American’s Controversial Pilot Upgrade Policy Explained

American’s Controversial Pilot Upgrade Policy Explained

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In the past couple of years, pilots at most major US airlines have negotiated new contracts. In 2023, we saw American Airlines pilots ratify a new contract, worth nearly $10 billion over four years. As I’ve written about in the past, one interesting aspect of this contract is that pilots will under many circumstances get upgraded to first class ahead of customers on the upgrade list.

This has certainly been controversial, and in this post I wanted to take a close look at how exactly this policy works. I’ve seen a ton of discussion about this online, so I figured it would be useful to clarify when this does and doesn’t apply, and how it could impact your upgrade chances.

Pilots commuting vs. deadheading explained

You’ll often see pilots in uniform flying in the cabin of aircraft, and this is typically for one of two reasons:

  • They could be commuting, which is where they live in one city, but are based in another city, and as a result, they need to commute to work as a passenger; for example, an American pilot might live in Tampa, but be based in Dallas
  • They could be deadheading, which is where they are traveling as a passenger in order to position to somewhere as part of a trip, either due to a scheduling anomaly, due to bad weather, etc.; for example, an American pilot might be based in Charlotte, but needs to deadhead to Dallas, to be able to operate a flight from there

So, are more pilots typically commuting or deadheading? It really depends on the individual pilot and the base. Some pilots never commute, as they may very well live in the city in which they’re based. Meanwhile other pilots have to commute more than once per week, as they need to do so every time they work a trip.

Meanwhile some pilots might not deadhead for months at a time, and then might have weeks where they have to deadhead a couple of times. Deadheading is especially common when there are weather events, and during very peak periods.

There are different reasons pilots fly in the cabin

American Airlines’ upgrade policy for pilots

American’s new upgrade policy specifically impacts pilots who are deadheading. Commuting is a choice, and as a result, those pilots are flying on a space available basis. When it comes to getting upgraded, commuting pilots would be prioritized after all elite members on the upgrade list.

Meanwhile with American’s new pilot contract, pilots who are deadheading get quite some privileges:

  • Pilots who deadhead are assigned the highest class of service for all transoceanic international flights, flights to Hawaii and Alaska, and flights that are south of the equator
  • Pilots who deadhead on other routes are initially assigned in economy, in the following preference order — exit row aisle, then exit row window, then non-exit row aisle, then non-exit row window
  • For those flights where they’re initially assigned economy, pilots will be at the top of the upgrade list for a first class upgrade at the time of check-in

American Airlines offers its elite members complimentary space available upgrades. So with this policy, within 24 hours of departure American pilots are even ahead of Concierge Key and Executive Platinum members for upgrades. Prior to the current contract, pilots would only get first class upgrades after all the elite members have cleared their upgrades (which would be almost never, at least on most domestic flights).

Just to be thorough, let me emphasize a few points:

  • Revenue passengers still clear upgrades ahead of pilots when it’s 24 or more hours before departure; so you better hope your upgrade clears in advance, because as the departure time approaches, you could see your place on the upgrade list decrease
  • Those already confirmed in first class won’t be kicked out to accommodate a pilot being upgraded
  • Keep in mind that it’s also possible that you’ll see a pilot in uniform in first class who doesn’t actually work for American; lots of cargo and private jet pilots have elite status and/or get booked in paid first class when they’re positioning, and they are customers just like everyone else
American pilots can be upgraded ahead of customers

Is American’s pilot upgrade policy reasonable?

I see a ton of discussions in online frequent flyer communities about this upgrade policy, and about the merits of it. Above I talked about the actual policy, but now let me try to share an objective take on the merits of this, from both sides.

First of all, it’s important to state that regardless of whether or not American frequent flyers like this policy, we have to accept it. This is a part of the pilot contract for the next four years that was negotiated between the union and pilots, and it’s not going anywhere.

So while you can absolutely express your frustration about this, it’s not even within American’s power to change this policy.

Why American pilots deserve first class upgrades

At the end of the day, airline pilot unions engage in pattern bargaining, whereby they try to match the contracts of other airlines. The reality is that American wasn’t the first airline to negotiate first class upgrades for pilots ahead of customers, as United has had this policy for a few years now.

You certainly can’t blame the union for negotiating similar benefits for its members. We have to be honest, the individual parties in the airline industry are all only looking out for themselves — executives want to get as big of a payday as they can, union members want to get as big of a payday as they can, etc. So you can’t blame them for negotiating as much money and as many benefits as they possibly can.

