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Way Past Time to Get Back to the Basics

American Airlines management likes to refer to the airline’s employees as “team members.” We’re not exactly feeling it today.

The press release announcing American Airlines’ plans to acquire a stake in South American carrier JetSMART was given to the news media early yesterday with instructions to not divulge the announcement until 8 a.m. Central today. That means news reporters were provided the details of the proposed deal and an opportunity to query management well before any of us “team members” knew anything about it. In other words, the players on the field aren’t provided the plays, but the press covering the game knows what’s going to happen before the game even starts. Smart coaching? Not so much. Certainly not how most successful “teams” operate and a good example of why pilots and other employees don’t buy into management’s “team member” notion.

Meanwhile, the front page of today’s edition of the Dallas Morning News features the headline “Flight crew ‘sleeping in airports,’” directly beneath the words “American Airlines.” Think about that – American Airlines’ hometown newspaper is highlighting management’s failure to provide pilots and flight attendants with a basic necessity required to perform their jobs safely: contractually required overnight accommodations. Not a very good selling point for our DFW-area customers as they scanned today’s headlines with their morning coffee.

This kind of bizarre, tone-deaf timing has become a pattern. The morning after issuing WARN notices to 20,000 “team members” last July, American Airlines announced a sweeping codeshare relationship with JetBlue. Then, with the operation melting down last month, management announced an environmental sustainability initiative and an investment in UK-based Vertical Aerospace Group.

If there’s one thing management excels at, it’s making deals and distracting from the issues at hand. As for running an airline, nearly eight years into the merger, American Airlines continues to bring up the rear in almost every objective metric.

It’s way past time for management to focus on the basics of running an airline. The Payroll Support Program, which remains in effect through September 30, was designed to maintain critical infrastructure by preserving airline payrolls and protecting collective bargaining agreements. Yet contract violations are rampant, with American Airlines management attempting to take by force what it could not achieve in bargaining, while investing in a foreign carrier. I can’t imagine that will be well received on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers already making inquiries into operational and staffing problems at American Airlines and a handful of other airlines.

We don’t know enough yet about the details, financial and otherwise, of what management has proposed regarding JetSMART to say whether or not there will be any benefit in it for our pilots. But we have seen more than enough to know that it’s time to get back to the basics. Management needs to focus on running a reliable airline, providing employees with the tools we need to do our jobs properly, honoring its agreements, and bargaining in good faith.

CA Eric Ferguson
APA President

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