American Airlines Switches Sales Plan to Voluntary, Union Says

American Airlines will let flight attendants volunteer to sell catalog items ranging from pet products to furniture during flights instead of requiring participation, a union said.

American, the world’s second-biggest carrier, changed plans for a mandatory program that paid a commission after the Association of Professional Flight Attendants demanded the sales be negotiated as part of ongoing contract talks, the union said on its Web site. The program has been voluntary during ongoing tests, American said, and no decision has been made beyond that.

The carrier is trying to hold down labor costs amid declining revenue from business travelers and a 58 percent jump in fuel prices since March 1. The union wants to recover pay and benefits given up in 2003 to save the company from bankruptcy, and says American is trying to substitute commissions for wage increases.

“They want to be able to sell it to vendors as something that everyone will be involved in as part of their work duties,” Frank Bastien, a union spokesman, said yesterday in an interview. “We’re not necessarily opposed to that, but it is something that needs to be negotiated.”

The union, which represents 18,000 attendants, has withdrawn a grievance over the matter in exchange for the switch to pursuing the program on a voluntary basis, he said.

“Flight attendant participation during the testing of this program has always been voluntary,” said Missy Latham, a spokeswoman for the AMR Corp. (AAMRQ) unit. “These programs will offer an additional income opportunity for our flight attendants.”

The airline is testing a program that lets customers order items from SkyMall magazine and pay for them with a credit or debit card. Passengers now have to order items through the Internet, by phone or by mail.

AMR fell 6 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $4.22 at 10:28 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. It has tumbled 60 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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