Furthermore, keep in mind that when pilots are deadheading, they’re often positioning to work a flight. There’s value to them being rested and comfortable prior to that. Furthermore, pilots are well trained professionals making a lot of money. So just as others may get elite status and some travel perks through their business travel, the same is now true for pilots.

Many customer focused companies (I’m not sure one could consider American to be one of those) would argue that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers, and on some level, this is taking care of employees.

Pilots may be deadheading prior to working a flight

Why American elite members are understandably frustrated

I think it’s also important to acknowledge why many American AAdvantage members are frustrated by this policy. I’m sure some pilots will say “well if you want first class, pay for first class.” That’s fair enough, though context is important:

  • The percentage of first class seats filled with those upgrading has decreased considerably over the years, and nowadays American sells 80%(ish) of first class
  • Most quarters, American makes more money from its loyalty program than from actually flying planes, and really that’s largely what’s funding the big pay increases that pilots are getting
  • One of the biggest reasons that people go for elite status (and spend money on American Airlines credit cards, which contributes to the carrier’s bottom line) is for the ability to get space available first class upgrades
  • It’s one thing if this were the only thing that changed about American’s upgrade process recently, but American has also started aggressively selling upgrades to people on the upgrade waitlist, which leaves a bad taste in many peoples’ mouths
  • While it’s great to take care of employees, the optics are never great when an employee in uniform takes something “away” from a customer
Upgrades are definitely getting tougher for customers

Is this policy materially impacting upgrade odds?

I’ve seen an increasing number of people in forums complaining about how they’ve lost out on upgrades as they were instead given to pilots. There’s no public data on just how frequently pilots are being upgraded.

The challenge is that often American has just two or so first class seats left within 24 hours, which they’re holding back, rather than clearing as upgrades. Since pilots often travel in pairs, this could indeed be the difference between the top two people on the upgrade list getting an upgrade or not. So it does indeed happen, and it’s not infrequent.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had two flights in recent months where at least one American pilot was in first class under this new policy, and I don’t fly American that much (at least compared to weekly road warriors — I don’t fly any one airline that consistently).

So in many ways, this is just yet another nail in the coffin for elite upgrades. American is doing a better job actually selling first class, then the airline is selling upgrades as the departure date approaches to elite members on the upgrade list, and now American is also upgrading pilots ahead of customers.

“If you want first class, but first class,” is really becoming the reality in many domestic markets nowadays.

One questions the value of loyalty at this point

Bottom line

American nowadays upgrades pilots who are deadheading ahead of customers within 24 hours of departure. This is a new policy as part of the carrier’s new pilot contract, which applies for at least the next four years. This doesn’t apply to pilots who are commuting, and if there are no first class seats left, then pilots obviously won’t get them.

There’s not much anyone can do about this policy, though it’s worth understanding. It’s one of several changes that has made upgrades at American much harder in recent times.

What do you make of American’s upgrade policy for pilots? Have you been impacted by this?

Conversations (88)
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  1. Richard Guest

    Why does this keep coming up? Wasn’t AA the last airline after UA/DL to offer this perk to pilots?

  2. Steven E Guest

    Meanwhile I just saw Executive Traveler magazine quoting the fact that American Airlines will commence service from Dallas DFW to Brisbane BNE Australia shortly

  3. Johhny Guest

    Not only do I agree with this policy, I believe pax in Basic Economy should shine the shoes of deadheading pilots, upon request.

  4. Jamie T Guest

    Just remember …. that relaxing crewmember, sitting in Economy Plus or even First Class, just may be the same crewmember that agreed to a longer workday or agreed to come to work on a scheduled day off, just to ensure that other flights get completed and not cancelled. I sit in coach frequently and when trying to rest, get interrupted throughout the whole flight.

    1. UncleRonnie Guest

      Yup. There’s two dozen posts on here every week complaining about how grumpy AA cabin staff are. Let them rest when they’re travelling off duty to their next shift. They probably need it more than you do.

  5. Eilat59 Guest

    Why is this controversial - AA owns the planes and the seats, they can assign to whomever they'd like. No one has a right to an upgrade - it's a bonus when it happens. If being in a premium cabin is so important to people - buy the seat and then you're guaranteed. This entire topic seems silly.

  6. Julia Guest

    I think it's also worth noting that if AA didn't make a concession on this issue they would have had to make one elsewhere during the bargaining process. They have clearly decided that this one is reasonable and within their best interest to make. Air Canada also has a similar policy because of the pilots' collective bargaining agreement. From what I have seen with AC most status holders understand this and know that if you...

