rather pursued a merger with Northwest, operator of a Tokyo hub that filled the biggest gap in its network. It enlisted its powerful pilots union as its chief ally, not only gaining support from a key constituency but also avoiding the pilot infighting that soured the 2005 merger of US Airways(LCC Quote) and America West.

Now Delta is betting that it retains enough of a genteel yet aggressively antiunion Southern culture to continue to ward off the labor movement. It is confident enough that Mike Campbell, executive vice president for human resources, is complaining of delays in the union representation voting, in effect telling unions to bring it on.

Union elections following an airline merger require the National Mediation Board to first declare that the airline has achieved "single carrier" status. In the case of the pilots, a joint request from the airline and the pilots for a ruling came quickly, in November 2008. But the other work groups have been slower.

The AFA filed July 27, while the IAM filed on Aug. 13 for fleet service workers, but has not yet filed for reservations agents and airport agents. Meanwhile, last month the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department wrote to the NMB, requesting a change in Railway Labor Act voting methodology, which requires that unions gain support from a majority of eligible voters, rather than a majority of actual voters, to win a union election.

It may be that consideration of the request is delaying action on the election filings, although it is impossible to know, given that the NMB has steadfastly declined to comment. Theoretically, the request could benefit from Obama's election, because Obama exercised his right to appoint a new Democratic member to the board, which historically has two members from the president's party and one from the opposition.

"There is no question that there is a delay going on," Campbell says. "The AFA filed for an election, admitted we are a single transportation system, and we agreed with them, and beyond that nothing has transpired before the agency." He said the delay restricts the ability of many flight attendants to benefit from their seniority in bidding for schedules they desire. Even if the NMB wants to change voting regulations, he says, the change "shouldn't apply to pending cases, filed under the current rules."

As for the IAM, Campbell says the union still has not filed for an election for airport and reservations agents, despite indicating in August that it was nearly ready to do so. Added Delta spokeswoman Gina Laughlin: "It doesn't make sense that the agents handling bags on the ramp are a single carrier but the agents putting the bags on the belt at the ticket counter are not." But Roach says that Delta has not reached single carrier status in regard to its agents because "a lot of computer systems are not merged."

Gilmartin says he doesn't believe the NMB is stalling. When Delta and the pilots filed on Nov. 4, he said, it took two months for approval, even though no disagreement was involved. Flight attendants filed 10 weeks ago. "By board standards, considering all of their workload, it's not long," he says. "But everybody has to wait their turn."

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte,

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

BA cuts 1,000 jobs, will shrink Heathrow crews
British Airways says it is shedding 1,000 jobs, will reduce size of cabin crews at Heathrow
By Raphael G. Satter, Associated Press Writer

On Tuesday October 6, 2009, 2:21 pm EDT

LONDON (AP) -- British Airways PLC is shedding 1,000 jobs, putting 3,000 more employees on part-time work and reducing the size of cabin crews at Heathrow in an effort to get the troubled airline's finances back in order, a spokesman said Tuesday.

BA spokesman Paul Marston said the company was in "a very serious financial position" and was working hard to turn itself around with an aggressive cost-reduction program. The job losses and part-time work, which he said were voluntary, would be the equivalent of cutting 1,700 positions.

Marston said BA, which expects to see a "significant loss" for the second year running, needed the cuts in order to secure its future in an airline market which is likely to remain grim for some time.

"We do not see any green shoots of recovery just right yet," he said.

Marston also announced a companywide freeze on basic pay and said cabin crews operating out of London's Heathrow Airport would be downsized -- so that the typical 747 jet flying from London's Heathrow Airport on a long-haul trip would take off carrying 14 members of crew instead of the usual complement of 15.

Marston said customers weren't likely to notice the difference. He added that changes would come into effect in the middle of November. He declined to say how much money BA hoped to save from cuts.

The job cuts and pay freeze have been discussed with staff for months, but negotiations with the unions have been deadlocked and BA said it needed to move now to ensure the company stayed alive.

"Without changes, we will lose more money with every month that passes," a company statement said. "It is essential we make ourselves more efficient if we are to ensure our long-term survival."

The airline added that it was "not altering anything that requires negotiation."

