Dear American Airlines customers, your pilot today is a United Airlines trainee

A fascinating new development may raise the number of qualified pilots. It may also raise a few eyebrows.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer on

Training for United?

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When you're traveling, how often do you think about the person piloting your plane?

Do you listen to their voice and wonder whether they sound soothing? I confess I do. British, Polish and Croatian pilots have often been among my favorites for cockpit soothe.

Still, do you also wonder where your pilots spent the previous night and whether they had an excessively good time?

Do you wonder about the number of hours they've flown or, perhaps, whether they're really training for another airline?

No, I hadn't considered that one before. It does seem odd, doesn't it?

But I only ask because of a delicious announcement that was brought to my attention by Ethan Klapper of the Points Guy.

It came courtesy of the Mesa Air Group. This is an airline that flies under different logos -- United Express, DHL Express and American Eagle, for example.

It's a regional airline where many pilots begin their careers flying smaller planes before ascending to the more mainstream carriers. 

Many of Mesa's pilots participate in the United Aviate program. Given the pilot shortage, this is a vital way for United to get more pilots over its wings.

For perhaps understandable reasons, Mesa pilots who are part of United Aviate could previously only gain credit hours when flying a United Express plane.

But now, they can ferry American Airlines customers under the American Eagle banner and earn full credit toward becoming a United Airlines pilot.

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When I first learned this, I wondered whose generosity was at the heart of this move. Mesa's press release made it clear: "Mesa is pleased to communicate this opportunity to our pilots and is thankful to United for expanding the program's transition eligibility requirements."

How nice of United. And how convenient that Mesa pilots and United Airlines pilots are represented by the same union, the Air Line Pilots Association.

I wonder, though, how an American Airlines customer might feel if they knew a United Airlines trainee was flying them.

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Or, indeed, how American Airlines itself feels. With my customary naïveté, I asked the airline for its view, but haven't yet heard.

And what of the pilots at American itself? Might they see this development as another one in the eye for the airline?

American Airlines pilots' union has long been besmirching the airline's image -- and alleged reality. They claim American's management simply isn't up to the task of managing through a post-pandemic customer surge.

Oh, and they'd like higher salaries, too. Which oddly, American has just given pilots at two of its regional airlines, Piedmont and Envoy Air.

American Airlines pilots have made videos suggesting the life of an American Airlines pilot is one long-haul flight to purgatory, mired by organizational incompetence. They've even made a video that clearly intimated that Delta and United were far better airlines.

And now some junior pilots will fly American Airlines flights while getting credit hours for United? That feels like flying American and getting United frequent flyer miles.

It's not a perfect brand look, is it? 

Which may, of course, have crossed United's mind.

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