State of the Airlines

Thursday, September 21, 2006

American and Southwest Fly Into Union Airspace

Just a quick note to point out that both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are headed into negotiations with their individual pilots unions. With all the attention being given to the flight attendant situation at Northwest its easy to miss quiet, civil negotiations. American and Southwest enter into these negotiations from different directions.

American Airlines comes at it as an airline struggling to see a profit again and still looking for every way possible to save money. American has already extracted pay cuts from their unions. Look for them to negotiate heavily for more flexible work rules to help them use crews more efficiently. Look for the pilots to shore up benefits and pensions. American and their unions have tended to butt heads in the past but the recent trend has been one of cooperation. That needs to continue.

Southwest approaches these negotiations having weathered a very long storm while continuing to grow and while posting profits. Southwest pilots are going to need to show some restraint here. It has been widely reported that the Southwest's profits have been possible only because of some brilliant fuel hedging decisions. This kept them in the black as fuel prices soared. As time has passed the strength of these fuels hedges have weakened. Fuel costs have retreated but no one expects them to stay there. Asking for large pay increases might not be the best thing for the long term good of their jobs. Southwest pilots, to their credit, have already granted the airline some of the most flexible work rules in the industry. I see this negotiation as tricky, you step back and wonder what more can be done? Both sides needed to keep the frugal Southwest spirit at the forefront.

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