Association of Flight Attendants

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Association of Flight Attendants-CWA
AFA-CWA logo.png
FoundedAugust 22, 1945
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
  • United States
Key people
  • Sara Nelson, Int'l President
  • Debora Sutor, Int'l Vice President
  • Kevin Creighan, Int'l Secretary-Treasurer
AffiliationsAFL-CIO, CWA, ITF

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (commonly known as AFA) is a union representing flight attendants in the United States. As of January 2018, AFA represents 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines. Since 2004, AFA has been part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), an affiliate of AFL-CIO. AFA is also an affiliate of the International Transport Workers' Federation.


AFA was founded in 1945 by flight attendants at United Airlines. The organization was originally known as Airline Stewardess Association (ALSA). ALSA negotiated its first contract with United in 1946. In 1949, ALSA merged with the Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association (ALSSA), an affiliate of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). By 1951, ALSSA had 3,300 members. ALPA created two separate divisions in 1960, one for pilots, and one for stewards and stewardesses. Nearly half of the USA's 8,700 flight attendants were members of ALPA's S&S division at that time. In 1973, ALSSA flight attendants chose self-determination and formed an independent Association of Flight Attendants, leaving ALPA. In 1982, AFA had 22,000 members at 18 American airlines. In 1984, the AFL-CIO granted AFA a charter.[1] By 1995, AFA represented 36,000 Flight Attendants at 23 carriers. Four years later, 46,000 flight attendants at 26 airlines were AFA members. After layoffs resulting from the September 11, 2001 Attacks, AFA members voted in 2004 to merge with the Communications Workers of America, forming a group totaling 700,000 members.[citation needed]


In July 2006, Northwest Airlines flight attendants voted to replace their independent union with AFA. AFA's membership rose to 55,000 flight attendants. On November 4, 2010, AFA was decertified by the National Mediation Board as the bargaining representative for the pre-merger Northwest Airlines flight attendants of Delta Air Lines, after narrowly losing a representational election of the combined group the day before.[2] AFA filed objections to the election with the National Mediation Board alleging interference.[3]

On June 29, 2011 AFA won one of the largest private sector union elections in decades, winning representation rights for the combined workforce of approximately 24,000 flight attendants at United Airlines, Continental Airlines and Continental Micronesia.[4] That election was triggered by a National Mediation Board ruling that those airlines had formed a single transportation system as a result of a corporate merger. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers filed objections to the election. Those objections are pending before the National Mediation Board. Negotiations for a single, combined collective bargaining agreement were ongoing as of June 1, 2014.[citation needed]

On October 25, 2011 flight attendants at Omni Air International voted by a wide margin to elect AFA as their union. With a workforce of approximately 500 flight attendants operating international charter flights, Omni is headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[citation needed]

On July 17, 2012 AFA won a representation election for a combined bargaining unit of approximately Endeavor Air 1,500 flight attendants that resulted from the merger of Pinnacle Airlines, Colgan Air and Mesaba Airlines.[citation needed]


AFA-CWA members threaten CHAOS at Northwest Airlines August 15, 2006 at San Francisco International Airport

CHAOS is AFA's trademarked strategy of intermittent strikes designed to maximize the impact of an industrial action while minimizing the risk for striking flight attendants.[citation needed]

In May 1993, AFA members at Seattle-based Alaska Airlines were facing a 30-day cooling-off period after more than three years of negotiations.[5] In June, 1993, the cooling-off period mandated by the Railway Labor Act had expired. The first CHAOS strike took place in Seattle when three flight attendants walked off an Alaska Airlines flight just before passenger boarding.[6] A month later, another crew of flight attendants struck the last flight out of Las Vegas.[7] A few weeks later, AFA struck five flights simultaneously in the San Francisco area.[8]

America West,[9] AirTran and US Airways[10] all settled with AFA on the eve of, or a few minutes after, the end of a 30-day cooling-off period in the 1990s. AFA flight attendants at Midwest Express (now Midwest Airlines), completed a cooling-off period without reaching agreement on a first contract in 2002. After three weeks of a CHAOS campaign, and on the eve of CHAOS strikes,[11] management agreed to terms that were ratified by the flight attendants. United Airlines flight attendants used the threat of CHAOS to leverage their negotiations during the airline's bankruptcy,[12] succeeding in doubling the value of the replacement retirement plan management had proposed.[citation needed]