    I think it's also worth noting that if AA didn't make a concession on this issue they would have had to make one elsewhere during the bargaining process. They have clearly decided that this one is reasonable and within their best interest to make. Air Canada also has a similar policy because of the pilots' collective bargaining agreement. From what I have seen with AC most status holders understand this and know that if you want to be sure you are in business book business. It's just a minority, who tend to have an entitled attitude to begin with, who complain about it.

  7. George Romey Guest

    If airlines hadn't made coach such a miserable and uncomfortable experience pilots would have likely been satisfied just to fly in coach, other than the occasional long haul. I feel sorry for crew deadheading (commuting is different, that's something they choose to do) if they aren't lucky that an exit row/MCE seat isn't available.

  8. Luis' GF Guest

    I love my pilots. They literally hold my life in their hands when I strap myself inside these tin cans and hurl myself through the air hoping to get from point A to point B safely. They deserve ALL the rest and relaxation. You know who isn't getting me from point A to B? Elite status holders. They want the seat that freakin bad? Buy it. Problem solved. You want to be on the top...

    I love my pilots. They literally hold my life in their hands when I strap myself inside these tin cans and hurl myself through the air hoping to get from point A to point B safely. They deserve ALL the rest and relaxation. You know who isn't getting me from point A to B? Elite status holders. They want the seat that freakin bad? Buy it. Problem solved. You want to be on the top of the upgrade list that bad? Go fly for thousands of hours of your life, invest a couple hundred thousand dollars, give up your family life and you too shall be granted top of the upgrade list! BTW, out of my station, we only see this maybe a couple flights a day. It really isn't that much at all.

    1. M Van Guest

      Amen! Love your attitude

  9. KyleDFW Guest

    American could do a better job of clearing elite upgrades within the published timeframes. Yes you’d potentially miss out on DODH/IU money but, you’d have happier elites. Not saying upgrade every EP at 100 hours but, do a better job at 25 hours of clearing upgrades so this happens less often?

  10. Andy 11235 Guest

    Any rumblings about this are the first gasps of those who spent way too much on AA securing elite status finally realizing that there is very little of value given at the end of the rainbow. I stopped flying them when I realized that half my SWUs were expiring unused. There is literally nothing offered to elites that you can't get by simply buying a seat up front, so why pay more to always fly the same carrier?

  11. AC Guest

    What I don't get is why you often see these pilots in uniform.
    I mean, they could be positioning, but you'd think whereever they're going, they would be able to get changed before their actual flgiht, just feels uncomfortable to be wearing a uniform for 6+ hrs and THEN start your shift which is probably just as long.

    1. A320capt Guest

      It’s more just a function of practicality. When I put on my uniform in the morning, my shoes are shined and my pants and shirt are pressed. If I’m deadheading to operate a flight when I get to where I’m headed, that means that clean and pressed uniform would be going in my bag and coming out wrinkly on the other end. Personally, I would rather wear my uniform during the deadhead and show up...

      It’s more just a function of practicality. When I put on my uniform in the morning, my shoes are shined and my pants and shirt are pressed. If I’m deadheading to operate a flight when I get to where I’m headed, that means that clean and pressed uniform would be going in my bag and coming out wrinkly on the other end. Personally, I would rather wear my uniform during the deadhead and show up to my operating flight still looking pretty fresh vs. showing up looking like I slept in my uniform and just rolled out of bed.

      If the deadhead is at the end of the day and I’m going to a hotel or home at the destination, I’ve been known to swap the uniform shirt for a polo, but that’s really the only time. You may see some pilots put another shirt on over their uniform shirt in an attempt to be incognito, but I’ve always thought that was ridiculous. They still stand out as a pilot and wearing two layers of clothing seems less than ideal as far as comfort goes.

      Bottom line though, yes. Wearing the uniform all day isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world. However, I get paid to move the airplane and passengers safely from A to B as well as to professionally represent the company. Not to be comfortable.

    2. Jamie T Guest

      blame TSA for that. They make our lives difficult when going thru security when we aren’t in uniform.

  12. Leon Cruywagen Guest

    I am one of the ExecPlat people that may or may not upgraded. I for one don't mind the policy. I would rather have a fresh pilot... My next flight may be his. And yes dead heading happens. I am not sure it happens often enough for the fuss people are causing.

