Pilots speak out on proposed Continental/United merger

May 2, 2010 2:02:00 PM PDT
Continental Airlines is supposed to consider a possible merger deal with United Airlines in a plan that could lead to the world's largest airline. However, the proposed merger could affect thousands of jobs here in Houston by moving some to Chicago. It's a touchy subject for many of those working for the airlines involved. Few have been willing to say publicly what they think about the merger. One pilot did, but only if we guaranteed him anonymity.

Among those closely watching developments in merger talks between Continental and United are the pilots who fly these planes. They're not supposed to be talking publicly about the deal.

"I don't have a lot of faith in Continental's new leadership. I really don't think he gives a damn about labor," said the pilot on condition of anonymity.

The pilot is talking about Continental CEO Jeff Smisek who those close to negotiations have said would be named the CEO of the merged airline. This pilot says unions haven't been included in merger talks. Most concerning he tells us is seniority and how that would be determined especially he says since some United pilots have been furloughed for years.

"If they're not willing to bring labor into the loop to work out contract issues and seniority and all that, I think it's going to be a torpedo straight to the bottom," said the pilot.

Contrast that with a statement released by United's pilot union when word first came out about the potential merger. Captain Wendy Morse, union chairman, said they would support a merger "if such a transaction would benefit the careers and futures of our pilots." And Capt. Morse said that it could "lead to long-term security for both airlines' pilot groups and produce a stronger overall enterprise."

Sources close to negotiations say the airline would be headquartered in Chicago and would be called United. It would be the world's largest airline.

"The question then is will the US government, particularly the Justice Department, permit it?" said Northwestern University Professor Aaron Gellman.

He says anti-trust concerns could affect the deal.

"The higher concentration in an industry, the higher the prices and the lower the propensity to innovate and I think that's not in the interest of the public," Gellman said.

Neither Continental nor United responded to our calls today for comment. Continental's board is expected to vote Sunday on the merger and we hear an announcement could come Monday or sooner.

Stay with ABC13 and abc13.com for the latest on this developing story. Eyewitness News reporter Kevin Quinn is in Chicago and will bring you the latest on any action by United and Continental throughout the weekend.


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