Editorial: Remembering Airline Strikes
Much has changed in air travel over the past few decades, and many bemoan the loss of both civility and amenities aloft, but there is one factor that was far more common in air travel a few decades ago: strikes at major airlines. Indeed, there has not been a major airline strike either by or observed by flight attendants and pilots in the United States in 15 years.
The last major airline strike was at Northwest Airlines (now part of Delta Air Lines). Pilots walked off the job in August 1998. The strike lasted 15 days. During the strike, the airline lost an estimated $15 million per day.
In November, 1993, flight attendants at American Airlines went on strike just before the Thanksgiving holiday and American Airlines’ operations ground to a halt. It wasn’t until President Clinton stepped in that both sides agreed to binding arbitration, ending the strike.
Some airline strikes, however, didn’t have such pleasant outcomes. The 1989 strike by the Eastern Airlines machinists union, for example, forced the airline into bankruptcy and hastened its demise in the newly-deregulated environment.
Similarly, TWA never recovered after a crippling strike in 1986 by its flight attendants and was eventually forced into bankruptcy. Its assets were acquired by American Airlines in 2001.
A 2005 strike by Northwest mechanics was not recognized by the airline’s pilots or flight attendants. At the time, Northwest’s pilots union, in a statement posted on its Web site, said a sympathy strike would not be in pilots’ best interest.
In recent years, airline employees have employed other methods in their negotiations. Most recently, and in advance of the merger with American Airlines, several unions representing American Airlines employees negotiated a deal with US Airways management that the unions termed “favorable”. Because US Airways CEO Doug Parker has been named to the position of CEO at the combined airline, which will continue to be called American Airlines, it is expected that the negotiated deal will be honored.
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