American Pilots Are Embarrassed By The Airline’s Product

Filed Under: American, Unions

It’s not unusual to see contention between an airline’s labor groups and management, in particular around the time of a merger. So on the surface it’s not surprising that American’s pilot union, the Allied Pilots Association, has written a letter to the airline’s CEO sharing their concerns about the state of the airline.


What makes this letter so interesting is the method they’re using to convey their point. They talk about the issues they directly have with management, including violations of contract terms and trouble with payroll being done correctly. But they also talk about the passenger experience. I’d suggest reading the whole letter, but here’s a short excerpt:

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. The often-repeated excuse that “we need more time” won’t cut it. Our pilots and passengers deserve better.

The pilots of American Airlines will not remain silent as we witness the rebirth of the toxic culture we fought so hard to eradicate.

We must see meaningful and immediate culture change. Without it, American Airlines will never be restored to a position of industry leadership and our legacy will be one of opportunity lost.

Those are some strongly worded statements, and will likely get a lot more support from passengers than if they were focused solely on their own issues.

The irony in all this is that I feel that American handled the actual integration brilliantly. They learned from the mistakes of Delta and United, as they should have. Furthermore, they’re continuing to invest money in improving the experience, including new planes and new cabins.

But unfortunately the “soft” aspect of the experience leaves a lot to be desired, and feels like it has deteriorated over time. It’s tough to point to just one thing, but the overall experience just isn’t what it used to be.

Of course American only has so much accountability to their passengers, since they’re reporting record profits, and that makes shareholders happy.

But for employees, record profits are a different story, as it means they have more room to bargain. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with American’s labor relations over the coming weeks and months.

What do you make of the APA’s letter to Doug Parker? Do they think they’re actually concerned about the passenger experience, or are they simply trying to get the support of customers?

  1. The pilots are never happy with anything. They bargained away their rights to profit sharing, opting instead for higher salaries. Now that the company is very profitable, they are claiming that management is horrible and doing whatever it takes for attention. They’re big boys and girls – they negotiated the terms of their agreement and don’t want to stick with it. This is dirty laundry that should not be aired and frankly I’m tired of their constant complaining against management (it goes back years and years and years, they’re never happy).

  2. History has proven that AA pilots are very well compensated bus drivers, but very poor managers, negotiators, route planners, efficiency analysts and service experience managers.

  3. More room to bargain in 2018 when their CBA becomes amendable, unless AA agrees to an early opener which is not likely. Count on subsequent negotiations dragging on for years on end.

  4. I like your posts usually but as someone who flies frequently, I have to disagree with your statements about efforts to improve passenger experience via hard products and cabin overhauls. When my upgrades don’t clear, I dread being stuck in Y or even MCE on the 787 or the a319, both of which are new “state of the art” planes. Yes you have ife and power, but they are incredibly crammed. Makes me miss flying maddogs. Additionally, service on LUS routes is clearly much worse than others. The planes are pathetic, crews are clearly not up to AA standards.

    Additionally, FA’s have apologized to me (without me even prompting or complaining) about the product. I never complain because ultimately, I’m just trying to get from A to B but I have to disagree with your point. Perhaps you haven’t flown much out of PHL, CLT, etc and maybe haven’t spent much time in main cabins on the new jets, where the majority of people fly.

  5. @Craig,

    Salary figure is correct, but keep in mind that they have to be first officers for a while first. Rookie first officer on a 738 makes $77k.

  6. Making a valid point about the customer’s poor experience with the product, then ending it with the emphasis on “Our pilots…” sure isn’t going to win any customers over.

    That’s a close second to the rhetoric and BS we hear from teacher’s union.

  7. Actually, ALPA has a point. Sure they are always negotiating to improve their position. But the folks at the front of the aircraft do care about working for a quality product, and they see the immediate results of poor service and product. I fly constantly between PIT and PHL (and on occasion to Europe and transcontinental), and where we once saw a decent short haul product with many flights (always filled) now we have limited service on CRJ tiny one class equipment. The price is locked in at a minimum of $450 per round-trip flight (about 60 minutes of flying).

  8. I don’t believe AA pilots pay for many tickets on other airlines. How do they know where they stand compared to the competition?

  9. I agree wholeheartedly with the degradation of service at AA since the AA/ USAIR merger. I fly out of AUS numerous times per month and routinely have to fly Envoy/Eagle routes. The number of delays I have incurred since the merger has risen significantly and is almost always due to a mechanical issue with a former USAIR aircraft. I also agree with SH’s comments about the “state of the art” A319 and 737 aircraft- coach seats are very crammed even in MCE. IMHO, most of the changes at AA post merger have not benefited the frequent and loyal business traveler at all.

  10. I’m totally clueless about the “embarrassing product” reference. In my 65K miles flown last year on this “product” the only thing I’ve heard the pilots apologize for are delays. Are they referring to cabin upgrades on the domestic fleets? Or is it changes to the loyalty program? Or both or neither?

