An American Airlines plane lands at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on September 15, 2022.
By January 31, American Airlines flight attendants based in SFO must select an airport from a list of the airline's hubs outside of California to work out of.Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • 400 flight attendants are at risk of losing their jobs as American Airlines closes its San Francisco base.

  • According to union calculations, two-thirds of the airline's employees have been with the company for 13 years or more.

  • There are a lot of factors that make it hard to leave the Bay Area.

The mass email went to some flight attendants.

"Today it's with great regret that I let you know about our decision to close the SFO flight attendant base," the American Airlines executive said in the memo.

400 flight attendants were given the choice of leaving the airline or leaving the state when American decided to close its San Francisco base.

The base is home to some of the carrier's most senior flight attendants, two-thirds of whom have been at the airline for at least 13 years. They need to pick an airport from a list of the airline's hubs outside of California by January 31st. The only options for those who can't or won't are to retire early or resign.

A number of factors make it hard to leave the Bay Area according to 10 SFO flight attendants. Some have asked to remain anonymous in fear of losing their job, but Insider verified their identities and employment. Some people have divorced spouses with joint custody of their children, elderly parents or partners who can't leave their jobs.

Brown has been a flight attendant in San Francisco for 38 years.

American Airline flight attendants Louis Rangel and Uma Arunachalam / American airlines planes are seen at San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
Flight attendant Louis Rangel (left) started working for American in 1988 and has lived in the Bay Area his entire life. His two daughters are enrolled in local schools there.Courtesty of Uma Arunachalam (left) / Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images (right)

An American Airlines spokesman said the airline no longer has flight attendants in San Francisco due to logistical reasons.

"As we look at the future of our network, we expect that San Francisco will maintain the same level of flying it does today, but there are no plans to grow San Francisco and no future flying prospects based on our current network strategy," they stated.

Most SFO-based routes are unprofitable compared to other routes in American's network. The volume of flights out of San Francisco was reduced by one-third this year.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that a state law that requires workers to take a break every few hours applies to California-based airline workers.

Some flight attendants at SFO think they don't have the option of transferring to Los Angeles because the airline could leave California.

John Masslon, a senior litigator at the Washington Legal Foundation, told Insider that American would have a good reason to do so.

He said that there could be situations where the plane is unable to take off because of having to wait for a rest. Planes won't be able to land and that will cause delays and mess up the entire system.

A bitter ending

SFO-based flight attendant Cynthia Duarte and her husband, who is battling brain cancer.Courtest of Cynthia Duarte

Brown wants to continue working but he wants to retire early.

She said that she was hurt that she had given them 38 years of her life. I don't like leaving with feelings of anger and bitter. It has been a great career, so I wanted to leave feeling sad.

Flight attendants who can't retire early or move will have to commute, which means they'll have to fly to and from their new base on the same day.

Phoenix and Dallas are close to SFO, but not all of the flight attendants will get their first choice. Less-senior employees may have to add hours to their schedule.

Cynthia is worried that the extra time she would have to commute would make it hard for her to care for her husband who is dying of brain cancer.

I only go for one day a week and he can't handle that. I triple my time away when you add a three-hour commute. I didn't think we'd be dealing with an illness that made every moment count. We have no idea how many we have left.

She and many of her colleagues are in difficult situations.

A single mom and flight attendant of over 20 years doesn't know how she'd commute and get extra care for her child, who needs aninsulin pump every three days She can't afford to lose the company's health insurance so she's going to fly to Dallas and back for each shift.

Anthony Cataldo, a flight attendant of 33 years, plans to commute to American's New York City base in order to compete for a seat on a flight that will take less than six hours. He thinks it will cost him up to $700 a month to commute between hotel rooms that aren't provided by the company and parking.

Only three missed shifts per year are allowed for flight attendants if they miss a shift due to a lack of space. Missed commuter shifts result in two attendance points. American's attendance policy states that employees with 11 points are terminated.

A flight attendant who has worked for American for 20 years is looking for a new job to avoid having to commute out-of-state. I don't have anyone else. My family is located here. My support system is located here.

A dream denied

Anthony Cataldo manages a rental unit in San Francisco. His husband works at a local university and their aging mothers also live in the Bay Area, he said, making it "basically impossible for us to get up and leave."Courtesy of Anthony Cataldo

Every year brings flight attendants closer to working international flights, top wages of $68.25 per hour, and more schedule flexibility and customization in an industry where seniority determines scheduling and pay. It's an end goal that can make the low starting pay and night shifts worth it.

One flight attendant told Insider that the decades of experience with achieving that lifestyle are lost.

She said that she may not be able to put in the rest of her years because she put in over two decades. I was going to retire at American.

According to an audio recording shared with Insider, representatives from the carrier told flight attendants in a town hall meeting that it was not financially viable to operate out of San Francisco.

If the carrier still needs to staff SFO flights, some employees are confused as to why they need to leave. American will have to fly in flight attendants from other airports if they want to keep flights the same.

Several crew members said it feels as though the airline wants to replace its veteran staff with new employees who are paid less, since the airline said it will continue to hire new flight attendants.

We have two daughters, an 11-year-old and a 17-year-old. Louis Rangel, who started working for American in 1988 and grew up in the Bay area, doesn't think asking his family to move makes sense.

He did not know how to start over. It's hard for a lot of us to think that someone we've been with for 30 years is done.

Do you work as a flight attendant. Tell us a story or give us a tip. You can email this reporter from a non-work address.

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