American and pilot union reach tentative agreement on ultra-longhaul flying

One of the things holding back American for a while now is that they had no provision in their pilot contracts for how to staff flights of over 16 hours. I guess back when American last negotiated their contracts they weren’t expecting to have any flying of over 16 hours, though in the meantime this has been a real hindrance for their growth, as it has meant they’re not able to fly routes like Miami to Tokyo, Dallas to Beijing, Chicago/Dallas to Hong Kong, etc.

In theory you’d think pilots would love ultra-longhaul flights. Keep in mind that flights of over 12 hours are staffed by four pilots, and each of them gets to rest for nearly half of the flight. They’re all being paid for the duration of the flight, though spend half of them resting in an international first class seat. Not bad when you’re making $200+ per hour. Furthermore, the more longhaul flying American has, the more growth they experience, the more pilots they need to hire, etc.

So why did pilots refuse to fly longer flights? I suppose because it was a way to “stick it” to management through a technicality in hopes of getting a better contract. While I can certainly understand the frustration among pilots when it comes to upper management, I think they were shooting themselves in the foot by fighting this battle, since they only had things to gain by flying longhaul flights.

Well, it seems they’ve finally reached an agreement. Currently longhaul flights of over 12 hours are staffed by one captain and three first officers. Through the new agreement, ultra-longhaul flights of over 16 hours will be staffed by two captains and two first officers.

This seems like a nice gain for the pilots. Requiring two captains means more pilots will be promoted to captain, and captains get paid considerably more than first officers (at American a senior captain on the 777 makes $205/hour, while a senior first officer on the 777 makes $139/hour). In order words it’ll cost an extra $66/hour to operate the flight, meaning a 16-hour flight would cost an additional ~$1,050 in pay for the pilots.

Now here’s to hoping American finally starts service to Hong Kong!

Filed Under: American, Unions
  1. @ robert — I was thinking more in the way of using eVIPs to upgrade to business class on $800 tickets to Hong Kong. šŸ˜‰

  2. @Lucky. AA has the permission to operate Houston to Shanghai. But this was blocked by union citing excess working hour. Now let’s see what’s going on with ultra longhaul.

  3. Is that $205/hr fully loaded, or as the actual pay rate? If it’s the latter, it’s probably actually quite a bit more cost when you figure in the additional tax contributions, any sort of insurance offsets, any sort of retirement contributions, etc.

  4. Two thoughts:

    1.) For such a reasonable outcome (as I see it), what a waste of time and energy with all the fighting.

    2.) The extra $66/hr pay isn’t going to help out AA’s staggering cost issues…

  5. The pay rate shown here is from brakes on to brakes off I believe. It doesn’t include time spent doing paperwork, pre-flight inspection, etc.

    Any idea if the 7 B772 and 8 B773 on order will include rest facilities in the crown instead of a regular seat?

  6. I just took the Cathay flt from ORD to HKG in first. I believe they had one captain and 3 other pilots. The pilots slept in a crew bunk upstairs in the front of the plane (777). The flt attendants also had a special bunk area in the rear of the plane that slept nine.

    I agree AA pilots are a bunch of stupid somethings. They should have agreed to this LONG ago. It would have given their pilots more work. Instead AA customers went to other airlines.

    I think AA at some pt will declare bankruptcy to lower their costs and debt. They should have done that long ago.

  7. @ Brian — That’s the actual pay rate so you’re right, it’s possibly more.

    @ canuck_in_ca — Right, that’s from the time the door closes to when it opens.

    @ John — Cathay Pacific actually has an interesting hierarchy in that they have one captain, one first officer, and then two second officers. Second officers are basically relief pilots that are junior to first officers. Hope you enjoyed your flight!

  8. @lucky- Ben the Cathay flt was awesome. The seat, service, and food were excellent. Two flt attendants for 6 passengers. Had the rack of lamb for dinner #1 and Sea Bass for dinner #2. I was going to have the crab cakes that you wrote about on an earlier Cathay flt for a snack, but they ran out. The inflight entertainment system, as you mentioned on an earlier post, was top notch. The 16 hr flt actually went by fast.

    I am taking the return flt from HKG to ORD in first in Dec.

  9. I also suspect the American pilots are still annoyed by the proliferation of regional jets, over which they nearly went on strike back in the late 90s.

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