Transport Airlines

American Airlines to pilots: Stop delaying our flights or we’re headed to court

Sep 28, 2012 12:10 am

Skift Take

It’s incredibly hard to feel sympathy for AMR. The company has a history of forcing employees to make concessions while handsomely paying execs and consultants. Now the one group that can stop them is finally doling out a bit of karma.

— Jason Clampet

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American Airlines says if pilots don’t end actions that are disrupting its flights, it will take their union to court.

A top American Airlines executive told union leaders that some pilots were conducting “an unlawful, concerted effort to damage the company” by filing more maintenance complaints and other tactics, leading to a surge in late and canceled flights.

Denise Lynn, the company’s senior vice president of people, asked union officials to denounce any “work actions.” She said the pilots’ actions alienated passengers and threatened the company’s financial prospects just as American parent AMR Corp. is trying to turn itself around after a decade of huge losses.

The union, which is angry over the company’s decision to use bankruptcy protection to impose new pay and work rules on pilots, said Thursday that there is no sickout or slowdown causing American’s spike in canceled and delayed flights.

In this Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, file photo, Captain Mike McClellan, ORD Domicile Chairman of the Allied Pilots Association left, joins over 200 American Airline pilots marching on a picket line at O’Hare International Airport, in Chicago. Photo by AP Photo/M. Spencer.

Allied Pilots Association spokesman Tom Hoban blamed the flight problems on a shortage of pilots and old planes that need frequent maintenance. He said the threat of legal action would further damage frayed relations between labor and management just as the two sides were prepared to resume contract negotiations.

“Within 24 hours of being asked to return to the bargaining table they essentially take a baseball bat to the side of our heads and threaten legal action,” Hoban said. “It’s a sucker punch.”

American and its pilots have had a rocky relationship for years, but things came to a head this summer. After pilots rejected a contract proposal designed to save American more than $300 million per year, American won permission from a federal bankruptcy court to impose new pay, benefit and work rules on pilots this month. The airline has about 7,500 active pilots.

Since early September, American’s cancelations and delays have far outstripped other U.S. airlines. On Thursday, American had already canceled 90 flights or 4.6 percent of its schedule by late morning. That’s more than five times the rate of cancelations the airline had last September.

American’s on-time record, which fell below 50 percent some days last week, improved to 73 percent Thursday morning, but that was still far worse than rivals United, Delta, Southwest and US Airways.

Statistics provided by American indicate that the percentage of pilots calling in sick has increased at least 20 percent every month when compared with the same month last year. Delays caused by pilots asking for precautionary maintenance checks have doubled in September, according to airline figures.

American sued the pilots’ union and won a $45 million judgment after a sickout led to thousands of canceled flights in 1999. Last September, a federal judge ordered US Airways pilots to end a work slowdown, and another judge ruled in 2008 that United Airlines pilots were conducting an illegal sickout and ordered them to stop.

American and AMR filed for bankruptcy protection in November and are trying to cut annual spending on labor by $1 billion. Other than pilots, American’s other union groups approved cost-cutting contracts.

Follow David Koenig.

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