A call seeking comment from UNITE, Britain's biggest union, was not immediately returned.
The economic downturn has hit carriers like BA particularly hard as individual travelers and companies balk at paying for a seat in first or business class, particularly on short-haul flights. The airline posted a 94 million pound ($150 million) quarterly loss in July. Earlier that month, the airline announced plans to raise 600 million pounds to help it plug its deficits and convinced pilots at the airline to agree to a 2.6 percent pay cut.

U.S. airlines have also suffered amid the souring economy, higher fuel prices, and other issues.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc., the world's biggest airline operator, said in June that its staff levels would be down more than 8,000 jobs by the end of 2009 compared to spring 2008.

Associated Press Airlines Writer Harry R. Weber contributed to this report from Atlanta.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Flight attendants often deal with passengers' medical needs
By Charisse Jones, USA TODAY

Roy Harris usually was able to fly straight home to Nashville.

But on a chilly day in late January, Harris, 57, found himself waiting for a connecting flight at Chicago's Midway Airport. He took off his coat. He reached for his BlackBerry.

The next thing Harris remembers, he was lying in a hospital, recovering from a massive heart attack. Sitting beside him was Rachael Jacobs, a flight attendant for Southwest (LUV), who, back at Midway, called for the defibrillator that ultimately saved Harris' life.

"I wake up and … the first person I see is this flight attendant," says Harris, a minister. "If it hadn't been for Rachael, I wouldn't be alive."

Though the public too often thinks their chief duties are to find pillows and ferry soft drinks, the primary duty of the nation's more than 90,000 flight attendants is to ensure the safety, health and well-being of passengers. With up to 2 million people on roughly 25,000 domestic flights daily, an attendant somewhere in the skies over the USA is dealing with an incident each day. Many can be matters of life and death. And their responses are often heroic.

"I would say we have medical events every day, pretty much around the clock," says Dr. Thomas Bettes, corporate medical director for American Airlines, who estimates that his airline deals with roughly 20 to 25 life-threatening incidents a year. Neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor the Association of Flight Attendants has statistics on the number of medical emergencies that take place in-flight. But the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association estimates that more than 400 lives have been saved by automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, on U.S. carriers in the past decade.

The most extraordinary lifesaving events make headlines. In January, the nation heralded the heroism of the three US Airways flight attendants who led 150 passengers to safety after Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.

Yet, more often than the public may know, attendants are called on to save a choking child, to resuscitate a passenger with a failing heart or to evacuate a plane forced to make an emergency landing. They can be called on before even getting on the plane to assist a passenger who falls ill in a lounge or near the gate.

Though their training programs may vary, all airlines must meet FAA guidelines that require flight attendants to be instructed in CPR and first aid.

Each year, they undergo retraining to demonstrate knowledge and skills in a range of tasks, from containing a fire in the cabin to getting passengers off a plane that has to land or "ditch" in water, says Corey Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants.

And since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, surveillance and self-defense have taken on greater emphasis, as flight attendants look out for passengers who may be a threat and identify those who can help in an emergency.

"The customer service angle is part of the job, but just a small part," Caldwell says. "When a flight attendant is actually called upon to serve the safety and security function that they have trained so long for, often it's in a heroic situation."

Quick action
The day started quietly at New York's
JFK airport, Jodi Teitelman remembers. Teitelman, a flight attendant for American Airlines, was taking tickets from travelers boarding a Los Angeles-bound flight when a passenger suddenly rushed over and said a woman in the lounge had become ill.

Teitelman, 36, found Anna Tortorici, a grandmother, slumped over, unconscious. With the help of some passengers, Teitelman lay Tortorici on the floor, then ran onto the plane to retrieve the AED and emergency kit.

It was the first time Teitelman used the heart-jolting device on a passenger.

"It was … surreal," she says of that day in October 2006.

In April 2001, the FAA required U.S. airlines to equip all domestic and international flights with AEDs within three years. As with CPR, instruction on how to use the devices became mandatory for flight attendants and is reinforced regularly. American Airlines put the devices on board in 1997, the first U.S. carrier to do so. Since then, the device has monitored or been used on more than 1,900 people, and has saved 86 lives, according to Bettes.

Tortorici, now 78, is among them. She and her husband, Larry, were returning to their home in Woburn, Mass., from a 50th anniversary cruise in Hawaii. After going through customs at JFK, she briefly lost sight of her husband and became anxious.

She sat down, and, "I guess my heart stopped beating," she says.

