There’s now more turbulence between American Airlines and its pilots.
The company sent a letter to pilots Wednesday night threatening legal and disciplinary action if the flight delays and cancellations that have plagued the airline continue.
"If it doesn't stop we must seek legal action, we have no recourse," said American Airlines spokesman Bruce Hicks. "Our customers are tired of being disrupted, they're angry and they're upset and they should be."
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But after a meeting with union leaders on Thursday morning, the Allied Pilots Association says they will not return to the bargaining table following American Airlines' threatening letter.
"It essentially threw cold water on the process," said Tom Hoban, APA spokesman. "It just doesn't make any sense to hang a sword over our heads and say, 'by the way we'd like to return to the bargaining table.' That's bad faith bargaining."
Hoban says the union cannot work to reach a consenual contract with the airline with the threat of legal action looming.
"If the corporation files in federal court, that's where our focus has to be as opposed to reaching an industry standard contract," he said.
The letter from the company to the Allied Pilots Association reads in part:
"We do not want to pursue a legal remedy, but we will be left with little alternative if APA does not take action to stop those pilots who are intentionally harming the operation," the letter said. "American’s operations have continued to suffer for more than a week now, and we must take the appropriate steps to ensure our customers and our airline are protected. The recent conduct by some of our pilots is inflicting economic damage on the company, frustrating and alienating our customers, and driving unnecessary work and significant stress for other employees."
The letter comes after APA leaders agreed on Wednesday to resume contract talks with the airline. The union had planned to meet at its headquarters near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport through Friday to "prepare for the resumption of bargaining."
Now, members say they can’t help but to feel they’ve been “sucker punched” by the company, hitting them with the threat of legal action, after inviting them back to the bargaining table.
The pilots' meeting came after two weeks of delays and flight cancellations the company blames on unnecessary pilot maintenance requests.
Pilots blame the company’s older planes and insufficient staffing, and say they’re just being cautious while working without a contract.
American Airlines says it felt the union was not and would not do enough to stop the actions of pilots, which the airline views as illegal and intentional efforts to hurt the company.
"It became clear to us (Wednesday) that the APA board was unwilling to do so," said Bruce Hicks, American Airlines spokesman. "We have no choice but to move forward and the first step is to notify them formally what needs to be done."
Hicks said that the APA had not notified American of their change of plans.
"If that's true we're very disappointed that they would make a decision like that, that would preclude the ability to reach consensual agreement quickly with our pilots which remains our number one goal," Hicks said.
Hicks said American believes the two issues are separate and that negotiations can resume while efforts are made to improve the airline's operations.
"On one hand we have an operation that continues to be sabotaged through these continued actions by some pilots, not all, but some," Hicks said. "On the other hand we have the need to reach a consensual agreement for the future, those two issues are unrelated."
"The longer this sort of action goes on the more it will hurt both sides because it could result in pilot furloughs, it could result in decreased demand for American as a carrier," said bankruptcy attorney Mark Ralston.
The increase in pilot maintenance requests has come since union membership rejected the company’s last contract offer and a bankruptcy judge cancelled their old contract.
Passengers who rely on American Airlines have been caught in the middle, especially business travelers.
"They need to fix it," said American frequent flyer Alok Fil. "People need the employment. Everybody in today's economy, we all need employment right now."
Ralston believes the company has been surprised by the effect of recent events on operations and that pilots have gotten the company's attention.
"So the question is does management offer something better. And how much better. And how much better does it have to be for the pilots to accept it," Ralston said.
Other American unions have already agreed to revised contracts in the company's bankruptcy reorganization case.
The airline has said they can juggle around the numbers, but insist pilots likely won’t get a better deal than what they’ve already been offered and rejected.
NBC 5's Chris Van Horne, Kendra Lyn, Ken Kalthoff and Scott Gordon contributed to this story.