When American Airlines chief executive Robert Isom sat down with the president of the Allied Pilots Association, Daniel F. Carey last week, it took mere minutes to come to an agreement, according to APA spokesman Dennis Tajer. “They had this,” Tajer said of the close-call American had with cancelling ten thousand or more flights during the busy holiday travel season.
American agreed to pay pilots double time if they would return to the cockpit, filling flight decks left vacant after a software problem allowed too many pilots to opt out of holiday flying. But as I reported for Forbes, not all pilots are taking the bait. For pilots who have worked a decade or more without sufficient seniority to enjoy the holiday at home, the off time is more valuable than money.
“Many of our pilots say I don’t want the overtime I just want to be home for Christmas,” Tajer said, admitting that he’s among them. “I actually have Christmas off for the first time in 10 years,” he told me.
In Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas and Washington, hundreds of pilots are still needed for international and domestic flights especially during the three critical days beginning December 23 and ending on the 25th. They have not been incentivized by the doubling of their hourly salary and reluctance to undo holiday plans is not the only reason.
Not mentioned in the agreement between American and the APA is that not all pilots who fly on the holidays will earn twice their hourly rate. That’s because the crew staffing error was detected as access to the schedule moved west across the country. By the time pilots in Phoenix and Los Angeles logged on, their assignments were fixed.
“They weren’t able to take advantage and get any time off,” one west coast pilot told me. Rather than negotiate for just those pilots who were needed to fly, some APA members suggest the union should have used this leverage with management to get all pilots a holiday pay agreement.
“We’ve never had holiday pay, so maybe we should and that might stop people from calling in sick,” this pilot said, adding that at American, pilots are known for not feeling well on that other big holiday, Superbowl Sunday.
Tajer agreed members in the western U.S. had a valid point though some might be able to pick up flights in addition to those for which they are earning regular time, and perhaps make some extra money.
If the pilot shortage remains unaddressed into next week, pilots flying may have another worry. Under the contract, the airline can unilaterally reassign them once they begin working, turning a 2 day trip into a longer, unscheduled one. In that case, American’s pilots would be getting a dose of what American’s passengers might be in store for over the holidays; a little dose of uncertainty.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.