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      just to play devil's advocate, were all of the pilots that deadheaded before these upgrade policies went into effect "unsafe?"
      If so, data please.

  13. Zoso Guest

    This boils down to people expecting something for free, because they have "status". This isn't a private jet and if you want to sit in a particular seat, I suggest you BUY it! If you didn't purchase a first class seat, but complain about not getting a first class seat, you are simply cheap and should rethink what the airline owes you. Kudo's to American for letting the pilot who might be keeping me and...

    This boils down to people expecting something for free, because they have "status". This isn't a private jet and if you want to sit in a particular seat, I suggest you BUY it! If you didn't purchase a first class seat, but complain about not getting a first class seat, you are simply cheap and should rethink what the airline owes you. Kudo's to American for letting the pilot who might be keeping me and my family safe on the next flight a better chance of being well rested and in command of everything that actually matters. If you want a particular seat, BUY IT!!!

    1. Min Guest

      Perhaps don’t promised on the loyalty program then bloody create a higher UPG code on the standby list

    2. Rosland Bell Guest

      Thank you I didn't know how to express my response, I totally agree. I addition to the flying the pilots have recently completed during the bad weather doing double and triple shifts because some pilots could not make it. Yes, they deserve a first class seat.

  14. T- Guest

    Calm down folks! I can’t imagine flying a vessel carrying hundreds of people while fatigued. Let the pilots sit up front. You need a pilot near the cockpit to help in an emergency. Really.

  15. flashratt Guest

    Where else in business does the company employee trump the customer? Those paying the bills are now a sub-class to the employee. Pilot or not, they're employees there to serve the customer, not take the best seats for themselves. If they need rest, book them a hotel room and let them sleep.

    1. Sam Palmer Guest

      The employee is more valuable to the company than any one elite customer. That's what this says.

    2. Min Guest

      Yes indeed
      If all understand what you wrote
      There will be no feedback needed

    3. Jake Guest

      Buy your ticket entitled one.

    4. Luis' GF Guest

      Please remember you said "if they need rest, book them a hotel room and let them sleep" next time you are delayed and misconnect because that exact thing happened. And what an awful thing to ask to delay everybody else on the plane so you can have your stupid upgrade.

  16. Al Blum Guest

    We had situation coming out of DFW where our flight was delayed just long enough where our pilot's timed out and two new pilot's had to be brought in to fly us to Ontario, CA. The original pilot's, the ones thst timed out had to deadhead to CA. as their next days flight was out of Ontario CA. They were given two empty First Class seats on the flight they timed out on. Pretty fortunate I'd day!

  17. jdink Member

    I'm an Elite and would never complain. Pilots are well deserving of an s/a upgrade when deadheading.

  18. Bob Guest

    THis is only controversial because Ben, Leff and a few other bloggers / credit card salespeople have decided it is so that they can drive clicks.

    - Signed, an AA EXP

  19. Ethan Guest

    One thing that’s important to realize is most pilots don’t want to deadhead. Part of the reason this was negotiated in the new contract is to keep the company from doing so unnecessarily. A good example for this is sit time. Years ago pilots were not paid for sit time, (where they had long periods of time between flights). As soon as sit time pay was implemented, many trip pairing with long sits were eradicated....

    One thing that’s important to realize is most pilots don’t want to deadhead. Part of the reason this was negotiated in the new contract is to keep the company from doing so unnecessarily. A good example for this is sit time. Years ago pilots were not paid for sit time, (where they had long periods of time between flights). As soon as sit time pay was implemented, many trip pairing with long sits were eradicated. Now that there is a reason for the company not to deadhead, (having to give business/first class to pilots), they will likely do so less. Additionally, it is important for pilots to be rested prior to operating, especially for long period of time.

    1. Gregg Guest

      Yes, piloting a plane is sooooo exhausting. NOT!

    2. Seating Infirstclassrn Guest

      Lol. Go do it then since it’s so easy. In many businesses, employees of a a certain status get to fly first class. Pilots hold that status in the airline business. If you want the seat, buy it. The airline would have to delay another flight to get those pilots their well earned first class seats.

  20. AGE Guest

    “….. So just as others may get elite status and some travel perks through their business travel, the same is now true for pilots.

    Many customer focused companies (I’m not sure one could consider American to be one of those) would argue that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers, and on some level, this is taking care of employees.“

    Sorry… No. First rule of a quality business is...

    “….. So just as others may get elite status and some travel perks through their business travel, the same is now true for pilots.