  11. I fly frequently to the Middle East and the experience in coach and business on the ME3 is much better than any flight on a US carrier. I’ve quit flying a US carrier to the Middle East at all, if I can avoid it. American, Delta and United found it easier to complain about the ME3 than to try to compete head on and upgrade their service. Of course the record profits and management bonuses for US carriers went on non-stop. Oh, wait, they did bring back a free snack in coach. A cookie or pretzel pkg… wow. That’s how they are competing.

  12. If you think service and the passenger experience is deteriorated now, just wait until the price of oil goes back up towards historical medians and the airlines profits suffer.

  13. Folks (Brad and Craig), those pilot charts say “hourly”. If that’s right, then the 77 seems to mean $77/hr, not 77K/year. Anybody care to clarify?

  14. Some of the AA pilots don’t help themselves. Like today when a pilot at XNA airport in Northwest Arkansas refused to fly to Dallas due to “storms” even though other flights were going to and from Dallas to XNA. He was personally responsible for delaying the flight a couple hours. To top it all off, to the horror of the staff and the entertainment of the passengers, he mistakenly got on the intercom and started berating the gate agent and calling her names. Everyone in the waiting area could hear him.

  15. @Jim,
    @Sirflysalot did the math ahead of time. Captain 1st yr = $215/hr X 80 hrs/Mo. X 12 Mo. = $206,400. Close enough to $215K/yr. 1st Officer $77/hr –> $73,920

  16. Jim/Craig/Brad,

    The salary estimate is roughly right based on guaranteed pay (hourly rate – cabin door closed time.). However…what is missed in the original comment about 215k pay is how long it takes to get there…an unlikely 12 years minimum with American. Yes, American. That doesn’t include any time at a regional, which had been 18k for many years and now at best, is in the 30k range. They likely are at a regional for more than 3-5 years due to space at the mainline.

    This doesn’t even account for things like commute time/base. Or the larger issue of often 100k plus in debt from pilot training, not including a degree.

  17. Just flew AA and Delta. I agree Delta seems better run and overall a better experience, even though it is just small things like service before take off in first class and a little friendlier attitude.

    Pilots have always been well paid. I am glad to hear they make that much. I read awhile back that some new ones where making about $25k a year and that scared me.

    Maybe the pilots just mean all airlines are an embarrassment relative to the past. Any one older, like me, probably remembers what airlines used to be like. Of course adjusted for inflation, the prices for tickets are way lower and that seems to be what people want, so I guess people get what they pay for.

    I have been paying for first class for about 20 years now; since about when first class degraded to what coach used to be (I am new to using points). I am glad to see that others are finally doing the same in larger numbers. That may finally tip the balance back to better service in coach.

  18. My concern may be different from the pilots. As a Delta Diamond who also made Exec. Platinum last November, I could much more easily forgive American’s aging equipment if the FAs in First/Business and the folks on the Exec. Platinum desk could match 75% of the enthusiasm I experience from the Delta FAs and Diamond desk.

  19. @AvMAS If the site is accurate 3rd year FO sits at $136/hr so around $130+k/year. How many other professions pay anywhere close to that?

  20. What Sir Flys Alot’s link fails to mention is the $52,500 I’m paying for my BA Professional Pilot, $37,500 for my commercial rating (including 250 hours minimum of flight time), 1250 additional hours I have to accumulate on my own before I can even be considered hirable by the airlines, 3-5 years minimum spent earning $17.50/hr in the right seat of an RJ or a crash 400, before I can even be remotely considered for a right seat spot in a 737. Factor in mandatory FAA limitations on daily, weekly, and monthly flight time and a mandatory 65 year old retirement age for Part 121 pilots and, considering I’m 39 years old, I’ll be lucky to break even by the time I’m forced into 121 retirement. Good lord…why the fuck am I doing this?! Oh…right…I LOVE TO FLY!!!

  21. Good for the pilots–at least someone is complaining about AA sub par product. For those bitching about their pay, why don’t you go learn how to fly a 777…oh that’s what I thought. People have no clue–they just hate those making money because they are too lazy to go make something of their life. Sounds like a lot of Democrats on here.

  22. @Dimples many do. A 3rd year FO isn’t in his or her 3rd year of work. They’re probably closer to the 10 year mark following their training, or maybe closer to 15 if they went the military route and did one tour. There are professions with far less responsibility paying that in the 10-15 years experience range.

  23. Why are any of you outraged over what someone earns to fly an airplane? Do you not want the person responsible for a highly complex piece of machinery, and the safety of hundreds of people to not be well compensated? Ridiculous. Mid-level tech jobs can pay that much.

  24. LOL. No other profession draws as much jealousy from $60k/year cubicle slaves. You made poor life decisions; don’t take out your irritation on the men and women who safely move your paper-pushing a*s from A to B. They made different life choices. As with every trade group, they’re entitled to bargain for as much as they can possibly get. Grow up, whiners.


    A fellow paper pusher (AKA not a pilot)

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