AirTran pilots step closer to strike


AirTran Holdings Inc. pilots voted to give union leaders the power to call a strike, a first step toward a walkout after more than five years of contract talks at the low-fare airline.

The move won approval from 98 percent of pilots who cast ballots, AirTran’s chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association said in a statement today. The group represents about 1,700 pilots at Orlando, Florida-based AirTran.

Union leaders are stepping up pressure on AirTran for a labor accord that brings pay closer to that of peers at Alaska Air Group Inc., a carrier of similar size. U.S. law sets a timetable for arbitration and a cooling-off period at airlines, so the vote doesn’t mean a strike is planned or imminent.

“This vote serves notice to AirTran management that we are united and resolved to get an industry-standard contract now,” Linden Hillman, chairman of the union at AirTran, said in the statement. “We do not want a strike, we want a contract.”

More than 96 percent of eligible pilots participated in the vote, the union said.

Pilots last walked out at a U.S. passenger airline in 2005, when Comair was struck for 17 days, according to the National Mediation Board. Pilots at Spirit Airlines Inc. said last week they won board clearance to strike after 12:01 a.m. June 12.