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United Flight Attendants to Face Consequences for Smartphone Distractions

Flight attendants caught using their personal devices during flights could be terminated

by Lauren Smith

January 30, 2024

Photo: Courtesy of United Airlines

United Airlines is cracking down on flight attendants glued to their screens, warning that crew members could face termination for not following rules to pocket their personal devices during flights.

In a company memo seen by Live And Let’s Fly, the airline reminds cabin crew that they must provide “visible and attentive service to customers.” United says that that’s impossible if they’re preoccupied with their smartphone or tablet.

Photo: Courtesy of United Airlines

“How comfortable would you be asking someone for help if they were engrossed in their cell phone?” the memo states. “What impression would that give you?… Even in public, you should always remain approachable in uniform and display courtesy to customers and other employees.”

Flight attendants playing Candy Crush or texting aren’t just failing to provide good customer service. Their inattention also has safety implications, compromising their FAA-required roles in aircraft cabins.

While absorbed in their phones, cabin crew may miss critical onboard security incidents and other safety risks, United says.

The memo highlights two very specific risks from crew smartphone use, suggesting that the memo has been circulated not just because distracted flight attendants missed a call button but in response to serious safety breaches.

Specifically, United warns against using personal devices while crew are seated in jumpseats during takeoff and landing. If they’re not properly braced in the seats because they’re using their smartphones, they could cause injury to their jumpseat partner, the carrier says.

Photo: Courtesy of United Airlines

The memo also highlights the possibility that a crew member could accidentally deploy an aircraft’s emergency slide if they held their mobile phone while disarming the emergency exit door.

Overall, United reminds cabin crew that using personal electronic devices is prohibited while customers are onboard the aircraft, except while crew are on breaks and in a crew rest area.

“Any crewmember found in violation will be subject to performance discipline up to and including termination,” the memo states.

United still encourages crew to use their company-issued iPhones to deliver personalized customer service to passengers and communicate with other employees about flight issues.

The reminder to cabin crews to switch off phones follows United’s introduction of new customer service standards last year. After finding that “service is more important to customers than price,” the airline has asked flight attendants to hang up customer coats in premium classes, remain quiet in the galley during flights, and thank passengers for their business.

United also now collects customer feedback on cabin crew performance and directly shares it with them.