Last updated: 09:19 AM ET, Wed March 09 2016

Why American Airlines Pilots Aren't Happy

Airlines & Airports | American Airlines | Josh Lew | March 09, 2016

Why American Airlines Pilots Aren't Happy

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

The Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents American Airlines pilots, has let it be known that they are not happy with the way that the airline has handled the merger with U.S. Airways and the way it has not yet come through on promises to change the culture of the airline.

In a recent letter to American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, the APA’s Board of Directors laid the blame for their discontent on middle management. They made their point by using quotes from a recent speech that Parker himself gave at the commencement ceremony at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management.

Pilots make a point using the CEO's own words

During his address, Parker said that “Relationships Matter. Capital R, capital M. It’s not a sentence; it’s a title. Personal, human relationships are really important in the business world.”

The APA’s letter contends that Parker’s management team is not following this tenet. They wrote that the airline’s management is “taking actions that directly conflict with that philosophy.”

The letter also points out that both Delta and United were able to successfully negotiate new contracts with their pilots, and both have taken actions that seem to back up their spoken commitment to create a better work environment and better employee relations. 

READ MORE: American Airlines Pilots Approve New Contract

Tired of apologizing for a poor product

The other complaint is that the merger with U.S. Airways has led to a subpar product. The letter pointed out this flaw in no uncertain terms: “[The] new American Airlines product is outright embarrassing and we’re tired of apologizing to our passengers.”

The letter ends by asking Parker to take action to fix the issues and to create “lasting and durable cultural change.”

A strike is a real possibility

According to the APA, this letter was meant to put in motion a strategic plan that has several different options ranging from negotiating with Parker and AA management to launching a full scale strike. This means that, for all intents and purposes, the ball is now in Parker’s court. Given the rhetoric in the APA’s letter, it looks like he will have his work cut out for him if he wants to avoid any sort of work stoppage.

READ MORE: American Airlines Posts Impressive Profits for 2015

Outsiders probably won’t be able to tell what is going on behind the scenes as far as employee relations, but it certainly seems like the APA’s complaints about the overall product that AA presents are valid. American has lagged behind its counterparts in several recent customer satisfaction surveys, including the 2015 JD Power North American Airlines Customer Satisfaction Survey and Brand Keys recent customer loyalty survey.

Could this actually bring change to the airline?

Could American’s pilots really have enough clout to change their airline’s overall product? A better work environment is the obvious first step towards appeasing the APA’s members, but if he really wants to make the pilots happy, perhaps Parker and his closest executives will be willing to listen and willing to make drastic changes to put American back on par with its peers in terms of the quality of the flier experience that they provide.

The full letter from the APA to Parker is published here

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