United Pilots: Fallout from the Past

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Last week in PBB we noted that openers had been exchanged between the unions representing pilots at both American Airlines and Southwest and their respective companies.

Meanwhile, while there are no contract negotiations in progress at United Airlines, an email we received this morning reminded us that the different factions of that pilot group seem to be even more entrenched. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The pilots at United Airlines were handed a horrifically expensive contract in the summer of 2000. I say “handed” because that was exactly what happened. Management agreed to a contract the airline was incapable of even paying at the time. Why? Because that pesky detail would go away once the airline merged with US Airways. United management was willing to do whatever it took to make the merger come together.


Is it any wonder that we awarded our coveted “PlaneBusiness Ron Allen Airline Management Award” to then-United CEO Jim Goodwin the next year?

Now, after we’ve seen that expensive contract deconstructed — the United pilot group appears to be one fractured mess.

A PBB subscriber, who is a retired United pilot, sent us the latest missive to hit his email box today.

“For the past several months, through many email contacts with both active and retiree union and nonunion employees at United Airlines, we have been able to discern with crystal clarity one glaring observation…the employee anger, despair, hatred, disharmony, and disunity currently is running rampant in all sectors of employee and retiree ranks. With pilot apathy and poor morale at an all-time high, it is absolutely amazing that the airline has not yet experienced a non-terrorist related hull loss (Thank God for that!).

Several months ago, a number of other active and retired United pilots attempted to reunify all the pilot ranks at the airline to no avail. The active junior pilots hate ALPA and the “unfair disbursement of the $550-million note (which should have never manifested in the first place). Many senior active pilots are disgusted with the lack of direction ALPA leadership has provided and many are ashamed of distress-termination of the defined-benefit pension plan that screwed their former fellow aircrew members…as well they should be.”

The note also discusses the fact that a splinter group of United pilots calling themselves the Pearl Group is now attempting to form a new union at United, the United Pilots Association.

Essentially what you have with the United pilot group is the junior pilots scorning the older pilots, and the older pilots spewing disgust at ALPA. Meanwhile the retired pilots hate all of them.

To be fair, it’s not just the pilot group that seems to be fractured at United these days.

On the management level it does appear that it’s now pretty much come down to this. Either you are aligned politically with the Glenn Tilton/Jake Brace management duo theory of airline management — or you are now considered to be in the “other” group.

Needless to say, a lot of those in that “other” group have either left the airline, or are currently looking to leave the airline.