American Airlines vs. the Pilots Union: The Flying Public Loses

Wonder why your American flight's been delayed or canceled? Could be because the airline is warring with the pilots union

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Tim Boyle / Bloomberg / Getty Images

American Airlines pilots and their supporters picket at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012

In August, American Airlines won a key victory in federal bankruptcy court over the Allied Pilots Association (APA), the union that represents its cockpit crews. Judge Sean Lane ruled that, under Section 1113 of the bankruptcy code, American could impose its own contract terms after the pilots rejected the company’s final offer. But the pilots, not a few of them ex-military, have shifted the battlefield from the courts to the tarmac — where they are in command.

American has suffered from a jump in flight cancellations and delays because of an unusual increase in the number of maintenance write-ups — “Many right at the time of departure,” says an e-mail American sent to its frequent flyers — that have to be addressed before takeoff. Additionally, the rate of pilots’ calling in sick is up 20% over the same period last year, says the company. The APA denies there is any concerted effort by its members to cause a slowdown or stage an illegal sickout.

By midday Saturday, American had canceled 34 departures, according to flightstats.com; 76% of departures and 64% of arrivals were running on time, although the airline’s Miami hub, which serves the increasingly important Latin American market, was faring significantly worse. (By contrast, Delta was more than 90% on time, which is a more typical performance.) To keep from further irritating passengers, the carrier is reducing its schedule 1% to 2% through October. American has more than 1,600 flights daily.

The dogfight comes at a critical time for American, which is trying to restructure itself in bankruptcy court into a more competitive operation, on par with other legacy carriers and much closer to the so-called low-cost carriers, such as Southwest and JetBlue. The latter, for instance, recently invaded American’s fortress hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

American has been making headway too. In its most recent quarter, the company posted its best results in years, with sales of $6.5 billion and a net profit of $95 million excluding special items. American’s two other unions, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and the Transport Workers Union, have already agreed to concessionary contracts that could include up to 4,000 layoffs. In addition, more than 2,000 flight attendants have taken buyouts.

The pilots have filed for a stay of Judge Lane’s order until an appeal can be heard, citing irreversible harm. In its initial ask of the pilots union, American demanded $370 million in cost reductions from the last contract, including changes in the medical and pension plans that would cost union members more. But more recently, according to the APA’s court filing, the company asked for changes in code-sharing agreements with carriers such as Alaska and Hawaiian that would allow it to code-share 50% of its monthly availability of domestic scheduled seat miles. The pilots are also unhappy about changes in what is called the scope clause: the number of regional jets American can fly with lower-priced pilots, which the company wants to expand.

A hearing is scheduled for October. In the meantime, the flying public gets the middle seat of the argument.

29 comments
Savvy Traveler
Savvy Traveler

AA's pilots are going to wake up one day - possibly without a career - and realize that they have been acting contrary to their own best interests during this entire bankruptcy process.

From turning down a fair offer for a new contract to illegal work actions, they have done nothing but hurt themselves and their future.  If they continue on their current path it is going to be Eastern Airlines all over again.

Robert Fields
Robert Fields

The AA pilots have already been living with a 20% pay cut, and are now expected to take ANOTHER 20% pay cut on top of losing pensions? This is simply the managements fault and the desire of a few to make a whopping 30 million dollar bonus at the expense of many hard working pilots. Most people don't realize this and instead point the finger at the pilots, which simply is not the case.  Many facts are also skewed such as hours worked. Many of the mentioned hours worked are only flight hours and not the hours required for prep and coordination.  Lastly, there is no lateral movement in the airlines industry, these tenured pilots would have to start at the bottom of the totem pole in any other industry. Starting over again at age 50+? Not such an easy feat.

johnlocke2012
johnlocke2012

 I was one of those unlucky passengers on a flight from Dallas which was scheduled to leave 8:10 pm on September 28.  Before 

boarding the aircraft, there was a delay due to a "maintenance" issue

for 20 minutes.  Once we boarded the aircraft, the pilot snidely advised

there was a wet seat cushion which required attention before

departing.  60 minutes later a maintenance person boarded the aircraft

and replaced 1 seat cushion on a seat in an empty row in the rear of the

aircraft.  When the plane landed in Indianapolis at 12:00 am (now

September 29) the pilot braked hard and often in an apparent attempt to

cause premature brake wear.  And to top the experience off, the pilots didn't even wait around to greet the passengers as we departed the plane.

johnlocke2012
johnlocke2012

I was one of those unlucky passengers on a flight from Dallas which was scheduled to leave 8:10 pm on September 28.  Before  boarding the aircraft, there was a delay due to a "maintenance" issue for 20 minutes.  Once we boarded the aircraft, the pilot snidely advised there was a wet seat cushion which required attention before departing.  60 minutes later a maintenance person boarded the aircraft and replaced 1 seat cushion on a seat in an empty row in the rear of the aircraft.  When the plane landed in Indianapolis at 12:00 am (now September 29) the pilot braked hard and often in an apparent attempt to cause premature brake wear.  And to top the experience off, the pilots didn't even wait around to greet the passengers as we departed the plane.

