When American Airlines merged with US Airways, American’s disgruntled unions were unanimous in their support for what amounted to a hostile takeover of the much-larger American by Doug Parker and his mid-sized US Airways.
American’s union troubles haven’t been ameliorated by the merger and change in management. American’s pilots, in particular, have been unrelenting in their criticism of Parker, US Airways’ former chief and now American’s. In a March letter to Parker, the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots, complained bitterly about the company’s new business strategy and practices. “Candidly, the new American Airlines product is outright embarrassing and we’re tired of apologizing to our passengers. We hear from many valuable corporate clients and premier status passengers that the product is not what they’ve come to expect from American Airlines.”
Since then, the relationship between pilots and American management has disintegrated even further, epitomized by this week’s accusations that the airline has been pressuring workers to operate unsafely.
In a letter to American pilots reprinted in the Star-Telegram, APA president Dan Carey outlined a series of management mandates and actions that he warns have the potential to compromise safety. Among them:
- Increase airspeeds “nearing aircraft limitations,” even through areas of turbulence
- Decrease taxi times “using paths and speeds deviating from what would normally be considered rational”
- Routing flights “in conflict with known/commonly expected ATC routing”
- Pressuring flight crews to work overtime
Carey lays the blame for the unsafe measures on management’s failure to provide adequate staffing for what is now the world’s largest airline, and signs off with a dire warning.
American Airlines’ operations are clearly over-scheduled, and management is now resorting to improvisation. Don’t let management’s schedule-planning mistakes become your next crisis… Nearly every incident begins with a seemingly innocuous event or action that, left unchecked, is followed by another and another.
Were it not for its safety aspect, this story might be marginalized as just another labor-management dust-up. As it is, it’s a chilling reminder of the extent to which travelers’ very lives depend on the mostly invisible machinations that ultimately determine the balance between safety, on the one hand, and operational expediency and profitability, on the other.
Reader Reality Check
What’s more important to you: getting there on time, or getting there safely?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.