    Many customer focused companies (I’m not sure one could consider American to be one of those) would argue that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers, and on some level, this is taking care of employees.“

    Sorry… No. First rule of a quality business is “Customer first.” It really is that simple. Just because a pilot makes a large salary and needs to be well rested, it does not mean they should take a space that I earned. If the back of the bus is good enough for me, it’s good enough for them. I am self funded so some Fortune 50 corporation is not buying me my status.

    1. Steven L. Gold

      Everything in a contract negotiation has value. AA management valued paying out less cash to the pilots more than they valued giving top-tier status customers those opportunities to get upgraded. If you're upset with this change to the upgrade policy, direct your ire towards management.

    2. jedipenguin Guest

      They should be required to live in the base where they fly out of-If you are based in Phoenix, you live in Phoenix, Dallas, and so forth.

    3. Steven L. Gold

      Thanks for letting us know you didn't read Ben's post I guess?

    4. G4 Pilot Guest

      This does not apply to non-rev/space available travel (e.g. leisure, commuting). You are NOT losing your free upgrade, to which you feel so entitled, to someone who is commuting due to where they elect to live versus where they are based.

    5. Jetsetter Guest

      Commuting pilots aren’t the one’s being assigned First Class. FC goes to deadheading pilots — those pilots being positioned by the company to a trip assignment at a downline city.

    6. Andrew Clarke Guest

      There was a time that nobody, including frequent flyers were upgraded. Buy the ticket if you want the seat. This is entitlement at its best.

  21. Dave Guest

    It’s affecting me right this minute. Two seats available for upgrade, three pilots ahead of me on the list.

    I get prioritizing them over complimentary upgrades - I’d be annoyed but I get it. But here they got prioritized over my hard-to-use and soon-to-expire systemwide upgrade.

    Many of us spend above the ExPlat threshold in order to grab those four extra SWUs. Those should take some priority. Of course, the challenges with those are whooooooole ‘nother thread!

    1. Points and Miles Doc Guest

      Totally agree with this - the new policy makes the SWUs much less valuable. I too am sitting on one about to expire that I cannot find a use for. It makes going for those SWUs or choosing them as a loyalty reward a lot less appealing.

  22. Chase Guest

    I Have noticed a significant change in the upgrade window the past few months as an EXP. Even when there’s 9+ seats left for sale at the 100 hour mark, AA is holding back the CPU inventory until 48-12 hours prior to the flight. THAT is where I take issue with is policy, because it’s not right when there’s plenty of inventory for sale (and AA is likely selling it out from under elites in...

    I Have noticed a significant change in the upgrade window the past few months as an EXP. Even when there’s 9+ seats left for sale at the 100 hour mark, AA is holding back the CPU inventory until 48-12 hours prior to the flight. THAT is where I take issue with is policy, because it’s not right when there’s plenty of inventory for sale (and AA is likely selling it out from under elites in the app). If it truly becomes a battlefield upgrade with 1 or 2 seats left 24 hours out, fine.

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      AA holding back inventory is not because of the pilots but because they are trying to upsell paid upgrades.
      With multiple moving parts, it looks like the two are related but they are not.

    2. thomas Parks Guest

      And as an EXP, I am done using my AA credit card and will go back to my Amex Platinum. As they are aggressively trying to sell upgrade seats ( to me too ) it is now more difficult to get complimentary upgrades. And using the loyalty points are getting more costly in amounts for business class international with AA too. At least with my Amex, I have a choice of airlines that I can...

      And as an EXP, I am done using my AA credit card and will go back to my Amex Platinum. As they are aggressively trying to sell upgrade seats ( to me too ) it is now more difficult to get complimentary upgrades. And using the loyalty points are getting more costly in amounts for business class international with AA too. At least with my Amex, I have a choice of airlines that I can transfer miles into and have recently done it with Air France for a free( plus fees ) ticket.

  23. Jc Guest

    Even United has negotiated similar terms with the pilots.

  24. yoloswag420 Guest

    The truth is, the numbers don't matter as much as the customer perception. Even if it wasn't occuring en masse like people think it is, if the narrative is that employees are taking away paying customer seats, then customers are going to be very upset. It could happen once or thousands of times.

    In general, if AA must bump customers, then they should have a robust compensation structure for customers. Extra miles, loyalty points, cash...

    The truth is, the numbers don't matter as much as the customer perception. Even if it wasn't occuring en masse like people think it is, if the narrative is that employees are taking away paying customer seats, then customers are going to be very upset. It could happen once or thousands of times.