Wings367
Wings367

Already paid more and have better benefits than your rivals, but the pilots want more. But we know, it's management's fault. Why don't you go to Chicago and become a teacher.

marmot1966
marmot1966

The pilots behavior reminds me of a two year-old who was told no.  The courts have stated the the current business model has to change and yet the pilots want more more more at the expense of the rest of the company.  They want Super Bowl Sunday as holiday, guaranteed rooms not by the elevator.  When they decide to negotiate in good faith and have a real proposal perhaps this can get settled.  They were offered to be the largest share holder in the company - no not good enough.  Working 80 hrs a month is just too much.  If you don't like your job go somewhere else.  Oh wait then you'd lose your seniority, which all that matters in a union ... not how good you actually perform.  Take your pacifiers out of you mouths and stop the whining and stop hurting everyone but your intended target.

Bagocolts
Bagocolts

Airlines are finally learning the route to financial success in a deregulated environment.   It is called bankruptcy-merger-monopoly.  American in its hubris was very late to that party but will eventually hook-up with USAir, so that they can also monopolize a route system into profitability.  Even the low cost carriers are getting into the act;  with the Southwest and AirTran tie-up, they too, are beginning to merge and monopolize with the resultant higher fares.

The actions of these employees are regrettable, but understandable.  They have been on the leading edge of this reshuffling of the "new economy"  card deck for a long time.  It was never in the cards for most of these professional people in their minds, to be facing the headwinds they are facing now... loss of salary, loss of retirement and loss or reduction of healthcare benefits.  Most feel like they played by the rules and are very angry at the poor results.  

For some reason, we have no admiration, respect or sympathy for any type of professional in this country anymore and most of us feel great delight in seeing these "greedy" so-called professionals brought down to their knees.   If they are greedy union thugs (members), that pleasure is ten-fold.   Simply because they just don't deserve it.  They didn't go get the training necessary to do the job, they didn't get the experience necessary to do the job and they didn't work their way up playing by the rules. "Somebody else did that-somebody else made that happen".  Who knew that social justice could be so satisfying?   Next on the radar screen:  the doctors.  Oh yes, my Porsche driving friends... ObamaCare is here to stay and your time is coming very soon.

piper1991
piper1991

 Fly on another airline! The planes are old, what do you expect!

Londinistan1
Londinistan1

Dear Pilots,

Don't like your job or the terms your employer lays down? Then go out in the world and find a better deal, maybe Southwest would be a good place to work? Oh wait a minute, AA wants to give you a deal more like Southwest so they can actually make a profit and that's why you are playing your petty games and you think that's unfair? Of course it is deary, you want to keep your inflated seniority salaries, health care and pensions don't you - problem is it is not a viable business model anymore - haven't you poked your head above ground lately. Every legacy carrier has gone bankrupt and  re-structured to be more like Southwest - its a new world and you are stuck in the old one.

And yes - many of you are ex military or as I like to say "Trained at Tax Payers Expense" and now you have a 15 day a month job that pays way above market price and of course you want to keep it - so screw the passengers and you act like the spoiled brats you have become and inconvenience the very people that pay our wages.

I hope AA sack the lot of you that take this action.

kz125
kz125

The behavior of the American Airlines pilots is unprofessional and disengenous.  As a "million miler" American frequent flyer I am disapointed in their approach to solving their issues.   Over the weekend I was on flights from San Franciso to Nashville, connecting in Dallas.  On both flights "maintenance" issues were brought up at the point of departure resulting in delays on both flights.   Hundreds of passengers lives were disrupted while the pilots played silly games.  To make matters worse the pilots apologized for the delay knowing full well that their actions were causing the problem.

Ethically ambiguous and childish behavior is unbecoming for all professionals, especially pilots - after all  travellers entrust their lives to them .   Passengers deserve better and they are entitled to honest service.

I'm sure other million milers have had it and are transferring their long held American Airlines allegiance to other carriers.    

bb54321
bb54321

Unions are a bad joke...they are bad for our economy.  Union labor drives up the cost for services and goods, send jobs overseas,contribute the Nation's unemployment rate, etc.  A bunch of whiney wokers that want something for nothing and to protect their high wages, excellent benefits, etc. at the detriment to other workers and our economy.  There was a time in our Nation's history where unions were needed but that was decades ago.  Now days, unions are nothing but greedy 'businesses'...no better than the employers they always complain about.  Look up the definition of labor union...then look up the definition of mafia...pretty much the same thing.  These AA pilots are a great example of the 'union mentality'...let's degrade the quality of our employer's services/products, create turmoil for their customers, try to hold the company hostage and interrupt the lives of many so we can protect our salary and benefits.  Pathetic.  I've worked in corporate America for 30 years and not once have I ever felt like I had the right to undermine an employer for personal gain.  If I'm not happy with my salary, benefits or the company I work for...I GET ANOTHER JOB. 

garydpdx
garydpdx

! would like to see AA remain independent, and probably the best partner for them to work with is US Airways (not merge, not sell/buy; but work with).  Next-best would be a strategic investment by US into  AA.

US Airways is already having a hard time integrating itself (the former America West) with the Old US Airways, adding AA into the mix would compound the chaos. US is better off to move out of Star Alliance, where is it the forgotten junior sibling to the new United (and before that, third wheel with the arrival of CO), and into OneWorld where it  can work to revive AA and help themselves in the process.

JCQueipo
JCQueipo

The right to strike under the Railway Labor Act have been denied to this employees although they have been cooperating with the company by defering (unimportant though no go items ) maintenance item so they can leave ontime now that they are not playing ball and the company have let the airplanes in desrepair the company is crying foul.