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InterVISTAS Study Finds California’s Meal and Rest Break Law Would Substantially Harm the Economy and U.S. Airline Operations

Route cancellations and up to $39 billion in economic damage cited as negative impacts

Washington, D.C., March 15, 2022: InterVISTAS Consulting released a comprehensive study on California’s Meal and Rest Break law. For decades, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ensured the safe operation of the national air transport system, through highly detailed regulations and oversight of airline operations, aircraft, maintenance, and flight crews (pilots and flight attendants).  FAA’s regulatory framework includes detailed flight crew duty and rest requirements, which result in a single nationwide standard that ensures a rested and alert flight crew. 

In 2019, a U.S. district court decision purported to extend California’s Meal and Rest Break (MRB) law to U.S. airline flight attendants.  While MRB is broadly applicable to employees in California, it and other state/local labor laws have never been extended to flight crew in interstate air transportation since FAA’s detailed regulatory framework already incorporates comprehensive break and rest requirements.  MRB requires employers to offer certain breaks at set times, which is incompatible with the continuous duty period under FAA regulations and complex aircraft / crew schedules and routings that today provide U.S. airline passengers unrivalled nonstop flights and integrated connectivity throughout the U.S. and around the world.  There are no extra pilots or flight attendants on board aircraft to take over duties for crew who must go on break.  As a result, applying MRB to U.S. airline flight crews will be costly and disruptive to the U.S. air transport network, the economy and airline employees.

The InterVISTAS study examined the impacts of extending MRB to airline flight crew and found the following impacts:

  • MRB will impose high financial costs on the airline industry, resulting in air service reductions.  MRB is likely to result in $3.5B to $8.5B higher annual costs for airlines depending on the kind of rules used to implement MRB, thus resulting in reduced air service as airlines cut newly unprofitable routes.  InterVISTAS estimates between 56 million and 164 million U.S. airline passenger seats will be cut every year, impacting between 43 million and 137 million passengers.  Between 3% and 20% of total U.S. airline industry revenue would likely be canceled.
  • MRB will cause the loss of airline and non-airline jobs.  MRB effectively requires “backup” pilots and flight attendants to crew the aircraft while the initial pilots and flight attendant crew are on break.  While this results in additional crew, the cost of these crew makes many flights unprofitable, thus causing cancellations and reduced flight crew jobs.  MRB’s net impact could cost between 58,000 and 262,000 total jobs (including multiplier effects).
  • MRB will have significant unintended consequences for California based flight crew.  MRB may result in some airlines closing their California crew bases.  This would be undesirable for California based flight crew, who would face increased personal commute time to/from their new crew base.  Even if California crew bases were kept, airlines are likely to reduce crew bid options available to California based crew.  MRB also would increase the required time flight crew must be away from home to earn paid work hours. 
  • MRB will negatively impact the U.S. national economy. Extending the MRB to flight crew could cost between $9B and $39B in total U.S. GDP loss, depending on scenario.
  • MRB will cause route cancellations in many states, not just California.  While MRB applies just to California-based flight crew, California-based flight crew operate flights between points all over the U.S., not just within California.  As a result, many routes outside California will have higher costs and cancellation risks due to MRB.  Of all flight cancellations due to MRB, between 56% and 78% of the total flight revenue canceled comes in markets involving at least one U.S. point outside California. 
  • MRB will distort competition in both domestic and international markets.  MRB impacts each carrier based on how many California based flight crew it has on each route.  Since some U.S. and nearly all foreign airlines that serve California do not have California crew bases, they will experience no or little impact.  Other carriers have large California crew bases and will be substantially disadvantaged by MRB.  On a nonstop market basis, MRB will have uneven impacts that reduce competition as some carriers exit due to higher costs.  In the San Francisco – New York JFK market for example, there were four nonstop carriers in 2019.  High exposure to California flight crews is likely to cause one nonstop carrier to exit and a second carrier to reduce service. 
  • MRB may cause massive reductions in U.S. carrier-operated California long-haul international nonstops.  United, American, and Delta each conduct significant international nonstop operations from California staffed primarily with California-based crews.  Under some scenarios, MRB may require multiple pilot and flight attendant crew complements on California long-haul international flights operated by U.S. carriers.  These flights would become prohibitively expensive to operate versus foreign carriers not subject to MRB, thus resulting in cancellations. 

“MRB is simply not designed to apply to airline flight crews operating multiple flights in succession over the course of a day, in the constrained environment aboard aircraft,” said Daniel Skwarek, InterVISTAS Senior Vice President and lead author of the study.  “Applying California MRB to flight crews would be destructive to U.S. airline employment and air service into, out of, and within California and rest of the nation. MRB is also unnecessary for airline flight crews since rest breaks are already well covered by FAA regulations.”    

Read the full study and summary presentation at the links below. 

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Daniel Skwarek
Senior Vice President

Daniel Skwarek
Daniel Skwarek, Senior Vice President

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