In November 2021, JetBlue pilots welcomed their 20th new-hire class of the year, with another class slated for December.
As the airline industry turns the page from the pandemic and the unprecedented downturn in the industry, the JetBlue Airways pilot group is looking to bluer skies. After a year of few new-hire classes and half-full airplanes, the pilot group is growing quickly with multiple classes each month and prepared for its first-ever transatlantic destination for the airline.
In August 2021, JetBlue began scheduled flights to London, England. This wasn’t just a huge step for the airline, but also for the pilots. Planning ahead by the Master Executive Council (MEC) was critical in order to receive input from the Hotel, Aircraft-Crew Rest Oversight, and Central Air Safety Committees. Many of the details were solidified in the pilot groups’ collective bargaining agreement signed in 2018.
“The plans to go to London have been in the works for years,” commented Capt. Chris Kenney, the pilot group’s MEC chair. “Although it was just a bullet point when we were negotiating in 2018, we were able to put protections into our contract. As we neared our target start date, the Hotel Committee made site visits to ensure that our standards were met. Starting a new transatlantic is never easy—especially during a worldwide health crisis.”
The airline hired nearly 200 pilots in the last year, with even more hiring on the horizon. In May 2021, more than a year since its previous new-hire class, JetBlue welcomed its first new hires since spring 2020. Each class is met by a volunteer from the pilots’ Membership Committee and introduced to ALPA and volunteer opportunities within the Association. The classes are also welcomed in the Weekly Update and across all of the pilot group’s social media channels.
“As we near the opening of our second round of negotiations, it’s important that we bring along the entire pilot group—not just the pilots who were here during our successful campaign of 2018,” Kenney observed. “More than one-sixth of our pilot group wasn’t on the property when we signed our current contract. Some of these pilots haven’t worked for a union carrier, much less a carrier with ALPA pilots. It’s important that we provide them with information—not only about how the union works, but also how it works for them.”
A strong, multichanneled communications network is in place at JetBlue to ensure that all pilots are kept informed. Along with regular and as-needed e-mails, the group utilizes short videos, The MEC Minute, that are shared on their YouTube channel, on their internal Twitter account, and their Facebook group. They also have a podcast, Ride Report, available on their site as well as iTunes and Google Play. This year, the group added a new vehicle, The Brief, an animated white-board-style video series that explains complicated topics in an extended format. To date, The Brief has covered 401(k) contributions, how a grievance works, and emergency assignments.
No matter how good the information is, nothing is more impactful than talking to fellow pilots in person. Throughout the pandemic, in-person meetings were rare. However, as the country opened up, the pilot group also returned to face-to-face MEC meeting as well as pilot unity-building (PUB) events in New York City, N.Y., in May 2021 and in Boston, Mass., in September 2021. These events brought out large numbers of pilots who used the opportunity to speak directly with MEC officers and Local Executive Council representatives. These in-person meetings will be especially important as the pilots prepare for negotiations as their contract becomes amendable this summer.
“The MEC will be surveying the pilots to determine their concerns and goals before entering contract negotiations,” said Kenney. “And we’ll use every tool in the toolbox—from PUB events to podcasts—to make sure we have open, reliable, two-way communications. As our industry recovers and our amendable date nears, we’ll need to have a well-informed and unified pilot group. And that’s exactly what we’ll have.”