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American Airlines flight attendants feel passengers pillow pains

Flights are nasty, brutish and long, and American Airlines flight attendants want passengers to know they feel your uncomfortability.

Members of their union will be handing out free airplane pillows outside the American Airlines passenger check-in at LaGuardia Airport on Friday as a peace offering to fliers.

The union is trying to build solidarity with passengers as it negotiates a new contract with the airline, according Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, a union covering 18,000 American Airlines workers.The flight attendants are fighting to recoup on concessions it made in 2003 contract negotiations, when it gave up more than 30 percent of workers’ pay and benefits in order to keep the airline in business, Glading said.

A spokeswoman for the airline, Tami McClallan, said the airline appreciates past concessions made by its workers to help the company survive, but also said that its workers have fared better than most in the industry.

“We respect their right to conduct demonstrations and look forward to continuing to work with the [flight attendants union] at the negotiating table,” McClallan said.

Spartan conditions on airplanes is making it harder for flight attendants to do their jobs, as they are subject to constant abuse from irate fliers, Glading said.

“We show up for work day after day after day,” she said. “… To do what? Nothing but apologize.”

Only a handful of union members at a time will be allowed to picket and distribute about 2,500 pillows today, because security measures after 9/11 have limited workers’ ability to picket outside airports, a representative of the union said. The union will be at several airports throughout the country besides LaGuardia on Friday.

The pillows tactic is a jab at the airline’s austere cutbacks and fees that have been loaded on passengers as the airline has struggled with rising fuel costs. American Airlines passengers now pay to check their luggage, and fees have risen across the board — measures that most airlines are implementing.

Glading said flights are cramped with little food to go around, and passengers are furious when they have to pay for alcohol.

She also noted that contract negotiations would not likely bring back the perks that passengers once enjoyed.

(Garett Sloane)

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