The Reality of Our Situation
As your union leadership directs all of APA’s resources to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, we have done our best to make rational, fact-based decisions. Given the gravity of the situation in our industry, it would be easy to let emotion take over. We cannot afford that mistake.
In reviewing the events of the past few weeks and looking ahead to what’s next, this is what I see.
APA has consistently led the industry in taking a proactive approach. By late January, we recognized the threat associated with continuing China service and took steps to address it. As conditions in that country worsened, we acknowledged how little was known about this highly contagious virus that, weeks later, is still nowhere near being contained. We urged American Airlines management to act out of an abundance of caution and suspend the airline’s China service, but it appeared that management was in denial about the magnitude of the potential threat, admitting to the news media recently that “we thought this was just a blip.”
On Jan. 30, APA filed a lawsuit seeking the immediate halt to all American Airlines flights between the United States and China. In an update that day, we gave you the facts, including the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid all nonessential travel to China, and we asked you to decline any flight assignments to that country. You heeded APA’s call.
Throughout the month of February, we watched with deepening concern as the virus spread around the globe. We recognized that the current working agreement did not adequately address all of the issues involved in continuing flight operations into areas of elevated health risks. In response, we sought to engage management regarding development of a fact-based protocol that focuses on risk awareness, prevention, consequence management, and scheduling and operations. We also engaged management in an effort to mitigate the negative impact on our pilots of a drastically reduced flying schedule and the airline’s uncertain future. Management eventually grasped the seriousness of the situation and began bargaining with APA.
On March 16, after considerable back-and-forth between APA and management, we finalized Letter of Agreement 20-001 - Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). The decline in demand for air travel has been steeper and more abrupt than anything we have seen before, and this Letter of Agreement gives the airline much-needed flexibility while protecting our pilots’ interests. This mutually beneficial agreement is designed to protect a large portion of our pilots’ compensation while preserving a significant amount of critical liquidity for the airline. It provides pay protection for pilots impacted by COVID-19 and also provides incentivized voluntary leaves of absence. We helped create a framework that would allow management to draw down capacity during the crisis, while positioning the airline to rebound thereafter with a pool of ready-to-fly pilots returning from voluntary leave.
Even during contentious disagreements, APA has remained engaged with management in an effort to protect our pilots and our airline. Like it or not, APA and American Airlines management need to work with each other, and management has unquestionably benefited from our determination to lead during this crisis. APA must maintain a voice in our collective future, and while we don’t know what that future holds, I am convinced we are all better served by taking an active role in helping to shape it.
The APA leadership also consciously decided to support management’s request for federal assistance. While we can all agree that American Airlines management has made questionable financial decisions during the past few years, what matters now is protecting our pilots’ interests while helping to ensure the airline weathers this storm and emerges in a stable and strong position. We will have plenty of opportunities to address what management should have done differently before COVID-19 upended our industry. The bipartisan package that Congress approved and President Trump signed into law will be tremendously helpful in getting American Airlines through the crisis, and we are grateful for the prompt action by policymakers. This legislation illustrates how great progress occurs when different sides come together in a time of need.
I am reminded of the notion that there is a fine line between an orchestra and a mob. Again, we cannot afford to let emotion drive our decisions. Facts, data, and reasonable precautions must be the orders of the day. APA will help make American Airlines better for the good of all concerned, but we will not be exploited.
Our union is nimble. When we see a need, we will act to meet it, and when we see a bad judgment call, we will deal with it. Make no mistake, due to APA’s public and always resolute stance on behalf of our passengers and fellow crewmembers, we are looked to by the news media, elected officials, and investors for our credible, front-line perspective.
What’s next? We are renewing focus on advancing the fact-based protocol we first proposed several weeks ago. We are keenly aware that pilots and flight attendants find themselves on the front lines in the war against COVID-19, and we are committed to doing all we can to protect the well-being of you and your families.
As front-line leaders, we must set the example. If the crew van is too crowded, wait for the next one. Make sure you have the materials you need to ensure a properly sanitized cockpit. If you encounter an unsatisfactory situation, take common-sense steps to remedy it.
Some of you have asked why American Airlines continues operating at a time like this. Recall that the CDC’s guidance references “nonessential” travel, which implies that some travel is essential. Passenger airlines are a critical component of the supply chain, and we carry essential cargo and personnel, including vitally needed medical professionals. For that reason, airlines constitute critical infrastructure. Without them, the U.S. economy and our national security — and by extension, our careers as professional pilots — will be in serious jeopardy. It’s a delicate balancing act between preserving our industry and safeguarding the health of those on the front lines, and we remain committed to doing all we can to ensure the appropriate balance.
Before signing off, I would like to recognize and thank the APA Board of Directors, which has been in session 24-7 since March 13. With tireless dedication, their days include many hours spent on teleconferences crafting policy to protect your interests. Your domicile representatives have consistently demonstrated their commitment to fighting for you, our careers, our profession and our airline.
We will continue to face much uncertainty, and the weeks and months ahead will not be easy, but please keep this mind: We are all in it together, and together, I believe we will prevail.
Thank you for all that you do.
Stay Healthy, and Stay Unified,
CA Eric Ferguson