Pilots are suing Tempebased US Airways for merging reservation systems before integrating the work force.
US Airways and America West units of the Air Line Pilots Association filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Philadelphia, demanding that the company halt plans to “merge the airlines” until a single contract is reached integrating the two pilot groups.
America West Airlines bought then-bankrupt US Airways in September 2005, keeping the America West headquarters and management team but adopting the East Coast airline’s name.
The pilots and other labor groups have been negotiating with the airline for more than a year to forge joint contracts but have been making little progress, according to all sides.
The pilots have been covered by a transition agreement until the new contract is finalized.
Nonlabor integration has been more successful.
The combined carrier has been merging operations and systems from airport counters to frequent flyer programs to Web sites, even giving the America West planes US Airways paint jobs.
The reservation systems are slated to be combined Sunday, eliminating the “HP” that signifies America West flights.
That, said pilots’ spokeswoman Tania Bziukiewicz, is illegal.
“We think the elimination of the ‘HP’ is a violation of the US Airways pilots’ agreement, the America West agreement and the transition agreement,” Bziukiewicz said.
US Airways disagrees.
“It’s a misunderstanding,” said US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder. “It’s not an op- erating code, it’s a marketing designation. The transition agreement expressly provides that America West can operate under US Airways’ designator code.”
Wunder said the reservation system integration is not “merging the airlines,” since the pilots and planes will still be operated by the same — and separate — labor groups.
US Airways labor vice president E. Allen Hemenway formally replied to the union leaders on Wednesday in a letter contending that “any litigation on your part is unwarranted,” claiming the transition agreement provides a “dispute resolution procedure,” and saying “disagreements such as the one raised in your letter are minor disputes over which federal courts have no jurisdiction.”
But Bziukiewicz said the union is hopeful that the judge will rule in the pilots’ favor and stop the weekend reservation system implementation.
If US Airways does prevail this time, the airline might have a bigger fight when it attempts to move to a single operating certificate.
Both sides agree the transition agreement doesn’t allow “merging the airlines” until the labor contracts are combined.
While the court may agree that merging the reservation systems does not constitute merging the airlines, having the two carriers on a single operating certificate may be a tougher sell.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker has said in the past he hopes to get the labor contracts settled before moving to a single certificate, but that it is not a make-or-break condition. He also said US Airways plans to be on a single operating certificate before year end.
That is still the plan, Wunder said Wednesday.