United, Pilots Reach Agreement

United Airlines and its pilots reached a tentative agreement Saturday in a contract dispute that forced the world’s largest airline to cancel or delay thousands of flights.

The two sides met around-the-clock over the past two days, guided by the National Mediation Board. The key issues remaining in the talks were security and pay.

A spokesman for the pilots, Herb Hunter, would not provide any details of the agreement, which he said is retroactive to April 12. The agreement will be presented to the pilots next month.

United’s labor problems began this spring when the contract with its 10,000 pilots came up for renewal.

Pilots began refusing to fly overtime, which they are entitled to do, and that caused chaos with United’s already-tight schedule. The pilots say the airline has long failed to hire enough pilots to carry out its packed schedule.

Officials Beam Over Settlement

In separate statements, United Chairman James Goodwin and Rick Dubinsky, who heads the union’s Master Executive Council, said they were pleased with the agreement.

“Both sides worked hard in complex negotiations to create an industry-leading contract for pilots, while providing a strong base for the company’s future growth and success,” Goodwin said.

United spokesman Joe Hopkins would not say how the tentative agreement would affect the airline’s flight schedule.

United canceled thousands of flights this summer and had an abysmal on-time record. United apologized in newspaper ads and with a television commercial in which Goodwin says the airline has failed in its commitment to customers.

“This summer, thousands of people had their travel plans disrupted while flying United Airlines. If you were one of them, I want to apologize personally on behalf of United,” Goodwin says from the cabin of a parked United jet in the commercial.

On Friday, United imposed a “critical coverage” plan, requiring almost all of its 22,000 North American flight attendants to be on standby for two hours every day for assignments to fly the next day. The overtime plan, in effect the last week of August, is similar to one issued in May, Hopkins said.

Other Woes

Hopkins said the dispute with pilots was not a factor in the overtime order. Instead, he said, the attendants’ shortage resulted from weather and air traffic control problems.

“We’re a little shorter at the end of the month than we were at the beginning of the month,” he said.

Phone messages left with the Association of Flight Attendants union Saturday were not immediately returned.

The order for flight attendants came on the heels of the airline’s attempt to order mandatory overtime at some airports for its 15,000 mechanics, who also are negotiating for a new contract.

However, the mechanics’ union threatened to stop contract negotiations if the airline didn’t back down.

Hopkins said Saturday that mandatory overtime for mechanics would be used only if absolutely necessary. He said no mechanics were forced to work overtime Thursday or Friday.