Last updated: 02:11 PM ET, Sat October 17 2015

Frontier: Protested Sick Leave Policy All About On-Time Performance

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | October 17, 2015

Frontier: Protested Sick Leave Policy All About On-Time Performance

Frontier Airlines’ best on-time monthly performance in a decade was partly the reason why it instituted a new sick-leave policy for flight attendants that has crew members and its union sick to their stomach.

Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner told that the company’s best-ever on-time performance in 10 years in September was partly the catalyst for the change.

“We are continuously working to improve our on-time performance. When employees are tardy or miss a trip, this can have ripple effects on multiple flights throughout the day affecting our customers,” Faulker said in an emailed statement. “We understand that employees are absent on occasion or late to work for reasons beyond their control so we have built in measures that allow for when this happens.”

Flight attendants protested earlier this week in front of the carrier’s Denver headquarters to draw attention to what its union says is a program for “accelerated discipline when using sick leave in addition to a reduced number of sick calls leading to termination.”

In a memo obtained by the Denver Post, Frontier laid out the plan. Since FAs are assigned work by trips, not days, the airline is instituting a new points system to dock the employees. In the past, flight attendants could miss a trip – known as an “instance” – and were allowed eight such instances a year.

In the new plan, flight attendants are docked 1.5 points for every day they are out. Accumulate eight points and it’s ground for termination.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union also provided with a statement.

“Flight Attendants sustain illness and injury on the job at a rate twice as high as coal miners. This is the reality of our mobile, turbulence prone, oxygen reduced, physical work environment. And, Frontier Flight Attendants made concessions in bankruptcy just a few years ago which resulted in working harder for less. This sick leave policy change is insulting to the dedicated frontline of Frontier Airlines.”

According to the memo, the new policy is also weighted to increase the demerits based on certain violations, including four points given if a flight attendant misses a trip; three points if they're late and cause a flight delay; and 2.5 points if they are tardy..

However, the new policy also includes getting two points taken off the list for every six month of perfect attendance.

That's all well and good, but the policy itself is not grounded in reality, according to flight attendant Heather Poole, author of "Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crash Pads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet."

"On time performance has nothing to do with their sick policy.  It's ridiculous to expect flight attendants won't get sick or to ask them to come to work sick to get other flight attendants and passengers sick," Poole said. "When you work in a confined tube for hours on end surrounded by 150 plus passengers, you're going to get sick.  If you're sick and you sneeze and then take a sip of your drink, I'm probably going to come in contact with your germs when I go to pick up your trash.  There's no getting around it.  

"Mix in longer duty days with shorter layovers and your immune system is going to suffer. Keep in mind it's not just me, it's passengers too who get sick when I go to work with the sniffles.  When I touch your food or hand you something to drink," she said.

Poole, who works for another airline she keeps confidential, said that most airlines' sick policies are unrealistic but Frontier takes the prize for the worst she's heard of.

"This one takes the cake. They should be ashamed of themselves. Because flight attendants are going to get sick regardless of the policy," Poole said. "The difference is they're going to get passengers sick too in order to keep from losing their job."

Poole said the answer needs to be hiring more personnel, not alienating the crew you have.

"Reserve flight attendants cover a trip when flight attendants get sick.  Most flight attendants are respectful of each other and therefore don't call in sick at the last minute, if they can help it, causing another flight attendant to stress out and rush to work," she said. "Perhaps the airline doesn't have enough reserve flight attendants? Well they should hire more flight attendants. Not punish people for getting sick, which probably happened when they went to work."   

Additional reporting on this story by TravelPulse editor-in-chief Tim Wood.


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