High court declines to take up fight over airline crew rest

The U.S. Supreme Court is letting states set their own standards for meal and rest breaks by airline crews

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Thursday to take up a case involving a state law that gives California-based flight crews more generous meal and rest breaks than required by federal rules.

Several Virgin America flight attendants sued to be included under the law, and an appeals court in San Francisco ruled in their favor last year.

Alaska Airlines, which bought Virgin America, appealed to the Supreme Court, but the justices declined to take up the matter, leaving the lower court's ruling in place.

The California law requires that workers be free from all job duties for 10 minutes every four hours and for a 30-minute meal break every five hours.

Federal regulations limit flight attendants to a 14-hour work day, but they remain on duty during meal breaks. Airlines argue that if the California law stands, they will need to add crew members on some flights, which would lead to higher fares.

The trade group Airlines for America opposes the California law and said Thursday that letting it stand “will result in a patchwork of costly and conflicting state regulations.” It said at least 19 states have laws covering meal and rest breaks.

Lawyers for Alaska Airlines argued this month that the California law would be especially burdensome now, while airlines face labor shortages that are causing them to cancel thousands of flights.

Attorneys for the flight attendants countered that it was laughable to think a law that applies to a limited group of workers would make nationwide labor shortages and flight cancellations any worse.

The flight attendants' lawyers said the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority to pre-empt state laws only applies to measures affecting airlines prices, routes and services, and that states are otherwise free to regulate working conditions.

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