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American Airlines Announces Deal With the Pilots' Union on a New Contract

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed

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American Airlines has reached a tentative labor agreement with pilots, who recently raised the possibility of a strike against the nation’s biggest airline if they were unable to get a new contract with higher pay.

The news broke Friday morning in a note sent out by the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American's more than 15,000 pilots.

American said Friday that the four-year deal would give them pay and profit-sharing “that match the top of the industry.”

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The Allied Pilots Association said the agreement will be presented to the union's board — which shot down a company offer in November — before any ratification vote by rank-and-file pilots.

"They'll review contract language in the weeks ahead and then if they deem that all is well, it'll become a tentative agreement and that means our pilots will be able to vote on it, which is the final decider in this," said Captain Dennis Tajer, who has spent most of his 36 year career as a pilot with American Airlines. "There's no celebration yet. We've got to get this deal approved by the folks who really control this and that's our pilots. And I'm one of them."

Earlier this year, Delta Air Lines pilots ratified a contract that will boost their pay 34% over four years, but American pilots said they needed more to catch up with Delta, which has a richer profit-sharing program.

American CEO Robert Isom said in March that the airline was ready to give pilots 40% more in pay, quality of life improvements and retirement contributions. Isom said that would boost top pay and benefits for a captain of single-aisle planes like the Boeing 737 to $475,000 a year in salary and retirement benefits, and $590,000 for pilots of bigger planes such as Boeing 777s and 787s.

"Our pilots have said it's not just the money, it's, I've got to have a life and be able to work at American Airlines," Tajer told NBC 5.

Tajer added while this agreement is not concrete, this new development will at least affect pilot morale immediately.

"There's a big difference when you feel like your employer hasn't heard you, doesn't value you and then you're sent off to work," he said. "When you have a deal on your kitchen table to study becomes a cerebral event, and it can change the way you go to work and how you feel about it."

Travel experts say despite the action playing out within these major carriers, the average flier shouldn't worry about their summer travel plans.

Due to the Railway Labor Act, there are layers of regulations in place to prevent any major travel disruptions.

"You know, if you hear a strike don't automatically assume that it's going to happen imminently. It's more likely it's going to take a long, long time before that ever actually comes into play if ever," said Katy Nastro, a travel expert with Going.com.

Travelers should instead focus on preparing for a busy travel season. TSA numbers in the first four months of 2023 are showing more people flying now than the same time period in 2019, pre-pandemic.

"And if those numbers are already higher, we can definitely expect to see maybe record breaking numbers this summer," said Nastro.

United and Southwest are also in negotiations with their pilots, who are seeking to match or improve on the Delta deal.

The industry continues to struggle with a pilot shortage. Any chance for pay negotiations and improvements in scheduling was halted when the pandemic paused new pilot contracts for several airlines, including Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. Their pilots union also recently voted to authorize a strike.

At American, the pilots' union board rejected a company offer in November that would have raised pay 19% over two years. This month, pilots voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, although federal law makes it difficult for airline workers to strike.

American spokeswoman Sarah Jantz said Friday that the airline was pleased to reach an “agreement in principle” with better pay, profit-sharing and improved quality-of-life provisions. “They deserve to be paid well and competitively,” she said.

"This is a major step in the right direction," said Tajer. "We'll save the smiles for when the deal is done."

Meanwhile, American Airlines flight attendants are still going through their own contract talks.

"We are encouraged to hear that the Pilots have reached an Agreement in Principle," said Paul Harshorn of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents AA flight attendants. "Flight Attendants have applied for federal mediation, and mediated contract talks with a Federal Mediator assigned by National Mediation Board begin soon. We still have tough bargaining ahead of us, including economics, scheduling, and items affecting work/life balance."

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