Breeze is defending a plan to use college students as cabin crew after blowback from the US’ largest flight attendant union

Breeze Airways David Neeleman
Breeze Airways pilots with David Neeleman.

  • Breeze Airways’ plans to save money by hiring college students as carbon crew.
  • The US’ largest flight attendants union said the plan may result in safety issues as the students are inexperienced.
  • However, lower than expected recruitment numbers have forced the airline to open up regular positions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

David Neeleman’s new startup, Breeze Airways, has ambitious plans to keep costs low when it launches flights this year – but one of its more unique initiatives is putting is receiving the ire of big labor.

Some flight attendants staffing the airline’s planes will be Utah Valley University college students hired through paid work-study programs. The strategy is unique for any modern US airline and is part of Breeze’s strategy to offer extremely low fares on leisure routes.

But students won’t be attending class in the morning and jetting off in the afternoon. Rather, only online students will be eligible for the program, as being a Breeze flight attendant requires a nomadic lifestyle it says is best suited to college students.

“Breeze is looking for ‘Seriously Nice’ current and future UVU Full Time, On-Line students, to work at the newest and nicest airline as a Flight Attendant!” the airline’s job posting reads.

The responsibilities might be more than college students would expect from a run-of-the-mill work-study program. Flight attendants are tasked, in part, with ensuring the safety and well-being of every passenger onboard and guiding them in the event of an emergency. These training programs for all airlines are regulated and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We expect you to welcome and accommodate Guests, mitigate high-stress situations, collaborate and problem solve with other Team Members, use good judgement, and just be…nice, all while taking on line classes and earning your degree at Utah Valley University!” the posting continues.

Breeze intended for all of its flight attendants to be degree-seeking students. But lower than expected recruitment numbers have required the airline to open up regular positions with no requirements of being a student, airline spokesperson Gareth Edmondson-Jones confirmed to Insider.

“We were getting some good results but we needed to attract more people,” Edmondson-Jones said. “This way, they have both options they can do a regular flight attendant role or they can do it earning a degree on the side.”

A regular position offers 70 guaranteed flight hours per month if candidates agree to a four-year contract, the full-time posting reads. Other than academic requirements, job postings for the two programs are nearly identical, including a minimum age requirement of 18 years. Notably, many other airlines also do not require college degrees to apply.

Read More: JetBlue founder David Neeleman reveals how his new airline can succeed by flying weird routes for low prices

America’s largest flight attendant union has pushed back against Breeze’s plan, citing potential safety issues from using “less experienced and mature” flight crews, Sara Nelson, president of Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union and one of the country’s most vocal labor advocates, told Bloomberg.

Nelson pointed to the cabin crew – with more than 100 years of experience combined – that helped save lives when US Airways flight 1549 made a forced landing in the Hudson River in 2009. While the minimum age of the college-enrolled flight attendants is 18, older applicants can apply through the college program if they enroll as a student.

Breeze maintains that any hired flight attendant, student or not, and will be trained to the required standards regardless of age.

“If you’re a fully trained flight attendant, you’re a fully trained flight attendant,” spokesperson Edmondson-Jones said. “It’s not like if you’re 18 years old, you can’t be a flight attendant.”

Another aspect of the program is also under fire from the flight attendants union. Once the students complete their studies at Utah Valley University, their employment at the airline comes to an end, and they’ll either have to reapply or find jobs elsewhere.

“The whole point of a work-study program is to get experience in a career field,” AFA President Nelson told Bloomberg. “This program turns that on its head. As soon as you get the experience, you’re no longer qualified.”

Tuition assistance for the students-turned-flight-attendants totals $6,000 per year. Additional perks include corporate housing, airport transportation, a monthly salary, and one paid round-trip ticket home per year.

The monthly salary is reported to be $1,200 for around half a month’s work.

Breeze plans to take flight in May after completing Federal Aviation Administration-mandated proving runs across the East Coast and Southeast. Flights will operate between secondary US cities with a focus on low-cost leisure flights on underserved air routes.

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Aviation unions are asking congress for $15 billion to extend furlough protections

Sara Nelson
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

  • A coalition of aviation unions asked congress for $15 billion to extend furlough protections.
  • Without the funds, “wide-scale layoffs” may begin as early as March 31, they said in a letter.
  • This is a “critical moment for the country and the industry,” the unions said. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A coalition of aviation unions has asked congress for a $15 billion extension for a furlough protection program, warning a lack of funding would lead to layoffs.

The funding would extend the current Payroll Support Program through September 30. Otherwise, it would expire on March 31. 

“Without these actions, wide-scale layoffs in the industry will begin as early as March 31st,” the unions wrote in a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with others.

The letter was signed by seven unions, representing pilots, flight attendants, and other aviation workers.

Delta Airlines JFK Ground Crew cleaning Plane August 2020.JPG
Delta Air Lines pre-flight cleaning crew members work on an aircraft at JFK International Airport.

“With vaccination in its early stages, this is a critical moment for the country and the industry. The continuation of PSP will ensure that we emerge from the pandemic in the strongest possible position and ready to get America moving,” they wrote. 

Read more: Moody’s says COVID-19 relief for airport stores and restaurants may help the air travel sector survive, but the outlook remains bleak

The payroll program has supported hundreds of thousands of workers at a time when airline revenue has plunged due to the pandemic, said the unions. Southwest Airlines, for example, furloughed 7,000 workers for the first time in its history. 

United Airlines, meanwhile, warned about 14,000 employees they may be furloughed starting on April 1, if the program isn’t extended, according to Reuters.

In December, United recalled about 13,000 furloughed workers when the payroll protection program got $15 billion in funding, according to Reuters. In total, the program helped airlines bring back as many as 32,000 staffers, Reuters reported. 

“The payroll support program was a grant program to go to the airlines that could only got to pay in benefits to workers – 2.1 aviation workers,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents about 50,000 workers at 20 airlines. 

As originally designed, payroll program funded about 70% of airline payrolls, with no reduction in hourly pay until March 31, 2021, according to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

The measure also limited stock buybacks and executive compensation. 

 

 

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