American Airlines Pilots Union Tries To Scare Passengers Away From Flying

American Airlines Captain Dennis Tajer is all over the news. He’s the Communications Committee Chair of the carrier’s pilots union. And he has his employer on blast.

American and its pilots union have been in negotiations over a new contract. The latest company offer is for a raise of roughly 17% by the end of 2024. The union’s new President says they knew their members are going to get paid – the real negotiations are over work rules and quality of life issues.

Their negotiating strategy seems to be to trash the airline in the media, with a mix of charges that have a grain of truth combined with nonsense. Tajer flat-out lied on CNBC’s Squawk Box claiming that the federal government was instructing its employees to book away from American Airlines.

Now he’s taken to Good Morning America to air grievances like George Costanza in 1997.

He can’t quite offer a consistent narrative about whether the problem with airline operations is how management is running the airline (including whether there’s enough throughput for pilot training and onboarding) or whether the problem is just paying pilots enough (including paying them more to get them to pick up more trips voluntarily).

Last weekend American accidentally let pilots cancel their trips and the airline is paying pilots a premium to reinstate those trips. Tajer says the solution to pilot shortages is that same premium pay, but he also says the problem is a training backup.

He also scares passengers saying pilots are scheduled with too little rest, though he says delays are often compounded because the airline complies with government rules which ensure pilots are given enough rest.

  • It would be a coherent position to argue that government safety standards are unsafe, and lobby to change them. It would be a coherent position to say that a key negotiating priority is more rest in order to allow for safety.

  • He also says no pilot will fly when it’s unsafe. Should passengers be afraid then, or not?

  • And it’s an odd strategy to chase customers away from the airline, though a common union tactic. The fewer passengers, the less flying for his members. The lower margins, the less his members can get paid. It may be a ‘pressure tactic’ but one akin to Cleavon Little and the townspeople of Rock Ridge.

Tajer makes accusations that are so vague, non-specific, and self-contradictory it’s not even clear what his – and the union’s – position is on the airline, but vague mentions of unsafe skies aren’t great for the median viewer of Good Morning America.

He talks about “management ma[king] storms bleed into the next day” as though Robert Isom and David Seymour control the weather. He says things are so bad that the old strategy of taking the first flight of the day to avoid delays which stack and compound throughout the day no longer works, and identifies delays from one day bleeding into the next because of required crew rest as a culprit.

Major weather events almost always have ripple effects. Planes and crew are out of position. Flights are delayed to meet minimum crew rest – when a crew arrives late at night, morning flights are rescheduled for later to ensure standard overnight time between flying. By complaining about tthe ripple effects of weather, does Tajer want less crew rest to avoid these delays?

He ultimately doesn’t seem to understand that less work and less efficient scheduling trades off with more pay. If pilots can’t fly as much, if an airline needs more pilots to operate the same schedule, then each pilot isn’t going to earn as much. About a week earlier on Squawk Box Andrew Ross Sorkin asked him about this, since his narrative seems to suggest what’s needed are more pilots rather than better-paid pilots.

Tajer ends with a story of standing in line while deadheading and talking to a passenger who, he says, was ‘bumped from a later flight’.

“We just got bumped off the next flight too because of the class of the class of ticket that we have [the passenger said].. the ticket that you buy actually gives you priority for rebooking.’

Tajer describes that as “unfair treatment.” And while a first class ticket would affect standby priority even I’m not sure what fare class I can purchase for rebooking priority, or that would keep me from getting bumped off of a later flight during irregular operations.

The advice he offers passengers doesn’t make sense. He denigrates the company his members work for. I really don’t understand what his union thinks he’s accomplishing going out there throwing out vague accusations and scare stories that are only loosely related to facts. It doesn’t get more money or better terms for members, who frankly should be embarrassed at what’s being offered in their name.

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 »

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  1. Its quite possible that he’s a beneficiary of the Peter Principle and is over his head. We’ve seen it at work in government, corporations and other unions.

