American Airlines will start upgrading deadheading pilots ahead of revenue passengers within 24 hours of travel, a contractual policy change that will reduce battlefield upgrades for AAdvantage elites.
American Airlines Pilots Will Be Ahead Of Customers On Upgrade List When Deadheading
View From The Wing notes that deadheading pilots will now jump the upgrade queue under the terms of the new contract which pilots have just ratified after months of negotiation.
While pilots are already assigned business or first class on longer flights, including to Hawaii and Alaska, on other domestic flights and regional flights to Canada, the Caribbean, and Central America they are assigned economy class seating at the time of booking (exit row guaranteed, subject to availability).
The old contract allowed for premium cabin upgrades on these routes, but only after revenue passenger upgrades cleared. Under the new contract:
- Mainline American Airlines pilots will be at the top of the upgrade priority list at time of check-in
Practically, that means pilots will be ahead of top-tier Concierge Key and Executive Platinum members for upgrades within 24 hours of departure.
We’ve Seen This Already At United Airlines
This policy is not unique to American Airlines. We’ve already already seen it in effect for three years at United Airlines.
In fact, the American Airlines contract is not as generous as that of United Airlines, which allows deadheading pilots to book directly into first class on domestic flights and waitlist for seats when not available (which always carries a higher position on the list than even top-tier elites who are upgrading).
When flying United, it not uncommon to see uniformed pilots in first class, especially on flights to or from Denver.
This new upgrade policy also now applies at Delta Air Lines.
Good Or Bad Policy?
I have mixed feeling on the new policy, though ultimately it will not change the way I fly in an environment in which upgrades even for top-tier elites are becoming more scarce.
We do want well-rested pilots and it is not unreasonable to have premium cabin travel as benefit, just like key employees in other industries. No one can blame pilots for negotiating this fringe benefit during a pilot shortage.
On the other hand, as I’ve said before concerning United pilots, the optics are undeniably bad. Seeing employees get upgrades when top-tier elites on pricey tickets remain in economy class will breed resentment (reasonable or not). And this does further reduce the value of elite status, which has already been eroded by American’s aggressive sale of paid upgrades.
Let me also note for those AA elites who may be very worried:
- American Airlines has no incentive to deadhead pilots because they are on the clock during these flights – proper route planning should reduce the need for deadhead segments
- Elite upgrades will still theoretically clear at the window: the pilots will rise to the top of the waitlist only at check-in
As for me, my policy is very simple: if I want first class, I buy first class. Period.
When I travel for work, I am increasingly unwilling to chance it because not only are upgrades harder, but I waste a lot of time suffering from upgrade phobia.
American Airlines pilots will now rise to the top of the upgrade queue after checking in for their deadhead segment on domestic and regional flights in the Americas. This will make upgrades harder than ever before on American Airlines, but recognizes the position of strength pilots enjoy during a pilot shortage.
This is not a Jesse Helms ad: American Airlines pilots are not coming to steal “your” upgrades. The only first class seat you are entitled to is the one that you buy. I do think the optics of unformed employees in premium cabins is not ideal, but this policy changes nothing for me: if I want first class, I am going to buy it.
image: American Airlines