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American Airlines Union Says Boarding Change Causes ‘Chaos’

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June 21 (Bloomberg) -- American Airlines’ decision to alter boarding procedures to shorten passenger wait times is producing “complete chaos” on some planes and conflicts with gate agents, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants said.

Last month’s changes by the AMR Corp.-owned airline include spreading passengers throughout the cabin instead of boarding in groups by seat location, Jeff Pharr, a union spokesman, said yesterday. The process takes more time, pressuring gate agents to let people board earlier than normal, time for which attendants aren’t paid, the union told members on its website.

“More often than not, the result is congested aisles and flight attendants having to explain to bewildered and already stressed passengers why there is complete chaos in the cabin,” said the union, which is in contract talks with American.

The new system, implemented May 4, shrank the number of boarding groups to six from 10, Ed Martelle, a spokesman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline, said in an interview. It’s intended to provide a “quieter, calmer” departure area and reduce crowding on jetways, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is expedite the passengers boarding the airplane,” Martelle said. “The whole process may take a little longer, but you’re not standing in line as long.”

The attendants will have to get used to the new system, said Henry Harteveldt, vice president of Forrester Research Inc. The plan lets passengers who bought priority boarding get on the plane just after the airline’s most frequent travelers.

“Priority boarding is a product American is selling,” he said. “The customers who use it choose to pay for an optional service that they value.”

‘Positive Results’

The new process is producing “tangible, positive results,” including as much as a 10 percent drop in delays leaving the gate, Missy Cousino, an American spokeswoman, said today. “Our customers are boarding the aircraft more efficiently.”

The union created a document for attendants to give gate agents explaining that it isn’t necessary to board passengers before the traditional 30 to 40 minutes prior to departure time. The letter was not approved by American, and the airline has asked the union to stop distributing it, Cousino said.

“The majority of flight attendants are not happy with the new system,” said Pharr, the union spokesman. American’s gate agents are not represented by a union.

American tested the system in Los Angeles and San Francisco before adopting it, Martelle said.

“It seems to be working well,” he said. “We’re pretty much happy with it.”

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net

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