• Members of Allied Pilots Association voted between April 1 and April 30 on the strike
  • About 96% of the airline's 15,000 pilots participated in the vote
  • Pilots will require approval from federal regulators on work strike

American Airlines pilots voted overwhelmingly to allow their labor union to authorize a strike in the midst of contract talks. The strike vote has come ahead of the busy summer travel season in a bid to pressurize the Texas-based carrier for a new contract.

Members of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents pilots across America, voted between April 1 and April 30 to strike or not. According to the union, 96% of the airline's 15,000 pilots participated in the vote, with over 99% giving their mandate for a strike, USA Today reported.

"We will strike if necessary to secure the industry-leading contract that our pilots have earned and deserve – a contract that will position American Airlines for success," Captain Ed Sicher, Allied Pilots Association president, said in a statement Monday. "Our pilots' resolve is unmistakable. We will not be deterred from our goal of an industry-leading contract."

While American Airlines pilots gave their consent to a strike, it may not actually happen. A pilots' strike, which requires permission from the federal National Mediation Board, is a rare event, according to CNBC. Such authorization votes are reportedly routine procedures as part of contract negotiations at airlines.

The Railway Labor Act, which manages the provisions in the airline industry, doesn't permit pilots to walk off from their jobs without the approval of federal regulators and an impasse between both sides. Approval from the regulators could take months or years to progress.

As a result, there are no clear indications that the union or American Airlines will stop working in the near future.

An American Airlines spokeswoman Sarah Jantz said the carrier believes a deal is "within reach," with only a "handful" of issues left to be discussed.

"The finish line is in sight," the spokesperson said in a statement to Dallas Morning. "We understand that a strike authorization vote is one of the important ways pilots express their desire to get a deal done and we respect the message of voting results. Importantly, the results don't change our commitment or distract us from working expeditiously to complete a deal. We remain focused on completing the handful of matters necessary to reach an agreement our pilots deserve."

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom affirmed the airline's readiness to increase pilot's pay to match rival Delta Air Lines, which raised the pay by more than 30% earlier this year. A captain flying narrow-body American Airlines planes would make $475,000 a year, while senior captains of wide-body planes would make $590,000 as per a new contract proposal, which aims to boost overall pilot pay by $8 billion over the next four years.

However, American Airlines pilots are also pushing for the airline to change its scheduling methods and rules, bringing the need to maintain the pilots' well-being into the spotlight.

Talks on contracts have been challenging within the industry as pilots seek pay raises, quality-life improvements and more predictable schedules among other demands as the tourism sector witnesses a boom after the pandemic standstill.

Earlier this week, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association began voting on strike authorization amid contract negotiations. While the voting process for Southwest pilots will continue till May 31, officials assured it will not impact the Dallas-based airline's operations.

Adam Carlisle, Southwest's president of labor relations, said negotiations will resume this week with assistance from federal mediators to reach an agreement with pilots that "places them competitively in the industry."

American Airlines trimmed its schedule at grapples with the challenges of a sudden surge in airline travel
American Airlines trimmed its schedule at grapples with the challenges of a sudden surge in airline travel AFP / CHANDAN KHANNA