Teitelman placed the defibrillator on Tortorici's chest. After a single jolt, Tortorici began to breathe on her own and thrash about. Paramedics soon arrived, taking her to the hospital. She later had a pacemaker and defibrillator placed in her chest.

"Of course, I'm grateful to her," Tortorici says.

In the early days of commercial aviation, the medical function of flight attendants was so front and center that they were required to be medical professionals.

"In the '40s and '50s, to get a job as a flight attendant, you had to be a registered nurse," Caldwell says. Passengers often got air sick in unpressurized cabins.

The stereotype of flight attendants as waitresses or waiters in the sky came later. In the 1960s, airlines began emphasizing their service function as a marketing tool, though they always focused first on safety. "The role has never changed," Caldwell says.

Robert Putman, 52, has been a flight attendant for roughly 20 years. In that time, he has dealt with passengers who've had medical situations ranging from anxiety attacks to strokes.
Most recently, in February, he performed CPR on a man who had stopped breathing on an American Airlines
(AMR) flight from Tampa to Dallas/Fort Worth.

Putman says that he's well-versed in what a medical crisis requires, from alerting the pilot, to asking if there's a medical professional on board, to practicing the mantra "look, listen and feel" when evaluating a sick passenger.

"We're taught to do things," Putman says, "and rarely do we deviate."

Unscheduled landing
Occasionally, a medical emergency is serious enough that a flight has to be diverted to the closest airport.

That was the case in May for Virgin America Flight 67, on its way from Washington's Dulles airport to San Francisco.

A passenger felt sick, briefly passing out. Flight attendant Darryl Gregory, 45, alerted the plane's pilot and went on the intercom to ask if there was a medical professional on board. Meanwhile, another crewmember retrieved a container of oxygen.

Donald Olsen, the plane's captain, began communicating with MedLink, a service that allows the flight team to get guidance from physicians on the ground, and the airline's dispatch center.
"When you get on a plane, you don't know an hour into your flight someone is going to have a heart attack," says Olsen, 43. "That's when the teamwork comes into play, because there're so many things to do, so many questions to be answered."

A physician on board came forward. But two hours away from landing in San Francisco, the passenger had already used three bottles of oxygen. Following doctors' advice, Olsen decided to land in Denver.

Watching the crew handle a medical crisis can soothe the fears of other passengers.

Ravi Poorsina, 31, who was returning home to Walnut Creek, Calif., from a business meeting in Washington, D.C., says that she was initially worried the sick passenger could not get the help he needed in the air. But she soon learned he was well cared for.

"I guess it made me feel slightly more reassured," she said in an e-mail. "To know that the pilots and flight attendants are well trained and experienced is a good thing. You are not alone up there, and that becomes very clear in an emergency situation."

She also got a better grasp on the role flight attendants play. "It made me understand a little more the pressure they are under, and how tough it must be to keep a smile on your face."
In Denver, the sick passenger, whom the airline did not identify, was able to walk off the plane, Gregory says.

He admits such incidents are frightening for him as well as for the passengers. When he started out, "one of my biggest fears was … all the training I got, would it kick in when it's supposed to?" he says.

Each time, Gregory says, it has.

Sharing a moment
Rachael Jacobs did not think she had saved Roy Harris' life.

She knew she had tried. Jacobs was living in Chicago and waiting for a flight home to visit her family in Nashville in January.

Suddenly, someone said a man was sick. Jacobs found Harris foaming at the mouth, suffering an apparent seizure.

Not knowing if he was having a diabetic reaction or a problem with his heart, Jacobs yelled for oxygen, an emergency kit and an AED. A nurse and doctor who were in the area jolted Harris with the AED. Paramedics eventually arrived.

But Jacobs thought Harris would die. She grabbed a cab and followed him to the hospital.

'Miracle in Chicago'
"I knew he was somebody's somebody, and he didn't deserve to be by himself," she says. "And so I just got in that taxi and went." Jacobs stayed with Harris for eight hours. He eventually had quadruple-bypass surgery.

Since then, Harris has given speeches about what he calls "the miracle in Chicago." And Jacobs has become a close friend.

"I think you're forever connected by a life-saving event," Harris says. "She's a real hero."
In some ways, for Jacobs, it was all in a day's work. Still, "I didn't do this to be a good Southwest employee," she says. "My heart told me which way to go, and I just followed."