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Flight attendants' union seeks federal mediation over Frontier's operations overhaul

A Frontier Airlines Airbus A320neo plane departs from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) -A union representing about 4,100 flight attendants at Frontier Airlines filed for federal mediation on Wednesday over the carrier's operations overhaul.

Frontier is reworking its network to allow almost all of its planes to return to their stations every night. The so-called out-and-back model inspired by European budget carriers is meant to minimize flight cancellations and delays.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) filed with the National Mediation Board seeking bargaining over the change that it says "is causing a dramatic reduction in compensation while sharply increasing time on the job or commuting to it."

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Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said earlier this month the carrier was adding crew bases to support its "ability to achieve our target of out-and-back flying by June and drive further network efficiency."

The ultra-low-cost airline has estimated the changes will improve productivity and save $200 million this year, as it tries to return to sustainable profitability and deliver double-digit profit margins in 2025.

"The company is ready and willing to negotiate with the AFA on the impact of its network changes within the context of our current active CBA negotiations," Frontier said in a statement, referring to the collective bargaining agreement.

In April, the union filed a dispute notice under the Railway Labor Act that governs airline industry labor relations.

The company's new operational model is a shift from the typical method employed by U.S. airlines of flying multi-day trips with two or three overnight stays for cabin crews.

AFA said the new plan amounts to a wholesale change in the airline's business model that would drastically affect the compensation and out-of-pocket costs of flight attendants, resulting in an effective pay cut.

"Frontier’s new business model is shifting company costs to frontline workers, said AFA International President Sara Nelson. "The harm to Flight Attendants is immediate and requires urgent bargaining to address the impact of the new business model."

Frontier pays $26 an hour to new hires, the union said. Flight attendants are paid only when the aircraft is in motion.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Bill Berkrot)