Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Washington Legal Foundation’s Forbes.com contributor page on September 26.
In June, the Supreme Court declined to hear two important appeals from the Ninth Circuit in cases challenging California labor regulations that conflict with Federal Aviation Administration rules and are thus preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act. The California rules require that flight attendants be given meal and rest break every few hours. During these breaks, the flight attendants cannot be on call. So, if a hijacker takes over or there is an emergency landing, the flight attendants cannot help ensure the safety of both passengers and crew. This of course if ridiculous and puts consumers at risk.
As WLF explained in the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision, the federal government changed its position on whether the California regulations are preempted by federal law. Although it did not say so explicitly in its amicus brief, the government’s flip-flop is based on only one thing—the change in administration. We’ve offered commentary on this unfortunate development in this space previously. The Supreme Court unfortunately permitted the flip-flop on these important preemption cases and allowed the Ninth Circuit’s decision upholding California’s regulations to stand.
Now we are seeing the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision. And unsurprisingly to anyone that took economics 101, flight attendants are being harmed by the regulations meant to “help” them. For decades American Airlines has based flight attendants in San Francisco. This means that the flight attendants start their shift by flying out of San Francisco and end their shift when they return to San Francisco. Even though American Airlines’s presence in San Francisco has decreased over the past two decades, the airline kept basing hundreds of flight attendants in the city. This made sense because there is only one other American Airlines base for flight attendants in California, in Los Angeles.
In late September, American Airlines abruptly announced that it would be closing its flight attendant base in San Francisco. In that announcement to flight attendants, American Airlines also said that flight attendants would be unable to transfer to the base in Los Angeles. This leaves the flight attendants based in San Francisco with two options. First, they could upend their lives, along with the lives of their family members, and move to another city, like Dallas, that has an American Airlines flight attendant base.
The other option is to commute to another city for work. Under this option, a flight attendant would board a flight in San Francisco as a passenger and fly to Dallas. Once she arrived, she would start work. Then after finishing work, the flight attendant would have to fly back to San Francisco from Dallas. That could add five or six hours of commuting time for the flight attendant. This is bad not only for the flight attendants who have inextricably long commutes, it is also bad for flyers. It increases the chance of your flight attendant being tired and making a mistake that puts the public at risk.