American Airlines Pilots Union To Members: “Enjoy Your Time Off” You Don’t Have To Fly

American Airlines made a big error with pilot schedules. Knowing they are short of pilots needed to fly all of the trips they’ve sold this month, they sent out a memo that certain pilots would not be able to trade their trips at all – even when they’ve got someone willing and able to cover them.

Only instead of blocking trip trades they actually opened things up and allowed pilots to remove themselves from trips completely for a period of time. And several of them did this, totaling 2000 flight sequences and 37,000 hours of flying.

My guess was that American Airlines would quickly added back these flights onto pilots schedules even though the pilots union says this violates their contract. American’s position would be “grieve it” and eventually it might cost them some money. That’s basically what they did, it seems. Late Saturday afternoon they told me,

We already have restored the vast majority of the affected trips and do not anticipate any operational impact because of this issue.

The pilots union says not so fast and – as shared by the inscrutable JonNYC – is telling pilots who were affected not to fly the trips, that:

  • The trips were dropped properly (American’s claim of a ‘technical glitch’ notwithstanding)
  • The contract doesn’t allow the airline to add flights to pilot schedules unilaterally
  • So they don’t have to fly, and the union has their back

In the end,

  • American knows they’ve screwed up
  • They’re unlikely to pursue discipline against pilots who dropped trips and refuse to take those trips back – remember, they’re already short on pilots, they’re in the midst of a contract negotiation with their pilots, and the pilots union has a new leader who needs to show toughness
  • But they can’t let this impact their operation, so they will offer premium pay to those pilots who do take back their trips as they did with a similar screwup over the holidays in 2017
  • They may need the union’s agreement to offer enough premium pay, so they’re going to have to give something more broadly too. Put another way, they may not be able to reward only the pilots who took advantage of the glitch.

It’s a mess, but a mess that can be fixed with money. As a result if American somehow doesn’t fix it, it’s a huge failure of management. So it’s also a test of the new management team whose orders are normally to not spend a dollar more than they need to.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

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  1. Is it possible to dislike both parties in this disagreement?

    God forbid an airline union ever say, no problem, that was clearly an error, we will help our mutual customers.

    God forbid an airline management team have enough expertise, experience, and competency to not let your pilots drop all of their trips over a holiday weekend.

    Like I say to my kids — all of you, grow the hell up!

  2. @Bob – Unions are the ruin of business and a great economy. They have no place in 2022. In fact they hold back the over performers and support the poor performers. We want stars – not average and that is what you get with most unions.

    I support all businesses doing what they can to break unions and look forward to going out of my way to stop at a Starbucks staffed by “scabs”

  3. Had the company just left well enough alone they would not find themselves in this predicament. Karma is a bitch. Hopefully the union will dictate to the company on what terms the appropriate compensation should be.

  4. The union is so in the wrong here. The schedules were dropped in error. They are using a technicality in the contract to screw American. This is after getting a 17% raise.

    If the pilots really don’t want to work, quit and get another job.

    This is getting stupid. The economy and travel will only get worse when we all work to mess things up even more.

  5. In related news, the AA pilots union president emailed a picture of his middle finger to all AA passengers.

  6. The computer glitch allowed pilots to drop all their trips into open time (uncovered trips usually covered by reserves). AA put all schedules back as they were. No news!!

  7. Mike-The pay raises were for two commuter airlines operating as American Eagle.

    The pilots had their contract wiped out in the bankruptcy and have been trying to negotiate for 3 years. AA has been stalling and offering dog pay raises.

  8. Can we do the same with the next mistake fare? Starting to think that consumers need a Union.

  9. AA started this month off by telling us we were stuck with the schedule we got, which is a giant F*** You to those of us working. I fly a full schedule, but you’d better believe I rarely fly the trips I hold. I trade for better trips on better days.

    Had they not told us we weren’t allowed to trade our schedules around this month, maybe I’d fly some of my trips that dropped.

    We knew this month was going to be a mess because of their bizarre trip trade policy, but I don’t think anybody anticipated them shooting themselves in the foot quite like this.

