Under the new American Airlines pilot contract, for the first time, deadheading pilots receive upgrades ahead of customers to available first class seats at the gate.
Officially, in American Airlines computer systems, these pilots are coded with a higher priority even than top status Executive Platinum and even Concierge Key members.
AA: "Did know if you saw this but effective today, AA Deadheading pilots traveling under A1DP/A3DP status will now go on the upgrade list as a UPG0, ahead of CK and EP
Something about their ratified contract"
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) December 1, 2023
Unsold first class seats now go to employees who are not piloting an aircraft between segments on a trip they’re working. That’s different than commuting to and from their base if they live in a different city than where they’re assigned to start and end their trips.
This is broadly similar to a benefit that United pilots won three years ago. Only, unlike American Airlines, United Airlines actually got something in exchange.
In fall 2020, after the first round of taxpayer subsidies to airlines ran out, Delta and Southwest didn’t furlough anyone. American and United did. But United didn’t want to furlough pilots. They need to keep flying in order to stay current and it’s costly and time-consuming to run pilots through simulators and get them takeoffs and landings.
United wanted to spread out the limited amount of flying they were doing across their pilots. To get the union to agree to this (yes, it’s an odd world where the company has to give something to the union to avoid furloughs), one of the concessions was that United pilots would have top upgrade priority for available first class seats at the gate.
United got something important in exchange for this concession. They avoided pilot furloughs, which meant they had sufficient pilots to fly their schedule as travel returned. American did not, and suffered mass flight cancellations as a result. That was costly. They also had to scale back their schedule, which mean reduced revenue.
American lacked the foresight to even just copy United. And then they gave the benefit to the pilots anyway, as a me-too in negotiations. United got something in exchange and benefited from the concession, American did not. And now, officially, the airline is being run for pilots ahead of customers – at least along the dimension of first class upgrades at the airport.