Contract negotiations are keeping thousands of commercial pilots grounded at a time when the nation will soon be entering the busy summer travel season.
The union representing pilots at American Airlines gave its members authorization to strike this week after contract talks stalled. Pilots at Southwest Airlines are also now voting on whether to walk off the job. Here’s what to know about the potential labor actions and how it could impact passengers’ summer travel plans.
Why are pilots threatening to strike?
The two main reasons are pilots’ demands for higher pay and better schedules.
American Airlines executives are under pressure to match or beat the pay terms Delta Air Lines gave its pilots earlier this year — a 34% raise over a four-year contract. AA has offered a four-year deal that includes a 21% pay bump in the first year. Including higher profit-sharing and 401(k) retirement contributions, by the end of the contract pilots who fly narrower planes would earn $475,000 a year, while senior pilots flying wide-body planes would make $590,000 a year,
American Airlines’ pilots union said it is also seeking scheduling changes that the labor group says would improve efficiency and prevent the kind of widespread delays and cancellations seen last summer.
Would a strike impact passengers’ summer travel plans?
It all depends on how quickly airlines and pilots can agree to a new contract. In statements this week, officials from American said they’re confident they can reach an agreement with their unions quickly.
“We understand that a strike-authorization vote is one of the important ways pilots express their desire to get a deal done, and we respect the message of voting results,” American Airlines spokeswoman Sarah Jantz said Monday.
Adam Carlisle, vice president for labor relations at Southwest, said in a statement that the strike won’t hurt the airline’s “ability to take care of our customers.”
“Our negotiations continue, with talks resuming this week, and we’ll keep working with the assistance of the National Mediation Board to reach an agreement that rewards our pilots and places them competitively in the industry,” he said.
But failing to reach agreements soon could leave passengers frustrated in the coming months, said Ed Sicher, the pilots’ union president at American.
“The summer travel season is almost here, and we’re all wondering whether this will be another summer of uncertainty for American Airlines,” Sicher said in a statement this week.
What’s happening in the meantime?
American Airlines pilots have organized a series of demonstrations at airports, including in Boston, Dallas, Miami and New York, hoping to put further pressure on management. Both sides will continue negotiating for now. If talks sour and pilots decide to strike, they’ll first need approval from a U.S. mediation board.
But the airlines have expressed confidence they can resolve their differences with pilots.
“We remain confident that an agreement for our pilots is within reach and can be finalized quickly,” American Airlines said in a statement Monday. “The finish line is in sight.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.