American Airlines Mechanics Opening Passenger Bags to Insert Union Flyers

When you check your bags with an airline you expect that it will arrive at its destination. Indeed, while lost bags are always a risk airlines are doing better than they used to. Delta and Alaska even guarantee timely bag delivery.

You’re giving your belongings over to the airline and though we’ve seen stories of thefts from passenger luggage that rarely happens here in the US. At most people complain about their bags being tossed around.

While the TSA has carte blanche to open your bags, the airline isn’t supposed to. When it happens it’s a huge breach of trust.

However acrimonious labor negotiations at American Airlines seem to now be affecting passengers, as a customer reports finding a union flyer in a checked bag after picking it up last Thursday at baggage claim.

American and its Mechanics Haven’t Gotten a Contract Done Since the Merger

US Airways had acrimonious labor relations. America West and US Airways pilots never agreed on a joint contract, so the merger of those two airlines was never completed before US Airways management took over American. I never understood how American’s labor groups thought that this management would be ‘good’ for them, throwing their support behind the deal.

Today the American-US Airways merger isn’t complete. There’s never been a joint maintenance contract for each of the two legacy work groups. Negotiations have been contentious, and are currently in mediation.

  • American wants to be able to do more outsourcing. They promise current workers will keep their jobs and pay and work locations, but the average age of mechanics is in the mid-50s and they want to be able to shift work elsewhere over time — as United and Delta do.

  • American wants lower health care costs. They want to move US Airways mechanics over to the legacy American plan.

  • There doesn’t seem to be a strong reason for mechanics to agree to these changes. American Airlines gave employees across the board raises without insisting that changes be part of a contract. The airline says that’s made it harder to get mechanics to agree to a deal.

The carrier is offering terms they say are more costly than what United and Delta have with their mechanics, so a common refrain from management has been that they would happily sign either the United or Delta deal today. Workers say they don’t want a concessionary contract.

Things are Heating Up, With Passengers Caught in the Middle

Anecdotally there are reports that some of American’s recent operational challenges stem from maintenance slow-walking addressing of issues with aircraft.

Things got especially contentious last week when American messaged all of their employees about the negotiations on Jetnet, the company intranet. Legacy US Airways mechanics, represented by IAM local 141, picketed in several cities.

And on picketing day a passenger flying Pittsburgh – Dallas-Fort Worth – Fresno arrived at baggage claim to find a union flyer added to his luggage.

Whereas the US Airways pilot groups were like something out of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” with the West pilots (People’s Front of Judea) and the East pilots (Judean People’s Front) fighting each other instead of the Romans Doug Parker and Scott Kirby, so it seems are there splits in the ‘alliance’ between the IAM representing legacy US Airways mechanics and TWU representing legacy American mechanics.

When I spoke with a TWU representative he pointed out that the flyer ‘wasn’t one of theirs’, that they had given templates to the IAM as there have been discussions about that union joining the “AAShouldCare” campaign but their use had not been authorized, and that the passenger originated in Pittsburgh, an IAM city.

In any case the Transportation Workers Union says they do not have any organized campaign to place flyers in passenger luggage, and wouldn’t instruct their members to do so since it would be a firing offense. However he conceded that if one passenger sent me the flyer, it probably wasn’t the only time this happened. The IAM has not responded to my inquires but I’ll update this post if they do.

American Airlines, for their part, says they “are dedicated to getting an industry-leading contract negotiated for all of our TWU-IAM team members. We are certain that will happen and hopefully soon.” As for the customer’s bag they “are investigating” it internally.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Is a single flyer really a news story? It doesn’t appear this was any sort of concerted campaign.

  2. Labor strife stupidity aside, I wonder if the passenger who got the flyer has legal rights. Bad enough that the TSA goes through your possessions, now random airline employees do the same for no reason? Any passengers who experienced this were violated.

  3. This is an outrageous violation of the passenger’s privacy. Thank you for spotlighting this. Another reason not to fly AA.

  4. This is why I lock my bags. I’ve had things stolen from inside my luggage more than once, but after I started locking my bags – I’ve not had anything stolen in the past few years. So its not TSA, but the baggage handlers and other staff.

  5. This is why I hate unions with a passion. I understand workers wanting protection against bad management practices and wanting higher wages and benefits. But it always seems unions are most interested in protecting the bad crop of employees and doing the least amount of work despite being paid higher. This issue here and of South West unions mechanics slowing down maintenance of planes as a negotiating tactic is ridiculous. That’s why airlines should not negotiate with unions in the first place. Offer unions the absolute lowest wages and benefits and hire people separately for higher wages. Airlines should say they have to offer union workers the lowest wages to account for the bad apples in the bunch whereas individual employees can be fired easier for bad behavior.

  6. I never check a bag. Travel internationally for business roughly once a month. Usually involves a weekend stay. I pack efficiently and tight and would rather use the hotel laundry once or twice rather than check a bag.

  7. Work slowdowns as a tactic? Violating passenger privacy to push union propaganda? I hope the union loses big with crap like this. Cant st as nd this type of nonsense thst hurts customers.

  8. Anyone besides TSA opening your bag should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law!
    Don’t understand why every bit of area where bags are/or transited through should be under camera surveillance. Even the TSA inspection areas. It cameras were in place (inclusive of TSA areas) and you have an immediate termination policy the baggage issue would be gone.
    FYI…..if it is currently that easy to get into the baggage what type of security do we really have?

  9. When i traveled last week and on Monday this week I know of at least two other AA passengers who found the same exact flyer in their suitcases.

  10. Wow, I hope no one in this comment thread ever has to fight their employer for wages and benefits.

    Also, workers in the transportation industry aren’t allowed to strike per the Railway Labor Act, so they don’t have much recourse when these companies want to do more outsourcing.

  11. as a customer i do not want to hear about union CRAP!!! i just love going to a hotel with all the workers there with union buttons and treats of strike…If u do not like where u work get another JOB>>>vs tormenting customers on planes and in hotels about this NONSENSE!!! I was at a hyatt regency in Chicago and all the employees wanted to tell u about their problem with the hotel and were wearing not nice buttons done by the union against the hotel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Access to passenger bags is and should be restricted. Most of the time luggage is under video surveillance. Bags don’t sit around, they are usually in motion continually until they are loaded in the aircraft. If someone opens your luggage it is a crime and would be prosecuted if such person was caught. Please don’t hate the union workers for the actions of a few. Most of us are proud to do the work that we do. As for American mechanics we are fighting to keep the airline from outsourcing maintenance that is now done by FAA licensed mechanics here in the united states to third party outfits in third world countries. As an airline passenger, this should concern you very much.

  13. Was thinking about this today trying to figure out how a similar flyer ended up in my locked bag from SEA to PHL in April. Was it ever confirmed to be the mechanics or baggage handlers with a TSA universal key?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *