Savage: Union Leader Tells American Airlines Pilots, ‘Go Get A Job At Delta’

The American Airlines operation was taken down by bad labor relations in the summer of 2019. Mechanics weren’t fixing planes, and writing up minor issues, causing rampant cancellations. The two sides came to an agreement on a contract just before the pandemic, and things have been running smoothly.

But pilot and flight attendant contracts have been in negotiations for years, and things are beginning to turn ugly. Flight attendants have been picketing and I’ve even heard one scold other members of the crew not to do anything extra for customers that helps the company, citing ‘work to rule’ because of contract negotiations.

Meanwhile pilots are the work group that can really ground an airline. A pilot work group slowdown was a big contributor to American Airlines being acquired by US Airways during bankruptcy, when they decided that legacy CEO Tom Horton had to go.

American Airlines pilots negotiated a contract, but the union voted against sending it to its membership. Negotiations have turned nasty in public with Philadelphia-based pilots the most vocal.

Now the head of the pilot group in Philadelphia is advising junior American Airlines pilots to go apply for a pilot job at Delta telling them they’ll be better off, as first reported by aviation watchdog JonNYC.

Here’s the message:

Fellow PHL Pilots,

Below is a chart provided by Delta Management that outlines the disparity in profit sharing between Delta, United, and American. Since we are employed by American, we will only focus on the disparity between Delta and American Airlines.

Not that we want to rub it in, but pilots at Delta will make substantially more than pilots here at American. This is even before Delta’s industry-leading pay rates take effect. This disparity is only further worsened by this management’s insistence that all wholly owned employees be included in the total profit sharing pool, which reduces the profit sharing payout for American Airlines pilots by about 10%. So even if this management team can figure out how to match Delta profits, we will still receive 10% less profit sharing as a result of the larger payout pool here at American.

Many pilots have told us that improved quality of life is a “must have” in our next agreement. Since the release of the Delta TA, we have been consistently asked by our newer pilots whether they should remain here at American or possibly jump ship and head to the more lucrative and pilot-friendly Delta. While this determination is ultimately the decision of each individual, we can tell these pilots that if the past action by this management is any indication of how things will go, this “cost advantage on the backs of its pilots” management team will not change and will not come close to what Delta pilots enjoy as it pertains to quality of life. Let them prove us wrong.

With this in mind, and thinking of our newer pilots with less than 5 years here at American, we thought it would be helpful for pilots to see the upgrade DOH for the two most recent Vacancy Bids at Delta. We have been told by newer pilots that they came to American because of the quick upward movement and upgrades. Not so fast! Delta’s most recent bid includes upgrades after just a few months at Delta. Captain upgrades with less than 1 year seniority highlighted in yellow.

A=CA B=FO 765=767-400 7ER =757/767-300

No one knows what our next contract will include, but we can’t just ignore this management’s history. Specifically, its unwillingness to improve work rules/quality of life. We know it will be difficult for even this management to offer anything less than the new standard when it comes to pay, However, we believe, unfortunately, that’s where it will end. If you’re OK with Delta $$ (at least initially) and spending the next 25-35 years of your life working with horrific work rules and little scheduling flexibility, then do nothing and just live with it.

However, if bottom-of-the-industry quality of life isn’t what you signed on for as a professional airline pilot, and quality of life is important to you, we strongly recommend you APPLY TO DELTA NOW AS A PLACEHOLDER, and at least start the process and get in line so if our management continues with their “just say no” approach, you’re ready to make the move. As difficult as it may seem, think about where you would be (see charts above) if you had left for Delta a few years ago. We are not the only airline with significant upward progression. It’s everywhere! Delta pilots hired in August 2022 were just awarded captain!!

Don’t just hope for the best; hedge your bet and Apply to Delta now.

