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Flight attendants picket airports — demanding that airlines fix chronic delays

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Union flight attendants marched on picket lines at more than two dozen airports yesterday. They're not on strike, but they are demanding that their airlines address operational problems that they say have left passengers stranded by delays and cancellations and exhausted and frustrated their crews. NPR's David Schaper has more from Chicago.

UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: What do we want? Respect. When do we want it? Now.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: As chants on union picket lines go, this one at Chicago's O'Hare Airport yesterday is one you'd expect.

UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: Respect. When do we want it? Now.

SCHAPER: But this one...

UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: Hey, hey, ho, ho, waiting on hold is getting old.

SCHAPER: They're chanting, waiting on hold is getting old. And no, they're not airline passengers waiting for customer service agents. These are United Airlines flight attendants who say they have to wait hours on hold for crew schedules.

SCOTT PEJAS: We're now back to pre-pandemic levels as far as passenger load, but yet we're still not bringing back that support staff to support the flight attendants.

SCHAPER: That's Scott Pejas, the local council president for United's flight attendants in Chicago.

PEJAS: Flight attendants are on hold upwards of five hours on their off time trying to either get a hold of scheduling to get their assignment or to get a hotel room, even, to layover to get legal rest.

SCHAPER: The flight attendants say when long wait times keep them from getting the required amount of rest, they may not be available the next day, leading to even more flight delays and cancellations. United says the airline has worked hard to reduce wait times for flight attendants to talk to crew schedulers, and they've hired more of them. But that's not the only labor group nor the only airline. Southwest's flight attendants also picketed, and earlier this month, it was pilots at several airlines. Sara Nelson is president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

SARA NELSON: There's 700,000 workers who essentially put contract bargaining on hold during the pandemic, continued to come to work. We need to now maintain people and attract people to these jobs.

SCHAPER: Contract talks are underway between several unions and airlines, but little progress has been made.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.