  10. Time for CEO Isom and VP Seymour to resign or be terminated. Everything they touch turns to slime. Totally incompetent, greedy, inept and borderline criminal.

    Sellng tickets for seats and a product they cannot deliver. Pure avarice.

    Thousands of innocent passengers stuck in every hub, every night, sleeping on floors. No hotels and no food. No flights to rebook them.

    Pilots are not at fault for the technical scheduling failures every single day. Constant reassignments, no hotel rooms, no solid schedules. They are mad and deserve to be treated better than this.

    Catering failures every single day. No staffing and corrupt vendors. Flights can barely get water supplies and cups. Forget every amenity per their memos.

    WHY is Isom not publicly apologizing? After doubling his salary? Is he too busy on his Mediterranean vacation?

    Every VP and manager needs to be out there helping to make this right. If they cannot do the job, just leave or get fired.

    The most incompetent management team I have ever seen in my long career.

  11. AA mainline Pilots got a 17% raise?

    My neighbor said “not true”.

    Any passenger who books on AA is a FOOL!!!

    I BOOKED ON DELTA!

  12. If American Airlines pilots earn $300,000 annually and then take a month off from work, is their pay reduced by one-twelfth or 8.33%, reducing their net income by $25,000 or $275,000 a year?

    With a reduction in income, I hope American Airlines pilots will not need to move their residential crash pads to the squalor of a trailer park and get most of their meals from the dollar menu at McDonald’s.

  13. How nice of the union to think about how this will impact customers and their perception of the airline going forward.

  14. @AC I hope you are working 7 days a week and 12 hour days with no vacation, and maybe getting minimum wage. Because if you aren’t, you have a union to thank. Like them, love them, hate them, unions have formed all of the benefits you have today. They led the way in negotiating better wages, benefits, and work rules including the 40 hour work week, vacation, and more. Other employers have had to keep up in order to compete in the market place for good employees. Please, let us all know who you work for so we can boycotted that company until they fire you. Only then will you understand why unions are needed and exist. I’ll boycott any Starbucks that isn’t unionized. For the amount of money they charge for a Latte, they need to pay and treat their people better, yet refuse to and pump up their profits. The very people that serve you your Latte, are the people that make that company possible, and profitable. Time to share the wealth. Each of those employees has earned it. And by the looks of every starbucks I see with lines around the building, your boycott isn’t doing any good.

  15. @Mike No the unions aren’t so wrong here. American set itself up for error by failing to hire enouph pilots and go to measures to assure there are qualified pilots available to hire in the pipeline. I used to work for the scheduling dept at American. When you screw up, you pay for it, so don’t screw up. Trust me, the airline isn’t so forgiving if a pilot screws up, so why should the pilots be forgiving? As for going for another career, being an airline pilot has a lot of time and money invested by the pilot. On average it costs about $60,000 to get to the point where a pilot can actually work for a living, and they are only one incident away from losing their ability to work as a pilot for a living. Going into another career is not really an option you exercise voluntarily. Imagine becoming an MD. All of that schooling, money, and time invested to get there. Then one mistake, and you lose your medical licence, so you can’t practice. You also lose all of that education, money, and time you invested. That is the equivlent to a pilot. Maybe YOU can quit your job and go into another careeer, but pilots really can’t. That is why they are so strong as a union. They are pretty much married to their career. Add to that the high barriers to getting into it, and American can’t really lose them either since it failed to assure a full pipeline. Pilots aren’t knocking down the doors to go to work for them.

  16. The commuters operate like hotel franchisees. Their 17 percent payraise has nothing to do with AA pilots. Only the senior AA captains make 300k. First year probationary pilots make about 75k.

    Pilots have always been able to trip trade. The system will only allow you to trade a 4 day trip to an equal trip.

  17. @Thing 1 American Airlines has been doing that to passengers for years now. That is who told the pilots to do that.

  18. There’s no problem here that can’t be solved with a sufficient amount of cash. The pilots will end up working it but now they won’t have the restraints imposed upon them from the company. The company tried to impose draconian measures upon the pilots and royally f*cked up. Time for the company to put a crowbar in their wallet and pay up.

