The 1 American Airlines secret that might disturb you (a lot)

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All big airlines are the same.

At least that's how it seems to a traveler.

American, Delta and United are fairly interchangeable.

The planes are the same. The colors might differ slightly, but there's a lot of off-white. Or is it gray? The comfort level features a complete lack of comfort. And the service is uniformly strained.

Unless you're in First Class, of course, where it's uniformly pleasant. Ish.

Beneath the surface of all this, however, there are differences.

One is now being aired by the pilots of American Airlines. Though their voices of reassurance from the cockpit sound identical to those of the pilots of Delta and United, they harbor resentment.

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It seems that American pilots are paid far less than their big-airline counterparts.

As the Dallas Business Journal reports, an American Airlines 737 captain will likely be paid $82,000 less than a Delta pilot in 2017. They'll be paid $49,000 less than their United brethren.

They'll even be paid $39,000 less than those cavalier cockpitters at Southwest.

That does sound like quite a bit of money. It sounds like some people's annual salaries, in fact.

The reason for this disparity, it seems, is a contract the American pilots signed in 2015.

American was going through a torrid time financially. It had recently emerged from bankruptcy.

"We have 15,000 pilots," Capt. Dan Carey of the Allied Pilots Association said during a briefing this week. "They were sold a bill of goods two years ago and ratified a contract."

In business, as in politics, bills of goods often harbor nothing but bads for one party.

But can it matter to a passenger that their pilot believes he or she is underpaid? Might the American pilot feel less motivated in their job, less inclined to deliver a perfect service? Might they be less inclined to avoid turbulence because, oh, what the hell, why don't the passengers suffer too? (Perish the concept, surely. These people are professionals. )

Some of Carey's descriptions of the pilots' work conditions sound a touch disturbing.

"They rigged their computer systems so our pilots are out 14 hours a day for five hours and 10 minutes of pay. Instead, it should be set up so they're out 11 hours a day for six hours of pay. Then they're better rested the next day, they get more flying in less days, and again, they're back in the system to fly more and be more productive," he said.

Few would surely like the idea of being flown thousands of miles by a tired pilot. And wait, isn't this the airline that recently launched an ad campaign telling passengers to behave better on flights?

Carey even suggested that pilots are sometimes working for free.

"If you're a pilot and you're out there in the system, and the company calls you to work another two hours and you get zero money for it, why would you do it? Because you're so excited that this team took away our benefit plan and retirement, diluted our disability plan, took away our two defined benefits plans under the gun in a bankruptcy? You'd be a fool to do that," he explained.

These aren't happy people, people.

Carey's description of what would make American great again is almost Trumpian in its directness: "Our goals would always be more money and get more days off. We are Americans, and we're capitalists."

Really? There are no socialist pilots at American?

What does the airline think about all this? Spokesman Matt Miller told me: "When contracts become amendable and bargaining begins, those types of pay increases will follow. Since the close of the merger [with US Airways], our pilots have seen an average pay increase of 53 percent. A pilot at American was making, on average, $129,000 in 2013. They are now making an average of $200,000."

You must decide whether that's a little, a lot or somewhere in between.

I can only tell you what I see. Airlines seem so deeply committed to profit over all other considerations that American might be, well, delayed in bending to its pilots.

In other news, American shares recently dropped after management said its profit margins were being squeezed.

In other other news, airlines are expected to make $39.4 billion profit this year.


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