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United, Continental Pilots Want Better Contracts

"We understand how hard it is to put that genie back in the bottle, but we're going to try," Pierce said. "We see it as a better solution for all concerned when legacy carriers do their own flying, not just to protect jobs, but also to ensure safety." Airlines argue that broader use of small planes allows them to feed more passengers into their hubs, where mainline pilots fly longhaul flights.

Pierce acknowledged that the Continental culture is widely felt to be superior to United's because it "promotes customer service and pride." Even though Continental is smaller than United, its culture could predominate in a merger, he said. "I believe that when you have a strong, proud culture, that is going to permeate through the entire new entity, if it's done right and if labor is allowed to be part of the solution," said Pierce.

Both leaders noted that they must negotiate new contracts before they negotiate seniority integration between the two pilot groups.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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