This Day On The Street
Continue to site right-arrow
This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here
Stocks Under $10 with 50-100% upside potential - 14 days FREE!

U.S. Airlines Are Too Big to Strike, 20 Years After Pre-Thanksgiving AMR Shutdown

Stocks in this article: AAMRQ LCC

MIAMI ( TheStreet) -- Twenty years ago, one week before Thanksgiving,  I was at Miami International Airport, awaiting the arrival of American Airlines' early morning inbound flights.

American flight attendants were scheduled to strike that morning, Thursday, Nov. 18, 1993, at 7 a.m. But when I arrived at the airport, I was told that everything was operating normally. I was a reporter for The Miami Herald, but in those days we did not have Twitter. As a result, I was unable to immediately tweet that "AA flights at MIA operating normally."

Lucky thing. When the flights arrived, on time as promised, something was missing: the passengers. The flights had taken off as scheduled, but federal regulations prohibit passengers from boarding aircraft that don't have flight attendants.

It is easy to envision that no one at the departure airports wanted to say: "Don't take off." That would have required approval from a higher authority. American, at the time, had just one higher authority. Making a decision, which might not be approved by CEO Bob Crandall, had very little upside.

One thing I remember was calling both Terry Maxon and Dan Reed, my peers at The Dallas Morning News and The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, to tell them what I had observed. I think somebody lent me a cell phone; I certainly did not have one. Twenty years later, they are both my friends, and Dan and I are writing a book together about American's merger with US Airways (LCC)

At US Airways, I covered a strike by the International Association of Machinists in 1992 and down-to-the wire contract negotiations with the Air Line Pilots Association in 1997 and the Association of Flight Attendants in 2001. But it is hard to imagine that I will ever cover a strike at the new American. 

That is what makes Nov. 18, 1993, such a significant day in the history of the airline business, not just because the nation's biggest airline was struck a week before Thanksgiving, but also because it was the last time that any major U.S. airline dealt with a strike. The strike lasted four days and ended Nov. 22, three days before Thanksgiving, when President Clinton urged the two sides to resume talks.

"Since that time, I don't believe there's been a meaningful disruption in airline service due to a strike" said aviation consultant Bob Mann. "And now, with all the consolidation, the airlines are too big to strike, too big to fail. The 1993 American strike was the beginning of the end of the ability to strike a major airline.  There will never be another strike at a major airline."

Airline strikes since 1993 have had minimal impact. In 1997, American pilots voted to strike, but minutes later Clinton ordered them back to work. At the time, American carried about 20% of U.S. airline passengers.

In 1998, Northwest pilots struck for 12 days. But in 2001, President Bush halted potential strikes by International Association of Machinist mechanics at Northwest and United (UAL).  In 2005, Northwest mechanics, by then members of the Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association, mounted one of the most ill-advised job actions in history. The airline flew through it. In 2010, Spirit (SAVE) pilots struck for six days. Spirit remains a small airline that even today accounts for less than 1% of U.S. airline revenue.

1 of 2

Select the service that is right for you!

Action Alerts PLUS
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
  • Weekly roundups
TheStreet Quant Ratings
Try it NOW
Only $49.95/yr

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
  • Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Stocks Under $10
Try it NOW

David Peltier, uncovers low dollar stocks with extraordinary upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
  • Weekly roundups
Dividend Stock Advisor
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
  • Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Real Money Pro
Try it NOW

All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.

Product Features:
  • Real Money + Doug Kass Plus 15 more Wall Street Pros
  • Intraday commentary & news
  • Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Options Profits
Try it NOW

Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.

Product Features:
  • 100+ monthly options trading ideas
  • Actionable options commentary & news
  • Real-time trading community
  • Options TV
To begin commenting right away, you can log in below using your Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, OpenID or Yahoo login credentials. Alternatively, you can post a comment as a "guest" just by entering an email address. Your use of the commenting tool is subject to multiple terms of service/use and privacy policies - see here for more details.
Submit an article to us!


DOW 17,804.80 +26.65 0.15%
S&P 500 2,070.65 +9.42 0.46%
NASDAQ 4,765.38 +16.9840 0.36%

Brokerage Partners

Rates from

  • Mortgage
  • Credit Cards
  • Auto

Free Newsletters from TheStreet

My Subscriptions:

After the Bell

Before the Bell

Booyah! Newsletter

Midday Bell

TheStreet Top 10 Stories

Winners & Losers

Register for Newsletters
Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs