American Airlines pilots on how to avoid another man-dragged-from-plane scene

Lewis Lazare
An American Airlines plane at Miami International Airport.
Mark Elias | Bloomberg | Getty Images

On the eve of the first anniversary of United Airlines' man-dragged-from-plane incident, more than 15,500 American Airlines pilots who belong to the Allied Pilots Association (APA) said today they are on a mission to humanize air travel — one they collectively hope AA management and passengers will join them in helping achieve.

AA pilots said the man-dragged-from-plane incident and other more recent incidents such as dead-dog-on-board demonstrate how the air-travel experience has become frustrating and unpleasant for many.

But today APA released a memo outlining three core principals that AA pilots believe could make the travel experience better for airline employees and passengers alike.

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Noted AA captain and APA president Dan Carey: "As pilots, we have our passengers' backs. We strive to uphold these principles every day with every flight. By calling attention to them now, we are committing ourselves to helping reverse a troubling trend in air travel."

So what are these principles to which AA pilots are committed?

First of the three is safety, which means, of course, getting passengers to their destination safely.

But APA pilots also argue it means flight schedules should allow for well-rested pilots and a cockpit and cabin that are free of toxic fumes.

That last bit about toxic fumes, of course, is a none-too-veiled reference to the battle AA pilots and flight attendants have waged with management for nearly 20 months over Twin Hill uniforms believed to be tied to symptomatic reactions experienced by thousands of flight attendants and pilots since September of 2016. AA has named two new vendors for uniforms, but flight attendants in particular may have to wait up to two years to get their new uniforms from Lands' End.

The second principle named by APA is reliability.

APA said today that the flying public and pilots deserve flight schedule reliability, meaning passengers should have the assurance they will arrive at their destination and not be left behind because of overly aggressive booking, early jet-bridge door closings, or rushed plane departures.

Sources within the AA pilots ranks say AA management has been cracking down hard on late departures in recent months in an effort to improve the carrier's on-time performance. Preliminary data for March shows AA narrowing the on-time arrival gap with archrival United Airlines, which suggests the crackdown could be part of the reason for the improvement.

But pilots also argue some passengers are experiencing the downside of this crackdown in various ways, and pilots are arguing for more latitude if needed in deciding when the airplane door closes and plane pushback begins.

Also on the reliability front, APA pilots want to see pilot flight schedules that offer sufficient buffer against federally-mandated maximum duty times and that protect mandated rest times. Noted APA today: "A rationally-scheduled airline is a reliable airline."

Finally AA pilots say empowerment is the third principle that will help humanize air travel.

This speaks to a theme United Airlines (NYSE: UAL) CEO Oscar Munoz has been emphasizing since the man-dragged-from-plane incident aboard a United Express flight on April 9, 2017. Munoz has encouraged his employees to use common sense when difficult, unexpected events happen.

APA said today: "Pilots must be empowered to make decisions that help preserve the margin of safety and ensure their passengers' needs are met. Policies are important and should be followed, but not at the expense of common sense."

APA concluded the memo with a call for management and pilots and passengers to work together toward a common goal: "Pilots know that everyone on the aircraft wants the same thing: a safe, reliable, comfortable travel experience. Pilots and passengers are all in it together, and we are dedicated to working with passengers and American Airlines management to make sure that happens."

An AA spokeswoman had this response today to the AA pilots' memorandum: "We agree with APA that safety, reliability and exceeding our customers' expectations is American's goal on every flight. We're committed to providing that experience, and it's great to have partners in our unions that share our passion to take the best care of our customers."

More than 1,000 AA pilots are domiciled in Chicago, where AA has its third largest hub at O'Hare International Airport.