Finally, your representatives saw where prior negotiations were heading during the Spring of 2022. We were not Johnny Come Lately in opposing the failed TA; rather, we were very vocal in identifying the inadequacies early on, whether it was fighting to rescind the sub-inflation, Negotiating Committee’s unilateral pay proposal reduction last Spring or voting against reducing our pay proposal by an industry lagging 50% in August 2022. We (and other pilot groups) understand the value of an airline pilot in today’s environment and refuse to sell ourselves short just to get a deal.

Paul DiOrio, Chair

Kevin Wilkes, Vice Chair

Delta profit sharing is higher because,

  • American’s percentage of profit set aside for employees is lower, based on what the unions wanted and negotiated in the past
  • American earns less profit
  • American has more employees to split profit sharing pools across

The irony about Philadelphia pilot reps complaining about poor offers is that they’re speaking from a legacy US Airways hub. They never managed to get to a new pilots deal at US Airways after its takeover by America West, preferring to go to war with their own members (US Airways versus America West pilots) over seniority issues that stood in the way of a contract and kept pilot wages down for years. It was only with the American Airlines merger that their wages began to rise.

But unhappy pilots, as negotiations drag on, are not going to be good for the airline. They’re the only work group that can truly grind an airline to a halt.

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. The second hand embarrassment I feel but sadly AA is not embarrassed for themselves.Delta has done a great job for employee morale while AA seem to make profit the main goal on the backs of their people. This approach will never work long term. Next will be the flight attendants calling off.

  2. Delta pilots, just like the model the company has set with its non-union employees, understand that when the company thrives, the pilots thrive. Delta employees including the pilots have a very short history of trying to screw the company in order to get their way.
    Even though Scott Kirby bragged that United would have the first pilot contract post-covid and it would be industry-leading, neither he or the pilot union leadership had any idea what rank and file pilots wanted. American came out with a proposal just after United’s proposed contract went to a vote and effectively killed the United proposal. United’s pilots are still working through the recall process of their union leadership. American’s pilots rejected their company’s proposal and there was little movement until smoke began to emerge from Delta’s pilot negotiations in North Carolina in December. As news slipped out that Delta was offering pay raises and work rule changes that doubled the value of AA and UA’s proposals on an annual basis, it was clear the bar was much higher.
    As WN’s operations melted down amid long-running labor negotiations there, it became clear that DL mgmt recognized that getting a labor deal done with its pilots was essential to deliver industry leading profits in 2023 and beyond and they appear to be very right. Delta’s non-union personnel (most of its workforce) got some pay raises during the pandemic and are getting more soon. The pilot shortage is real. The big 4 are competing among themselves for new pilots that are making career decisions.
    2023 will be a pivotal year for the final post covid shakeout of the airline industry. Delta seems to have figured out a formula to ensure its success driven by winning over its employees. Employees at other airlines and those that are looking at the industry can’t help but notice.

  3. AA has always had a malignant, cancerous labor union with its pilots. AA should fire the whole lot and start over from scratch. Watch those SOBs beg to get a similar job elsewhere.

  4. @Tim Dunn: The pilot shortage is NOT real. It is pilots unwilling to work for what the regionals were paying, which is now improving.

    The majors have never had a pilot shortage.

  5. This is the same song being sung across nearly every industry. Employees feel under-valued, under-compensated and over-worked. Leadership feels frustration with they perceive as unrealistic expectations of employees they feel are overly entitled. When the labor market tightens up this will look very different.

    In the interim, the customers will be the ones who are punished.

    I was on a UA flight last month. The pilots were wearing lanyard that said “Contract First. United Next.” What was implied (to me) was “Passengers Last.” I made a point while deplaning to let the pilot know that I found his lanyard troubling and that it is unfortunate that no one seems to care about the people paying everyone’s paycheck: the customer.

    I know, Pollyanna of me, but I made my point.

  6. PHL is a mess. Worst ground crews, crappy airport, and the flight attendants are B@#$%. I have flow on AA a lot over year to PHL and the PHX and CLT and now DFW and MIA crews are great. AA should just fire all of them, bulldoze the airport and start over. Only redeeming quality is the Admirals Club and staff is great and abundant availability of soft pretzels in the airport.

