Uh Oh: American Airlines Pilots Reject Extra Holiday Pay – One Mile at a Time

This doesn’t bode well for American Airlines’ operational reliability over the upcoming holiday travel periods…

American offers pilots up to 200% holiday pay

American Airlines had an operational meltdown over Halloween, primarily due to staff shortages. The airline is trying to avoid this for the upcoming busy holiday travel periods (Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, etc.), so is offering employees significant pay bumps to show up to work over the holidays. While this is costly, it’ll cost less than the operation melting down once again.

For example, a few days ago I wrote about how American Airlines flight attendants will receive 150% pay for all flights over peak holiday dates, and 300% pay if they have a perfect attendance record over the course of several weeks.

American Airlines has made a similar offer to pilots. This would impact pilots who work over the following dates:

  • November 23 through November 29, 2021
  • December 22, 2021, through January 2, 2022

The idea is as follows:

  • Pilots would receive 150% pay for all flights over peak holiday dates
  • Pilots who pick up trips during the period would receive 200% pay
  • Pilots would receive positive space travel to their base; this means that pilots who don’t live at their base would be guaranteed a seat to get to work, rather than having to fly standby

It’s a generous offer, no doubt, and you’d think pilots would be happy about this, and view it as a significant incentive. For example, a senior 777 captain at American would be getting a pay bump from $342 per hour to $513-682 per hour. To be clear, contractually American doesn’t have to offer this, but rather the airline is just trying to offer an extra incentive to make sure people show up to work.

American is offering pilots up to 200% pay

American pilot union rejects holiday pay bump

The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines’ pilots, has rejected the company’s offer. Not just by a narrow margin, but it was unanimously rejected, 20-0. What’s the logic for rejecting extra pay? According to the press release from the union:

While understanding that its rejection creates a disparity among our fellow work groups that have accepted management’s proffered incentives, the Board concluded that the need to achieve meaningful permanent improvements in a new collective bargaining agreement must remain APA’s focus.

APA has communicated at the bargaining table, and through higher level discussions, its ongoing frustrations with the pace of Section 6 negotiations and that meaningful Section 6 progress must be made. It’s ironic that fixes to many of the operational concerns that led management to offer incentives are directly addressed in APA’s Section 6 proposals, which management has been holding for months. APA’s targeted approach is designed to advance the contract, address quality-of-life concerns, and find sustainable solutions to improve operational integrity.

In other words, the union is trying to negotiate a better contract for pilots all around. So rather than negotiating a one-off holiday pay bump, the pilots want the airline to negotiate a new long term contract right now, rather than pushing it off.

American pilots have rejected extra holiday pay

This could turn into a major issue

There have been concerns for a while about American’s ability to run a reliable operation over the holidays. The airline continues to not have enough staff (including pilots), so there are few extra pilots sitting around in the event of irregular operations. With airlines, a slight staffing shortage can lead to huge operational issues, given how complex airline scheduling is.

There were already concerns about some number of pilots not showing up to work over the holidays as a way of protesting the vaccine mandate (which has now been pushed off until early January). But that’s not the only reason they might not show up to work — there’s also a new contract looming.

This seems like quite a flex from the union:

  • The bonus pay for the holidays has been rejected; it’s possible that the union backtracks and accepts something similar in the coming days, but as of now the union is claiming it’ll settle for nothing short of a new contract
  • It’s hard to imagine that pilots will get an improved permanent contract before Thanksgiving
  • If the pilots aren’t getting extra pay or a new contract, you can bet that Thanksgiving will be a disaster operationally, to put it mildly
Will American’s operation melt down again over the holidays?

Bottom line

American Airlines’ union representing pilots has unanimously rejected bonus pay over the holidays, instead asking for a better permanent contract. Pilots are the single most integral part to American’s operation running smoothly over the holidays (given that they’re trained on specific aircraft, and the workforce can’t grow that quickly due to training requirements), and it seems that they’re prepared to bring operations to a screeching halt if they don’t get what they want.

While there likely won’t be an official strike, I’d be shocked if a lot more pilots than usual don’t end up being “sick” over the holidays if nothing changes. If they weren’t going to work for 150-200% pay, they’re not going to work for 100% pay.

So if you’re traveling over the holidays, you better hope that management and the union representing pilots come to some sort of an agreement to incentivize working over the holidays.

How do you see this situation ending with American Airlines pilots?

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