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Union claims 'Fly Girls' reality show paints distorted picture of Virgin America flight attendants

March 24, 2010 |  7:58 am

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"Fly Girls," a new reality television show debuting Wednesday on the CW network, boasts that its cameras follow five “beautiful” Virgin America flight attendants as “they jet from one glamorous location to the next” from their home base in Marina Del Rey.

But a union trying to organize Virgin America flight attendants says the new show falls somewhat short of reality. The Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) has purchased time to air a contentious 30-second spot during the premier of "Fly Girls."

The text asks viewers to “support us for a secure future” as Virgin America’s currently unorganized flight attendants seek to affiliate with the TWU.

“Virgin is a fun, hip place to work, however not all aspects of the job are fun and hip,” Eric Aquino, a Virgin America flight attendant who appears in the commercial, said in a union statement.

The union says Virgin America’s flight attendants typically earn less than $30,000 a year -- hardly enough to sustain the ocean-view apartments and hard-party lifestyle depicted on the program. According to the union, some San Francisco-based attendants unable to afford Bay Area housing have slept in their cars or in the crew lounges.

The union also notes that about one-third of Virgin America’s roughly 500 flight attendants are men -- “fly boys,” that is.

“I still live with my parents in Orange County,” said flight attendant Manny Artavia in the union statement. “I’m lucky.”

In an e-mail response, Virgin America spokeswoman Abby Lunardini called the union’s characterizations “misleading and actually suspect.” She said the airline’s salaries are “competitive with the industry” and noted that “teammates” (employees) are eligible for health benefits and flight privileges.

“We think that when people actually have had the chance to watch the show, they will see that it is focused primarily on a few teammates’ lives away from work, but they’ll also see that when working, the crew members featured are smart, pleasant, professional and take the business of flying seriously,” Lunardini said.

Virgin America cooperated with the show, opening up the airline to the production crew, she said. A Virgin America executive has said "Fly Girls" illustrates how the company is “bringing the style and fun back to flying.”

The 3-year-old San Francisco-based company serves about a dozen cities on the West and East coasts, with cross-country service between the coasts.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: "Fly Girls." Virgin America.

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