    In general, if AA must bump customers, then they should have a robust compensation structure for customers. Extra miles, loyalty points, cash compensation, future upgrades, etc.

    1. Luis' GF Guest

      Nobody is being bumped. Everyone is still flying.

  25. Flyer Guest

    This is also in Delta and United’s pilots contracts.

  26. Ben Guest

    They need to PAY for FC or sit in steerage like the rest of us. It just is bad optics when you haVE status, didn’t get the upgrade, and the pilot is upfront.. I don’t like it.

    1. Steven L. Gold

      What people fail to understand is that they DID pay. This change in upgrade priority is in lieu of higher wages. In compensation negotiations, everything has a value, and AA management decided it was more important to pay out less cash than to give top-tier status customers more opportunities to upgrade.

      Let's look at this in a different way. Pretend that instead of the automatic increased upgrade priority, pilots had to pay to upgrade to...

      What people fail to understand is that they DID pay. This change in upgrade priority is in lieu of higher wages. In compensation negotiations, everything has a value, and AA management decided it was more important to pay out less cash than to give top-tier status customers more opportunities to upgrade.

      Let's look at this in a different way. Pretend that instead of the automatic increased upgrade priority, pilots had to pay to upgrade to first class at the same price as anyone else flying coach AND at the same time their wages were increased to the point that they could afford to pay for the upgrade for each deadhead flight. What would be the difference? Presumably for shorter flights they'd keep the cash, so some CK gets an extra shot at first class between SFO and LAX, but what about cross-country flights, where upgrades matter far more? I suspect they'd pay for the upgrade, meaning there's no real difference between them paying for the upgrade in this hypothetical scenario and the contract rules. But hey, they paid for it, so you're cool with it, right!

    2. jedipenguin Guest

      Last row of seats should be for employees only.

    3. Bill Guest

      Or, you sit in the seat you paid for and don't worry about anybody else.

  27. Tim Dunn Diamond

    I'm not going to weigh into the pros and cons of the argument other than to say that it is very much an issue w/ paid customers and not just media hype.
    Regardless of the impact, it always looks bad for a company to be giving away its product in plain view of its customers, esp. if it denies its customers of something.
    It's one thing for a McDonald's employee to be eating...

    I'm not going to weigh into the pros and cons of the argument other than to say that it is very much an issue w/ paid customers and not just media hype.
    Regardless of the impact, it always looks bad for a company to be giving away its product in plain view of its customers, esp. if it denies its customers of something.
    It's one thing for a McDonald's employee to be eating their free lunch at a table and not impacting anyone but it is not affecting paying customers.

    Second, this is very much in AA's control - they negotiated it with their pilot union and could have drawn the line and said "NO"

    And, finally, DL and UA have negotiated similar policies with their pilot and sometimes FA groups so it isn't just AA. UA pilots have had these types of benefits for some time. DL pilots accuse the company of playing games to prevent upgrades from clearing whether that is true or not.
    And the easiest way to eliminate customer displeasure is to require that crew members that sit in premium cabins on a deadhead remove their uniform coat or wear a sweater or non-uniform jacket that covers their uniform shirt and ID.
    International crew members that are deadheading are in a position to wear civilian clothes and nobody knows they are deadheading.
    Of course, it would take time for deadheading crew members to put their civilian clothes back on but the big 3 have to decide if it is worth customer backlash.
    Given that all 3 are doing the same thing to a certain extent, I'm not sure there is much that can be done or will be done.

  28. DesertGhost Guest

    Is this a real controversy - or one that's been manufactured by the various media?

    1. Chad Jones Guest

      If you're the kind of person that constantly flies many tens of thousands to a hundred thousand plus miles on a particular carrier because of elite benefits, whether or not you get upgraded is pretty material.

      F/J cabins are pretty small as it is and only so many seats are available as an upgrade, so plus one or two pilots deadheading could easily make you not getting upgraded on many flights.

    2. Bill Guest

      Is you company paying for your tickets, and therefore your upgrades. Is that different than American giving their pilots upgrades. The company is taking care of their employees.

  29. Tony Guest

    If you can’t get upgraded because pilots are being given the priority over you, the fix is simple, fly another airline.

    1. Mitchell Guest

      It's not that simple.. if you're a business traveler you value convenience. Switching carriers typically means adding connections, which adds hours to your travel day.

      If you travel 30+ times a year that's hours of wasted time, and extremely inefficient.