  7. What I find appalling is that it was suggested that Flight Attendants should provide minimal service to customers. That’s what is usually AA’s service standard, minimal service. I can’t imagine how much worse their service can get. This is retaliation with the customer caught in the middle. Not a smart idea. AA’s Flight Attendants don’t seem to care about their passengers and it might get worse. Avoid flying AA or you’ll end up writing about your bad experience on this blog or another.

  8. We were sitting in the crew hotel bar in London. AA & DL sit and interact with each other all the time. “You know, your flight attendants are stuck up!”, said an AA flight attendant. “Funny, our JD Power ratings don’t show that. So, didn’t “Dougie” Parker tell you 100,000 people that if you do what they say, you’ll make money? How’s that workin’ out for ya? Our folks tell us to ‘do the right thing’ whenever possible. If we have a better way of doing a task, let us know. If we use it, Delta will pay us a part of the savings. Didn’t “Dougie” get a DUI (he did!) the night that the USAir/Delta hostile takeover failed?” I turned to my captain, “Say boss, how much profit sharing are we getting this year?” I think (it’s been a couple of years ago and I have OLDE age!) we get something like 16.9%. “So, how much is Dougie giving you? I know the answer…ZERO! You have Dougie…We have Ed. ‘nuf said!” Like any family, Delta will have “squabbles” but in the end, we all pull together to get the job done. “An employee’s devotion to his or her company, dedication to the job and consid-eration for the customer determine a company’s reputation.” – C.E. Woolman Founder Delta Air Lines, Inc.

  9. 1KBrad,
    given that regional jets are part of the commercial airline system, it does matter to mainline pilots if pilots aren’t willing to fly for regional airlines
    Alaska, JetBlue, Spirit and other low cost carriers signed new pilot agreements because they don’t want to see their pilots be drained by the big 4 – which says they know that they will face a pilot shortage if they don’t raise pay. There is already increased attrition from low cost carriers to the big 4.
    And having an airline among the big 4 that pays more as Delta is doing changes the psychology among pilot applications.
    Adding in labor friction on top of low pay- and they are often linked – hurts airlines and ultimately their customers.

  10. Okay, but how much is enough? The airlines got billions of dollars of my tax money in subsidies, and now ticket prices for hops across the pond have skyrocketed. $3,000 to $7,500 for premium economy months in advance? Really? I get that pilots have a skill, but I’ve been in enough cockpits over the years to know that most at the big should be able to live comfortably on what they already make. To SOBE’s point, the customer is one who is really losing, and I don’t think many will give a darn whether it’s the pilots’ or management’s fault. They are both the “airline”.

  11. Hilarious that the airline employees think that giving horrible service to the people paying the bills…the customer, will get them higher pay. Memories are long and flying AA is something long in the past, they have lost their luster and it will take years to sort out.

    This trend of employees behaving poorly to customers because they are upset with their contract is juvenile.

  12. Same old crap from pilots. I find it fascinating that one group can think themselves so indispensable and omnipotent that the whole world should revolve around pilots and their desires. This particular cancer is the USAir group from before who even went against their own workgroups in house from years ago, USAir east vs USAir west. They should all go find their happy place and leave AA the hell alone. USAir sux, they still suck, AA was not the same after crappy USAir got merged with us in 2014. The old AA died in 2014, they should have kept the crappy USAir name to keep on with their crappy ways. Doug Parker was and is a crappy leader, and had a lot more than just one or two Dui’s.

  13. @Robert: “I find it fascinating that one group can think themselves so indispensable and omnipotent that the whole world should revolve around pilots and their desires.”

    Try and run an airline without them. They cannot be readily replaced like flight attendants can.

    If you want to try and empathize with them, take a look at management pay and maybe their demands won’t seem so unreasonable.