  2. I’m convinced! Never fly AA — even after the labor negotiations are settled.

  3. The “$300,000/ yr. exploited working class”…
    What we really need is a slew of bankruptcies and maybe a liquidation or two to set the industry back into orbit. Eventually, startups will come and backfill the goners and these unemployed children will have to work for a reasonable wage at those startups if they’d like to stay in the cockpit. Otherwise, they can go back to being scummy insurance salesman.

  4. @Chris

    We should’ve had that during the pandemic, instead we bailed out the airlines with tax payer money and they screwed the tax-payers 10x over.

  5. @ John
    It didn’t really seem like a terrible idea at first….but then again looking back…..just about everything was a bad idea. What bothers me the most is that these clowns mostly received their full multi-hundred-thousand dollar salaries while family businesses across this nation closed up shop permanently. Now these a-holes think that since they’ve got the airline companies over a barrel they’ll extort as much as they can. So they’re “away from home a lot”…who gives a shit….so aren’t soldiers and truckers. If I see these children picketing at an airport that I’m passing through, I’m flipping them all the bird.

  6. @Chris

    It was always a terrible idea. What makes airlines any more important than any other business?

    We have three dumpster fire airlines UAL, AAL, & DAL who hold ~60% of the market. At least SWA gives a shat about customers, but they’re still too big. Here we go again with the B6/NK/F9 fiasco.

    The Bush/Obama DOJ/DOT lets these airlines consolidate and now we have to deal with carriers that clearly are inept at managing their operations and cash. They don’t care about having sound financials because they know the government will just bail them out.

  7. All unions are such scum. It is the worst part about being a pilot. Unfortunately without them, management would indeed destroy us.

    Do not listen to ANYTHING a union says. It is ALL BS! Shame on American’s union for how they have handled this entire situation. They are probably the biggest part of the problem.

  8. Unions have done more harm to this country than Al Queada and it’s not surprising the Democrats support them.

  9. Who cares — the only people who waste money on AA are a bunch of Texans who have very few options, but that’s what deregulation gets them.

  10. The root of the problem is that union contracts can no longer be finalize before the current contract expiration. The AA mechanics went on for five year after expiration. The pilots are going on three years. Union members have to do say something to move a settlement along with the company.

  11. @Chris

    Sounds like you’re putting blame on the Union and Pilots, when really it’s the company that’s been causing this damage. Multi-hundred thousand salaries? Maybe like the top 10%. The rest are making half of that, most not even that.

    Also. It’s the company throwing money out there, not the pilots or union, that you say are extorting it. The company thinks throwing money will make problems go away, but it doesn’t. Pilots are being overworked, no schedule flexibility, and constant contract violations by the company, and you expect them to just bend over? With regional pilots now making much more than mainline, how do you think that does to morale?

    Do your research before blasting pilots for being greedy, entitled workers. You try moving 150-300 passengers from A to B, operating safe, dealing with summer weather, working 9-12 hour days, being gone for 3-6 days at a time, and working 15-20 days of the month, while schedules are constantly abusing your schedulers, being under paid, and long expired contract. While operating advanced machinery weighing 140-200+ thousand pounds, going ~400mph.

    Yell at the company that wasted the bail out money during COVID, while still furloughing pilots and flight attendants, taking shortcuts in safety-related flying, backlog in training new pilots, causing miserable working conditions for the instructor pilots. The list goes on.

    All the while the Union is trying to protect it’s pilots, and maintain a safety standard for the passengers to their destinations. Is the union perfect? Absolutely not. But the way the company has been treating it’s employees for their mistakes, is unacceptable.

  12. Reading all the comments, as a Brit, I realise just how non unionised and brainwashed these people are. BIG BUSINESS in the USA controls everything. How long you work, how much holiday you can have unpaid! How crap your health system is unless your Rockafeller. No sickness pay, work 2 jobs to stay alive, nothing for the homeless. In short, you are recommending Airlines use untrained pilots to pay less and save money. Sounds just like the Boeing management. Companies dont give a shit about their employees or their customers, its ALL about the bottom line. iTS CALLED GREED.
    Never asked yourself, why there is a shortage of pilots? To me its obvious, why work for shite management? Just take an outside view of America, even your people die sooner than other western countries-think that is the fault of unions too? America is not a country its a business.
    Capitalism at its worst. Lucas your so right.

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