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Are American Pilots Taking Priority on Domestic Upgrades?

Under the newly approved American Airlines’ pilots union contract, pilots flying “deadhead” to their next destination may get upgraded before AAdvantage elite members.
With the approval of the new contract between the Allied Pilots Association (APA) and American Airlines, a nationwide strike has been adverted. But could it come at a cost for flyers?


FlyerTalkers have been buzzing on multiple reports that the new contract would prioritize domestic first class upgrades for pilots flying “deadhead” to get to their next station.


Upgrade Priority Could be Part of “Quality-of-Life Improvements”

The original rumors were posted on the FlyerTalk forums by FlyerTalker lcb2013, after talking to a friend working for the Fort Worth-based carrier.


“He mentioned how deadheading pilots will now take top priority for business (domestic first) class or higher on the upgrade list, above any passenger holding elite status,” lcb2013 writes. “Only deadheading pilots will jump the upgrade list, not other flight crew. It applies to only domestic flights too.”


Shortly after the thread gained steam on the FlyerTalk forums, three blogs reported on the development. In a press release, the APA noted the new contract would include “substantial monetary gains and quality-of-life improvements,” but only went into monetary terms. In cash, the four-year contract offers $1.1 billion in one-time payment and ratification bonuses, and pay raises which could increase to over 21%.


FlyerTalk has reached out to the APA to get clarification on the new policy but has not received a response as of press time.


As it stands today, upgrades are determined by three different factors:

  • AAdvantage loyalty Tier, with ConciergeKey flyers holding top priority
  • Upgrade type: Complimentary upgrades are prioritized behind systemwide and milage upgrades
  • The rolling 12-month loyalty points balance


If all things are equal, then the upgrades will be offered by the booking codes and when the upgrade was requested.


FlyerTalkers are considerably interested in how it will affect them in practicality. While the consensus is that this is a good thing for both passengers and operations, everyone is curious how it will affect those either paying to be in the top class, or how downgrades will be compensated by the airline.


“I don’t see a problem with this in terms of upgrades, but I believe [United’s] policy also prioritizes deadheading pilots over paid [first class] customers,” writes ORDflyer92. “I’ve seen cases on their forum where a paid pax was downgraded in a sold out cabin to make room for deadheading crew. If this is now the case, [American] needs more fair compensation for downgrades than fare difference for a same-day [full-fare ticket] purchase.”


“I’m okay with this as long as passengers who paid for first class aren’t bumped,” writes CLTRob. “Also, crew member who choose to live outside of base should not be allowed to take priority over anyone.”


Analysts Suggest American Could Push Contract Costs to Flyers

In addition to costing travelers in upgrades, other analysts warn that the costs of the $9.6 billion contract could trickle down to passengers. Writing for TheStreet.com, editor Todd Campbell warns that the increased contracts could not only cut into airline earnings, but also increase the cost of future airfare.


What are your thoughts about the potential new policy? Share your ideas on the FlyerTalk Forums.


This story will be updated when we receive a response from the APA.