    But, yes, US sucked and carried it over to AA.

    You have to admit that AA is doing something right. They are winning, after all. Winning the race to the bottom.

  14. From a customer service viewpoint, ALL the majors suck. I know some more than others… You treat your staff “right” and it does show. The passengers see it and guess what…. They remember for their next flight!

  15. My father was with Pan Am for a very long time. I remember him telling us that maintenance was always the first area hurt when cutting costs. He also was vocal about the fact Pan Am found people for the board who knew nothing about the airline biz but made sure their products were used.

  16. Not sure why the pilots are comparing themselves to Delta. AA isn’t in that league anymore. They’ve been sliding towards the low cost carrier model ever since USAir took over. The pilots were the reason AA ended up in bankruptcy the last time. They couldn’t reach an agreement, AA declared bankruptcy, and then did what they wanted to their contract. Everybody at the airline suffered for it. They will likely end up there again. You can’t get first class wages with a coach class budget. And everybody in charge now at AA is former USAir management. So their model is unlikely to change. It’s funny that you wrote an article calling the pilots delusional back in 2012. They’ve learned nothing.

  17. @ Robert. Spoiler Alert . . . pilots are “indispensable and omnipotent” at airlines. However, I do agree with everything else that you mentioned. AA (even the combined AA/TW) was a much better company.

  18. Two things make me laugh…first the clotheads that censure pilots for actions to improve an obviously bad situation and second, those that would demean moving to another airline. There were about 3000 of us that called Francisco Lorenzo’s bluff at Eastern and moved on. I went from flying the shuttle in the northeast to interisland flying in Hawaii. And I was 45 at the time. Pretty much improved the trajectory of my life, but not my wallet, but I also figured out that chasing money really wasn’t worth it. Guys and gals at American, move on! Life’s too short to work your ass off to fund the suits in the front office. And besides, see how well they get along without you.

  19. Wow, some very strong opinions on AA, didn’t realize that US Airways owned them? And, frankly who really cares. If you don’t like the company, don’t work for them. Me, I work ground handling and do my best every day, respecting both internal and external customers. Cry me a river will ya.

  20. @Nathan Duston: It doesn’t appear you appreciate the importance seniority plays with flight and cabin crews with airlines.

    That seniority literally defines your life.

    It is really not feasible to simply resign and start work again for another airline at the bottom of the seniority rung.

  21. As usual blame the pilots and FA’s. Most have no idea the effort and dedication necessary to succeed in an airline career. The airlines who are the most successful have good leadership at the top which filters down to all employees at all levels. SWA was a great example until Herb left. The pendulum has now swung in favor of DAL. No doubt DAL is on the move for now. Good luck to them and these comments are coming from a 32 yr AA career employee and still working.

  22. I would just like to say that, when I fly commercial, the most important employee of the airline is the pilot. Pilots should be paid commensurate to the responsibility they accept with each flight. Top management that over rates themselves in any industry, are usually the ones with the lowest moral among their employees. USAir by any other name is still the same Company until the culture of the Company changes. This is proven by the Company’s current problems. Without respect due the employees’, the situation remains the same. Usually, top management must be changed to change the direction of the Company.

  23. “I was on a UA flight last month. The pilots were wearing lanyard that said “Contract First. United Next.” What was implied (to me) was “Passengers Last.” I made a point while deplaning to let the pilot know that I found his lanyard troubling and that it is unfortunate that no one seems to care about the people paying everyone’s paycheck: the customer.”

    Perhaps if you had just asked what the lanyard meant rather than assumed, you would know that your total lack of understanding led to your preposterous remark. United has announced a vast and ambitious future airline growth project. The latest huge aircraft order by United is the first sign of that project coming to fruition. United has entitled that project “United Next”. The lanyard basically says we need a contract first in order for United Next to be successful. As a United pilot, I can tell you that customers ALWAYS come first, and we are very proud of that and of the airline that we have become.

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