“Do not let yourself be forced into doing anything before you are ready.”
— Wilbur Wright
When I took office as your president in July 2016, I made clear to senior management my willingness to exploit opportunities for mutual benefit. I also emphasized that we have no intention of being exploited ourselves.
To date, management has not responded with any concrete actions that would foster culture change or alter American Airlines’ dependency on bankruptcy work rules to be competitive, let alone achieve industry-leading safety practices.
Some months ago, APA proposed a series of mutually beneficial work-rule adjustments that would enhance the margin of safety and de-risk American Airlines’ operation. Unfortunately, management myopically dismissed them as a cost versus what they really are — an investment in the safety and reliability of our operation. Instead of working toward de-risking the airline, these actions have prompted a vote of no confidence by the APA Board of Directors.
At best, management’s actions are suffocating any hope for a cooperative, constructive working relationship. The growing problem is how overly rigid policies, policy policing, and retribution are decreasing the margin of safety and fertilizing the roots of a toxic culture.
Management consistently falls back on the notion that they are meeting legal minimums for safety. That is not good enough. Your safety and the safety of your passengers and crew requires more than minimal compliance with FAA regulations. You are the last line of defense against a management culture that embraces and creates policies that generate rushing to comply. Let me be clear: In our profession, rushing is dangerous and can have deadly consequences. You must exercise safety and diligence in everything you do. As any pilot worth his or her salt knows, sole reliance on the “well, it’s legal” safety decision rationale is often the first wrong move in many aircraft incidents.
Management’s insistence on self-imposed operational metrics, putting schedule integrity first — at all costs — while clinging to every ragged-edge, fatigue-producing bankruptcy work rule, and systematically violating our contract and FAR 117 rules, exposes our crews to dangerous levels of fatigue and reduces our operation’s safety margin.
Bare minimum compliance with the FAA standards is clearly not in line with American Airlines’ Safety Policy, which states: Safety must be the first and foremost consideration in every facet of our company. Additionally, this policy requires individual commitment to keeping safety as the foremost priority and affirms that it “is the responsibility of each and every one of us — from managers to front-line employees.”
This is where the APA line-pilot leadership comes in. As Wilbur Wright sagely counseled, “Do not let yourself be forced.” In our operations dialect: Take a minute for safety. If you feel pushed, don’t push.
Management’s D-0 (On-Time Departures) at All Costs and the Safety Margin
APA has received a dramatic uptick in pilot pushing reports detailing management’s policy policing to ensure that a “D-0” out-time is registered, no matter the path to achieve it. Stand your ground — do not allow management to intimidate you into accepting anything other than a safe and undistracted cockpit environment.
Management’s preoccupation with delays has turned into an obsession. When a delay of as little as one minute occurs, managers are directing ramp tower professionals to disturb sterile cockpit periods to investigate and directing dispatchers to send investigative, non-operational ACARS messages. Many pilot reports also include details of personal text messages sent by chief pilots during sterile cockpit periods (time stamps confirmed when retrieved), demanding an explanation for a one-minute delay. Do not let this management pilot pushing distract you from protecting the margin of safety in your cockpit. When you feel you are being pushed, don’t push. Take a minute to re-establish yourself and crew solidly in the Threat Error Management (TEM) “green.”
Nearly 20,000 Standby Passengers Left Behind at the Gate
APA has learned that management’s D-0/D-10 (jet bridge door closing) binary measure of operational success led to nearly 20,000 standby passengers being left standing at the gate in February. On almost 13,000 flights, standby passengers were denied boarding even though the aircraft had open seats. Up to 16 percent of all AA flights experienced this failure. This is intolerable.
While our union brother and sister gate agents are under extraordinary pressure to close the jet bridge and aircraft doors no matter what, we must do everything possible to ensure that no passengers are left behind while seats are empty. Please track the standby passenger list and be aggressively proactive in defending our standby passengers and fellow employees.
Vacation Float Results: Nearly 50,000 Days/7,000 Weeks
During our vacation bidding period, APA leadership asked you to consider your strategy of the 2017-18 vacation floating option. In that message, your leadership acknowledged that management’s obsession with squeezing every dollar out of the schedule “optimizer,” without regard for the fatiguing consequences, is narrowing the margin of safety. Your leadership highlighted the importance of taking time off via your contractual vacation rights to replenish, recharge, and spend time with family and friends. You clearly value the importance of this replenishing time as critical to personal and professional health. Versus last year, nearly 50,000 days/7,000 weeks of additional vacation time were taken. I’m certain that this time will now play an important role in not only enhancing our operation’s margin of safety, but also in providing you with hard-earned personal time off.
Premium Flying — Fly Smarter, Not Harder
You’ve heard this message during your leadership’s call to consider your vacation float strategy. In that same vein of thinking (ensuring that you make the most of your professional and personal time), I would ask that you consider the benefits of using the “premium” option when you contemplate additional flying. While Mr. Parker may be comfortable with his “someone’s got to be fourth” total compensation explanation, there is something that we can do together to ensure that when we do choose to fly additional hours, we do it at a higher pay rate. Fly smarter, not harder. If we all commit to striving for this, we will all benefit.
I would like to close by reaffirming that we, as a unified pilot corps, can achieve anything. Please continue to file APA Observer Reports and, if necessary, ASAP reports for safety threats you observe. Stay focused, disciplined, and committed to being the last line of defense where safety is concerned. If that means taking a minute, then take a minute.
Captain Dan Carey