American Airlines pilots’ union rejects holiday bonus pay, seeks permanent changes

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  • American is offering the airline and its subsidiaries bonus pay for holiday trips to avoid more mass cancellations.
  • Flight attendants can get three times the salary for work and perfect attendance on holiday trips.
  • Pilots turned down an offer of 50% higher pay for peak trips, saying the airline needed to make more permanent changes to the scheduling.

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American Airlines’ pilots’ union has rejected the company’s proposal to double pay for trips to work around the holidays, aimed at avoiding a repeat of recent mass flight cancellations.

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The Board of Directors of the Allied Pilots Association voted against double pay for premium payments of at least 150% and taking open holiday trips. The union said late Tuesday it wants more permanent changes to the way the airline builds its schedules. The labor union is in the middle of contract negotiations with the airline.

Some airlines have struggled to balance the demand for travel and the return of fewer employees. American canceled more than 2,000 flights in late October and early November due to bad weather and staffing shortages. Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines have faced similar issues, which cost $75 million and $50 million, respectively.

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Voting not to repeat disruptions, American has reached deals with bonus holiday pay across the airline, which employs more than 100,000 employees. The airline will make triple payments to flight attendants for trips between November 23 and 29 and December 22 and January 2, and full attendance between mid-November and January 2. At a minimum, flight attendants who travel on those periods will get 150% of their salary.

“We are certainly disappointed, especially since we have holiday pay programs in place for all other frontline groups in the company,” wrote Kimball Stone, senior vice president of American Flight Operations and Chip Long, vice president of flight operations. “But we will continue to explore opportunities to work with APA to support you during the holidays, as well as explore our options to maximize the availability of existing premiums under the collective bargaining agreement”.

American is also offering a $1,000 bonus to ramp workers, mechanics, dispatchers, and others. Employees of its wholly owned subsidiaries Envoy, PSA and Piedmont are also eligible for a $1,000 bonus.

“These incentives suggest that the US is now willing to pay to avoid an operating slowdown during peak periods,” Morgan Stanley airline analyst Ravi Shankar wrote in a note on Tuesday. “These incentives are also likely to be less expensive. [American] compared to the cost of widespread flight disruptions.”

The pilots’ union has repeatedly complained that the airline schedules too many flights, leaves little margin for error, and has difficulty dropping or taking trips. They have also reported a shortage of hotel rooms and a lack of crew transportation during the hot summer schedule.

Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the union, told CNBC that the extra pay was “lazy” and “a clear confession that you mismanaged the airline.”

Pilots and flight attendants at Southwest have made similar complaints about the exhausting schedule. Southwest and Spirit each cut their schedules after their recent disruptions.

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