      Are you a business traveler? If you are, you'd know that multiple carriers having the same extensive network out of the same hub is rare.

  30. Jason Guest

    I’m getting seriously annoyed with this new policy. American doesn’t clear upgrades at the 100 hour mark and then I’m pushed to 2-3 on the list. This is a huge devaluation of elite status.

  31. Joe Guest

    I think the real message here is that coach class is so dismal that even pilots don't want to be in it.

    1. UncleRonnie Guest

      Sux to be cabin crew who have to reposition, stuck in the cheap seats.

    2. Steven L. Gold

      So you're saying back in the so-called good old days you would decline an upgrade to first class because you *loved* coach so much, right?

  32. Robert Fahr Guest

    Show of hands of EPs and CKs who feel good about seeing deadheading pilots cleared for F before them? Yea, none

  33. Min Guest

    Perhaps AA should have the pilot generate revenue as well, on top of greedy contract and Upgrade to First or Business class with UPG0 priority code

    1. Bdawg Guest

      Perhaps you should recognize the contribution pilots have to your safety and well-being. Your entitled attitude is toxic.

    2. STL Guest

      This is their job. Their ONE job. Get the plane from point A to point B safely. In essence it’s the same job as a greyhound bus driver or train conductor. And they are very well compensated for their one job. What pilots often forget is that they serve us- the customer. Just like the Flight attendants or ramp agents, your business is built by and for the customer. American employees have long forgotten this...

      This is their job. Their ONE job. Get the plane from point A to point B safely. In essence it’s the same job as a greyhound bus driver or train conductor. And they are very well compensated for their one job. What pilots often forget is that they serve us- the customer. Just like the Flight attendants or ramp agents, your business is built by and for the customer. American employees have long forgotten this fact and their financials are reflecting the consequences. We’ll see how their upgrades clear during their next bAAnkruptcy.

    3. Min Guest

      The fact is the fact
      No elite guests, no revenue generated, no AA
      Go eat your greedy contract

    4. Steven L. Gold

      No pilots, no revenue generated, no AA.

      The funny thing is, folks like you would just be as upset if AA did a better job of monetizing first class, as Delta has. "Want to sit in first class, buy first class" cuts both ways.

    5. Min Guest

      It is simply called loyalty program
      Deliver it

    6. Min Guest

      Dear Bdwag
      Perhaps my entitlement is toxic, hence I bring in revenue to AA, when NO elite guest like me, NO AA then go eat your bloody greedy contract
      That’s all

    7. Gregg Guest

      Give me a break. Autopilot does everything nowadays

    8. Gregg Guest

      Oh please. Just turn on the autopilot.

  34. Grey Diamond

    “If you want first class, but first class,”

    I think you meant 'buy'.

    Are there any stats on the statement that they make more money from the loyalty programme? Is it close to even but just 51-49 or is it quite substantial?

    1. A_Japanese Gold

      AA published full-year financial result for 2023 and other revenue, including AAdvantage affinity card programs, was 3.5B$. Passenger revenue was 48.5B$ so much larger but this includes the income through the redemption of AA miles and no detailed breakdown is available on their website.

      https://news.aa.com/news/news-details/2024/American-Airlines-reports-fourth-quarter-and-full-year-2023-financial-results-CORP-FI-01/default.aspx

    2. A_Japanese Gold

      Delta releases much more detailed financial results and while sales of tickets generated 48.9B$ (including 3.4B$ from redemption of miles for the tickets), loyalty program generated 3B$. Profitability is hard to guess, though.
      It is interesting that premium class tickets sales generated 20B$ while Main Cabin tickets sales generated 24B$ - Delta is pretty good at monetize premium class seats.

      https://s2.q4cdn.com/181345880/files/doc_earnings/2023/q4/earnings-result/Delta-Air-Lines-Announces-January-Quarter-2024.pdf

      Delta releases much more detailed financial results and while sales of tickets generated 48.9B$ (including 3.4B$ from redemption of miles for the tickets), loyalty program generated 3B$. Profitability is hard to guess, though.
      It is interesting that premium class tickets sales generated 20B$ while Main Cabin tickets sales generated 24B$ - Delta is pretty good at monetize premium class seats.

      https://s2.q4cdn.com/181345880/files/doc_earnings/2023/q4/earnings-result/Delta-Air-Lines-Announces-January-Quarter-2024.pdf

  35. LL Guest

    I, too, am surprised this is controversial. Let the pilot get some rest and be comfortable before working a flight.

