The Biden administration has given its backing to a group of California-based flight attendants who won a lower court ruling that found Virgin America failed to abide by the state’s meal and rest break law.
The Justice Department’s solicitor general told the U.S. Supreme Court it should not take up an appeal after the 9th Circuit sided with flight attendants in a 2021 decision.
The lower court said airlines could comply with both Federal Aviation Administration safety rules and California’s meal and break requirement by “staff[ing] longer flights with additional flight attendants in order to allow for duty-free breaks.”
Virgin America, which was acquired by Alaska Air Group in 2016, told the Supreme Court the decision could wreak “nationwide havoc in the airline industry” and require airlines to add multiple flight attendants per flights, and inevitably pilots, and “will displace paying passengers.”
Alaska Airlines said Wednesday it plans to file a response to the Justice Department, adding “uniform national standards are critical to ensuring the safety of the U.S. air transportation system. The application of individual state laws would introduce unacceptable levels of risk and complexity to air travel.”
Lawyers for the flight attendants said the impact would be limited to flights completely within California, adding “it is undisputed that Virgin can comply with those requirements by simply staffing any wholly-intrastate flights with an additional flight attendant — at the marginal cost of $100 per flight.
Airlines for America, a group representing American Airlines, United Airlines and others, said the California rules should be preempted by federal law and urged the Supreme Court to reverse the decision.
The group said “the only way airlines can comply with these laws is to add more flight attendants on ‘longer’ flights and to schedule longer ground times between ‘shorter’ flights.”
The Justice Department said the Transportation Department and FAA “are prepared to facilitate discussions outside of this litigation with the airlines, unions, and states to address and minimize any other potential disruption to the traveling public that could arise.”