JetBlue crewmembers walk out for an early morning departure from Bridgetown, Barbados, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Over the past year, JetBlue pilots have successfully navigated the turbulence brought on by the industry-changing event that no one saw coming—the COVID-19 pandemic that left aircraft empty and pilots worried about their future. As light at the end of the tunnel seems to glimmer, with vaccines and studies showing the safety of air travel, JetBlue and its pilots look forward to an economic recovery.
“None of us thought at the beginning of 2020, when industry growth seemed an unstoppable and limitless force, that holding the status quo would be the hallmark of the strength of our union,” said Capt. Chris Kenney, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “However, we’re extremely proud that we were not only able to protect pilot jobs, but also ensure their safety, currency, and health throughout these challenging days.”
The pilots, as part of a letter of an agreement (LOA) signed in July 2020, are protected from involuntary furloughs through April 2021. This LOA gave temporary relief to the company in certain contractual provisions and also allowed it to enter into a code-share agreement with American Airlines—giving a one-time allowance to the code-share restrictions included in the 2018 contract. This LOA came on the heels of several other memorandums of understanding and LOAs that provided COVID-19 protections, voluntary incentive leaves, and early retirements as well as a methodology for keeping pilots current and the operation safe in spite of the strain of reduced flying.
“Our mission has always been to protect the careers of JetBlue pilots. Most of the pilots have every intention of retiring from JetBlue—and we want to help them do that,” said Kenney. “By protecting our pilots from involuntary furloughs, we face this crisis together. It also puts our company in a good position with healthy, current pilots when the inevitable recovery begins.”
Along with the pandemic, the pilot group also faced a new challenge with a base closure. For more than 19 years, JetBlue was a fixture at California’s Long Beach Airport. However, the company announced in July 2020 that it would cease all operations at Long Beach, close the base, and open a new base in Los Angeles, Calif. This challenged the pilot group with the first bid in JetBlue history to include displacements, which prompted a cascade of uncertainty throughout the pilot group. As the airline entered November, flights began from the new base at the far larger Los Angeles International Airport.
While the pilot group worked to navigate the changes to the industry caused by the pandemic, JetBlue MEC leaders worked to communicate every decision through a multitude of channels. The MEC hosted an “all pilot call” in April with more than one-third of the pilot group logging in to the live broadcast of the MEC and committee chairs answering questions from the pilots. In September, the Communications Committee launched The Ride Report podcast on topics that may need more in-depth discussion—for example, open enrollment and recent agreements with the company. In addition, the group began posting The MEC Minute, a series consisting of two-minute videos on subjects such as emergency assignments and landing currency and requalification. This was in addition to the group’s other communication efforts, including weekly e-mails, alerts, texts, and social media.
“As we look past 2020 into 2021, the JetBlue pilot group is ready to face the next set of challenges,” remarked Kenney. “We’ll face them just as we’ve faced the pandemic and the resulting industry downturn—with unity and a commitment to protect our pilots, both in and out of the cockpit.”