    1. Gregg Guest

      Let them rest at home like everyone else.

  36. Max Guest

    Maybe if coach was not so aweful this would not be an issue.

  37. John Guest

    It’s an interesting business question. As an EP I fly American and spend on AA branded credit cards because, as an example:

    1. Two round trip tickets to Asia in business for 240k points.
    2. 4 SWU cleared months in advance of an upcoming vacation to Europe.
    3. Get upgraded probably 70% of the time.

    If any of that changes then my CC spend would make more sense on my Hyatt card and...

    It’s an interesting business question. As an EP I fly American and spend on AA branded credit cards because, as an example:

    1. Two round trip tickets to Asia in business for 240k points.
    2. 4 SWU cleared months in advance of an upcoming vacation to Europe.
    3. Get upgraded probably 70% of the time.

    If any of that changes then my CC spend would make more sense on my Hyatt card and I’ll take whatever flight offers the least stops and the best timing.

    The problem for American executives is that, for example, they can see the revenue coming for selling upgrades and they can see the costs of award tickets. But it’s much harder to see how much air travel and CC spend is being driven by awards and upgrade availability. But the bottom line impact is still very real.

  38. Duck Ling Guest

    As someone that works for a european airline I am shocked that this is even deemed controversial.

    At my airline this system has been in place forever, even if it means downgrading confirmed revenue pax. My previous airline was Qantas and it was also the same there. Friends at other euopean airlines say it is the same.

    It seems that outside the US it is industry standard for deadheading pilots to be guaranteed business class.

  39. Robert Guest

    Yesterday, as a CK, I was number 4 on the upgrade list for a TPA to DFW flight. The really sweet agent in the AC told me that 3 pilots were ahead of me. It was the first time in years I had either not cleared before flight date or been #1 on list.

  40. This EP is going 1k Guest

    This is absolutely in Americans control. They continue to give away the farm while making the perks for the customers who fly them less and less. Open the availability window for EP and CK. Allow confirmed upgrades on seat availability and not inventory. They control this and for the writer to say they don’t is absolutely ridiculous. Come on guys!

    1. Tony Simpson Guest

      For everyone complaining think about this.

      Generally speaking, individuals who are compensated more while working for a Company get things like nicer, bigger offices, company provided cars, a certain class of seat while flying. Why are airline employees different?

      Some of you are upset because someone in "uniform" may occupy a certain seat. MANY, MANY non pilot airline employees are given first class seats and "paying passengers" don't know the difference because these employees are...

      For everyone complaining think about this.

      Generally speaking, individuals who are compensated more while working for a Company get things like nicer, bigger offices, company provided cars, a certain class of seat while flying. Why are airline employees different?

      Some of you are upset because someone in "uniform" may occupy a certain seat. MANY, MANY non pilot airline employees are given first class seats and "paying passengers" don't know the difference because these employees are dressed like everyone else. If pilots are working, they probably should have a nicer class of seat.

      I'd be careful to judge because they are in uniform. I don't see people treating pilots with the same disdain when they need them to get an aircraft on time safely.

  41. Dn10 Guest

    Would make sense if they’re below C Key or Exec Plat IMO in the priority list.

    1. D3kingg Guest

      Why is that ? And I wouldn’t like a CKs chances of being renewed another year if they aren’t purchasing F tickets already.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Bob Guest

THis is only controversial because Ben, Leff and a few other bloggers / credit card salespeople have decided it is so that they can drive clicks. - Signed, an AA EXP

2
Steven L. Gold

What people fail to understand is that they DID pay. This change in upgrade priority is in lieu of higher wages. In compensation negotiations, everything has a value, and AA management decided it was more important to pay out less cash than to give top-tier status customers more opportunities to upgrade. Let's look at this in a different way. Pretend that instead of the automatic increased upgrade priority, pilots had to pay to upgrade to first class at the same price as anyone else flying coach AND at the same time their wages were increased to the point that they could afford to pay for the upgrade for each deadhead flight. What would be the difference? Presumably for shorter flights they'd keep the cash, so some CK gets an extra shot at first class between SFO and LAX, but what about cross-country flights, where upgrades matter far more? I suspect they'd pay for the upgrade, meaning there's no real difference between them paying for the upgrade in this hypothetical scenario and the contract rules. But hey, they paid for it, so you're cool with it, right!

2
DesertGhost Guest

Is this a real controversy - or one that's been manufactured by the various media?

2
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