American Airlines pilots are upgraded above elite customers who may otherwise qualify for an upgraded seat. But this puts staff at odds with its best customers.
American Airlines Pilot Upgrade Change
Labor unions from all major airlines have renegotiated deals with highly coveted pilots. The deals were richer than rich with each airline creating a better deal than the last. First Delta, then American, then United, then American again to match the United deal though prior to that point, the American deal was touted as “historic” by union bosses just weeks before.
Aside from pay increases, American Airlines pilots earned the privilege of securing upgrades ahead of elite passengers. This has taken a little while to come into play as the effect of the deal was not immediate, and customers began to notice more of what was taking place. Now we are starting to see how employee pilots and elite customers are responding to the current arrangement.
Airline Employees Are Loving It
Pilots, and possibly other labor groups are loving the fact that elite customers are not granted that bigger seat and the occasionally warm nuts from the front of the plane while pilots are. Here’s a post from a cabin crew forum on Facebook:
I think both sides are a little dramatic on this point. The passenger that boards and isn’t happy about missing an upgrade when they super-duper-triple-qualified for the upgrade (one stated they had already qualified for Executive Platinum status for 2025 just 40 days into the new year.) Then, of course, from the crew side, the only other option for the pilot was to fly fatigued as though they haven’t been flying in the back for the last 100 years of commercial aviation.
Matthew commented earlier this week that the upgrades weren’t “stolen” from passengers, though we differ on some of our perspective on the matter.
Is This The Right Move Long Term?
I’ve stated for some time that while the position is very important, skilled, and leads to a difficult life for employees – pilots in some of the latest round of contracts are overpaid at the very top of the earnings structure. I remarked that I don’t believe a contract structured based on peak travel is going to be sustainable over the long term and already United and American are posting losses despite full planes and high airfare.
We also saw a very sharp response from the traveling public and from elite flyers at Delta following the announced demolition of any remaining value in its SkyMiles program. And even after the top airline in the US rescinded some of those plans, the damage had already been done. Many members of the program bolted as confirmed by Delta’s aggressive status match offer valid for two years if elites would only come back.
Should airline pilots – even when not flying on official duties – really be upgraded over paying customers? The reality is that these two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. On long haul flights, passengers accept that alternate pilots need to rest and these seats are lie flat, close to the cockpit and receive separate attention from the rest of the cabin. We ALL want rested pilots.
However, on a two-hour flight from Philadelphia to Orlando, I’m not sure that the pilot is more rested in 1A than in 8C. It seems like less of a safety concern and more like a perk. And there are tons of perks that offset the difficult, expensive, and arduous task of safely transporting thousands of people everyday at hundreds of miles per hour miles in the sky.
A restaurant manager should be able to eat whatever they want off the menu. They’ve earned it. However, what message does it send when the manager (presumably in identifiable clothing with his name badge on) sits down at a table when others are waiting to get in and comfortably enjoys his meal while paying customers wait. Still worse, if those paying customers waiting are instead the most valuable and loyal customers the restaurant has.
The pitch to frequent flyers is, “spend an ungodly amount of money and we will give you priority access, upgrades, and more” except that’s not what happens. The same flyers that are actually moving the needle for the airline despite elite requirements that have grown from just flying to spending $10,000/year on airfare to more than $20,000/year now have even fewer perks. It’s disingenuous to ultra frequent flyers in the least.
Pilots should be rested and comfortable, but I’m not sure that goes ahead of paying clients. I’m not convinced that a pilot on a short flight should sit in first class, while the road warrior elite is in the back of the bus. The right solution to this problem would likely involve important details and nuance, like a pilot coming off a long line or ahead of a significant long haul flight. However, anyone inside the travel industry will attest that even in this modern era the technological challenges to place conditions for which an elite is upgraded over a pilot would require an act of God. I stand by my prior assertion that the pilots have an unsustainable deal that will not last and at least in some cases it penalizes the airline’s best customers to achieve it.
What do you think?