Flight attendants at Northwest Airlines, locked in a round of bankruptcy negotiations, deployed a CHAOS campaign days after joining AFA in July, 2006.[13] Union negotiators concluded a new tentative agreement with millions of dollars in improvements, but which was voted down by a narrow margin. AFA continued preparations for CHAOS strikes at Northwest pending the outcome of negotiations and litigation surrounding the case.[14]

The bankruptcy court ruled in favor of the union, denying the strike injunction sought by management.[15] On appeal, the federal district court and the court of appeals ruled that workers under the Railway Labor Act cannot strike in response to rejection of a collective bargaining agreement in bankruptcy.[16] Northwest and AFA returned to negotiations and reached a new tentative agreement, which was narrowly ratified by the flight attendants on May 29, 2007.[17] The flight attendants became the last major work group at Northwest to agree to new contract terms in bankruptcy. The new contract provided Northwest with $195 million in annual cuts through 2011, and secured a $182 million equity claim for the flight attendants before it was lost upon the company's exit from bankruptcy.[citation needed]

Member flight attendant groups[edit]

AFA represents the flight attendant bargaining unit at the following airlines:

See also[edit]


  • Nielsen, Georgia Panter (1982). From Skygirl to Flight Attendant, Women and the Making of a Union. Ithaca, New York: ILR Press/Cornell. ISBN 978-0-87546-093-2.
  • Borer, David A. (1995). "Doing Battle: Flight Attendant Labor Relations in '90s". In Darryl Jenkins (ed.). Handbook of Airline Economics. Aviation Week Grp., Div. of McGraw-Hill. pp. 563–568. ISBN 0-07-607087-5.


  1. ^ Nielsen, passim.
  2. ^ Mutzabaugh, Ben (November 4, 2010). "Aviation Photos & Video". USA Today.
  3. ^ "Union claims Delta interfered in election". David Shaffer. Minneapolis Star Tribune. November 23, 2010
  4. ^ "United Continental flight attendants pick a union, by Joshua Freed, AP". Seattle Post Intelligencer.[dead link]
  5. ^ Borer p. 567.
  6. ^ Lane, Polly (1993-08-23). "''Striking Flight Attendants Suspended - Union Delays Its First Alaska Trip'', by Polly Lane, Seattle Times, August 23, 1993". Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  7. ^ "''Alaska Airline Workers Delay Las Vegas Flight'', Seattle Times, August 25, 1993". 1993-08-25. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  8. ^ "''Alaska Suspends 17 More Attendants After Flights Disrupted'', Seattle Times, Business Section, September 14, 1993". 1993-09-14. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  9. ^ America West Strike Looms, CNN, web posted March 19, 1999. Archived February 21, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "''US Airways Flight Attendants Hold News Conference'', CNN, aired March 24, 2000 - 11:03 a.m. ET". 2000-03-24. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  11. ^ Union Keeps Midwest Express Guessing, by Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, JS Online, web posted September 1, 2002. Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "''UAL Flight Attendants Threaten CHAOS'', by Gregory Meyer, Crain's Chicago Business, web posted April 29, 2005". Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  13. ^ "''How chaotic would CHAOS be for Northwest?'', by Jeff Horwich, Minnesota Public Radio, broadcast August 1, 2006". 2006-08-01. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  14. ^ "''Cabin Pressure - The Union Promises to Wreak 'Chaos' As Another Carrier Downsizes a Career'', by Dale Russakoff, Washington Post, August 25, 2006, Page D01". August 25, 2006. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  15. ^ "'' Judge rules Northwest flight attendants can strike'', by Jeff Horwich, Minnesota Public Radio, web posted August 17, 2006". 2006-08-17. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  16. ^ "''Court upholds strike ban on Northwest's flight attendants'', by Padraic Cassidy, MarketWatch, web posted and updated 12:59 PM ET Mar 29, 2007". 2011-10-18. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  17. ^ "''Northwest flight attendants okay bargaining agreement'', Reuters, web posted Tuesday, May 29, 2007 9:03pm EDT". 2007-05-29. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  18. ^ "Cathay Pacific's US-based workers vote to unionise, after anger at threat to retirement benefits". South China Morning Post. 27 January 2017. Retrieved 1 February 2017.

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