  19. @unionTHAT – I’m not saying unions didn’t have a place many years ago to limit overtime, child labor, safety, etc. what I am saying is they have no place in 2022. We now have OSHA, Federal labor regulations and a competitive business environment that self regulates labor.

    Unions only protect the weak and limit the strong/innovative because all are treated the same and that is not what America needs.

    BTW I was in IT for 40 years and did many 60 hour weeks, work 7 days for months at a time and other things to further my career. Also moved 4 times for career opportunities. Led to me being a senior executive of 4 different national companies and had a number of years w 7 figure pay.

    You can claim this is BS but, trust me, it is true – I have absolutely no reason to make it up to try and impress a bunch of nameless keyboard warriors. Just telling you what I did to further my career and how it paid off. Never would have happened if I was in a union

  20. While I wish the pilots would work their schedules for the sake of their passengers, this is not their fault. Company management created this situation both technically and through years of pushing decisions that resulted in bad morale and a bad company culture.

    This is the fault of the worst airline executives maybe of all times running airlines. It is not just AA. If you do not work for an airline or have not worked for an airline for a long time it would be difficult to understand how bad the work situation has become.

    For years now, airline leadership has doing things with little regard to the union contracts and been saying just grieve it, like Gary said. They ultimately pay a financial penalty but for months, or even years, they get away with contract violations that benefit them for a very low cost.

    This takes away the control from the unions on work rules they all bargained for and are expected to abide by. The company will enforce immediate penalties on workers who do not follow the work contracts, but say just grieve it when management does it. If you had a work contract and saw your management disregarding it how would you feel? This has created the worst morale maybe ever across the industry and the unions are unable to control it outside of grieving it and waiting years most of the time for a resolution. They have no immediate control. This pilot situation is something the union does have immediate control over. Now management needs a favor but they have destroyed most of the good will required to get it done. Again, I am not making excuses, just explaining how most long time employees feel. I wish the pilots would work as many flights as possible and show passengers they do care about them and their trips, but make no mistake about who created this situation. As already stated the technical problem was a programming error which was also not the union’s fault.

    All airline employees are burnt out and also the managers you see when you request to speak to one. The current state of air travel is not their fault. The people at fault are the managers you do not see and cannot speak to who are throwing all their employees under the bus through years of over-scheduling and understaffing and decisions that have made morale probably the worst ever.

    Try to be kind to the next airline employee you see, because they are the people working hard to keep the airline despite everything upper airline management is doing to make their jobs impossible.

    I have never seen airline executives so incompetent and incapable of running airlines and delivering quality products as I do now, and I can tell you most of my co-workers who do not work at headquarters agree. Most of us are just trying to hang on until we retire and hope there is an airline left when we go. Imagine working in a career you love most of your life and then in the twilight of your career, the most inept management team possible comes and makes you dread going to work every day. We love our airline and our passengers even if our execs do not, and they care even less about us than they do about their passengers because they have to pay us. Passengers don’t have to deal with their awful decisions five days a week like we do!!

    We are being pushed to our breaking points and our execs do not care. We used to be bummed out when our airline would cancel routes, but now we are relieved because our execs do not give us enough employees to work the flights anyway.

    Management even stopped sending out the anonymous employee surveys every year because the feedback kept getting worse from what I have been told.

    Instead of trying to do a better job, their solution is to stop asking us how they are doing!

    I am surprised the delays and cancellations are not worse that they are. Those of you who do not work for airlines, have no idea how bad it actually is. Really!

    What kind of people knowingly violate contracts over and over and just shrug their shoulders? They know the employee will most likely win the grievance, but they know it will take months, so they force the employee to do something in the meantime and they deal with the penalties later, yet, management fully expect employees to follow the contracts when it suits them. That is not the behavior of ethical people, is it?

    Gary, I really think you should consider doing interviews or writing a book with input from employees across all work groups. You might be shocked at how great headquarters employees think the company is working in their palace and how bad the front line employees think their company is.

    It might cost you your frequent flier account and you would have to keep employee id’s confidential, but I bet the book would be a best seller. I would talk to you. People love to read about airlines and people like drama. This would have both. If you will not, maybe Ben will.

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