American Airlines And Pilots Reach Innovative Deal For Leave During Coronavirus Crisis
Posted On: Mar 16, 2020
With the coronavirus crisis leading to sharp reductions in flying, American Airlines and its pilots union have signed an innovative deal that seeks to protect jobs by upping the benefits associated with pilot leave.
The deal also provides that any pilot who has COVID-19 or symptoms will be pay protected. Representatives of the carrier and the Allied Pilots Association, which represents 15,000 American pilots, negotiated through the weekend and announced a deal early Monday morning.
“The idea of this is to create very unique leaves that will incent a pilot to say ‘This one works for me,’” said APA spokesman Dennis Tajer. “In the old days, the approach was, ‘If you want to take a leave, there’s a door.”
“This (letter of agreement) gives us the certainty to fight this virus,” Tajer said Monday. “We’re going to beat it. I don’t know when but we are. Our pilots now have the tools to go out and fight this and look toward the recovery of our industry and frankly our economy.
“We are making sure that, when this ends, American Airlines is in a position to take advantage of what we believe will be a resurgence in pent-up passenger demand,” he said. The agreement provides continuing pilot training to ensure currency when the crisis ends.
American spokesman Josh Freed said Monday, “We are pleased to have reached this agreement with our pilots. We expect to offer voluntary, unpaid leaves to several other workgroups very soon as we work with every union at American to take care of all of our team members.”
American said Saturday that it will reduce international capacity by 75% between March 16 and May 6. Long-haul international service will be limited to three daily flights: One daily Dallas-London Heathrow, One daily Miami-London Heathrow and three weekly Dallas-Tokyo.
The carrier said Thursday that it will ground its six remaining Boeing 767-300s in May and then will ground its remaining 34 Boeing 757s between May and post-summer 2021.
A voluntary short-term leave enables pilots to maintain seniority, benefits and 55% of normal pay.
A voluntary permanent leave provides for an early retirement and is designed to be attractive to pilots in their 60s who face mandatory retirement at age 65. It offers medical insurance up to age 65, about 60% of current pay and pay for 40% of accumulated sick time as well as continued pension benefits to age 65.
“The hope is that this inspires men and women approaching retirement to see a path that makes financial and benefit sense,” Tajer said. “It is unprecedented to have early retirement, pensionable, and with medical benefits.”
About 4,965 American pilots are expected to reach the retirement age of 65 by Dec. 31, 2025. Every one of the 355 captains on the 757 and 767, and about half of the 440 first officers, has more than 12 years of experience.
A voluntary short-term leave, for either one, three or six months, provides 55 hours of pay per month, retention of all benefits and continued seniority accrual. It requires that pilots maintain currency in simulator training, enabling a quick return to work. “Keeping currency on short-term leave – we’ve never seen anything like that before,” Tajer said.
A third category is a voluntary extended leave of absence for up to 12 months. It enables pilots to maintain their seniority and medical benefits, but does not provide pay or sick leave or vacation. It is intended to appeal, for instance, to pilots currently in the military, who may choose to extend their length of service, and to those who have other businesses but require continued medical benefits.
The letter of agreement also provides pay protection for any pilot diagnosed with COVID-19 as well as any pilot directed by a medical professional or government official to self-quarantine or self-monitor. Also, any pilot who displays symptoms of COVID-19 should call in sick; a diagnosis of the disease will result in pay protection.