DALLAS (AP) — The airline industry is stepping up its campaign against a California law that gives pilots and flight attendants based there more rest and meal breaks than are guaranteed by federal regulations.
A study commissioned by an airline trade group and released on Tuesday warns the result will be increased costs that will force carriers to cut flights and raise fares.
The trade group wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a 2021 appeals court ruling that California-based flight crews are covered by the state’s requirement that workers be free from all tasks for 10 minutes every four hours for 30 minutes. meal break every five hours, even during flights.
The decision by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco came in a lawsuit brought by flight attendants for California-based Virgin America, which was bought by Alaska Airlines in 2016 and no longer exists .
The dispute boils down to who writes the labor regulations covering airline workers.
The Federal Aviation Administration sets safety standards for airlines, including minimum rest requirements for pilots and flight attendants to guard against fatigue that could lead to accidents. The industry argues that since deregulation in 1978, the authority of the FAA has preempted state efforts to oversee airlines.
Airline officials are terrified of facing a patchwork of state rules they say would add complexity and cost to their operations. Officials of the Airlines for America trade group said this week that 19 other states have rules on employee breaks and could apply them to flight crews unless the Supreme Court overturns the ruling against Virgin America.
Lawyers for the flight attendants who sued Virgin America said the 1978 Deregulation Act gave the federal government exclusive power over airline prices, routes and services, but not other regulations affecting airlines. . They say the appeals court ruled correctly and there is no reason for the Supreme Court to reconsider the case.
Airlines are already meeting California’s break requirements for ground workers such as baggage handlers and gate agents, according to trade group officials.
The Biden administration’s solicitor general has not taken a position on whether the Supreme Court should hear the case. The publication by the airlines trade group of a report warning of the dire consequences appears to be aimed at pressuring the administration to take the side of the industry in the High Court.
The study by Canadian consulting firm InterVistas estimates that airlines would need additional pilots and flight attendants to comply with California law. They could also make more frequent stopovers on flights using California-based flight crews. Depending on the approach, the changes would cost the industry between $3.5 billion and $8.5 billion a year, according to the consultant.
A more likely answer – closing employee bases in California so that no airline flight crews are based there – would be much cheaper. However, this would require out-of-state flight attendants and pilots to travel to and from their flights, and it could introduce more uncertainty into staffing flights in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities in California.
The nation’s largest flight attendants union has said crew rest is just one of the issues airlines are battling their employees over.
“Management claims they couldn’t follow state laws, but at every turn, from Washington to California to New York to Illinois, they’re working overtime to deprive workers of the aviation with adequate nutrition, rest and sick leave,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Flight Attendants Association.
Current FAA rules set a 14-hour maximum workday for flight attendants, after which they need at least nine hours off before their next shift. The FAA proposed adding one hour of rest between shifts without shortening the 14-hour duty period. Flight crews can take meal breaks, but — contrary to California law — they must remain on duty.
The Supreme Court case is Virgin America Inc. v. Bernstein, 21-260.
David Koenig can be reached at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter