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Pilots sleep in LAX lots as United Airlines contract negotiations continue

May 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
There was a time when pilots were practically rock stars, jet-setting in luxury and earning impressive pay. But according to pilots, those glory days are gone. Now some of them are living in a parking lot at LAX.

There was a time when airlines would pay for their pilots to stay in nice hotels. Pilots say that in some cases they could afford an apartment in the city where they were based.

But that era ended several years ago and many pilots say they are having to make some very difficult adjustments. That's why some of them are living part-time in a parking lot.

Patrick Laclair is a first officer with United Airlines. He lives in Phoenix but he's based out of Los Angeles, so when he needs to sleep in between shifts, Laclair stays in his RV.

"It becomes an affordability issue," said Laclair.

Laclair is not alone. Some pilots, flight attendants and mechanics chose to spend several days a month in their RVs, rather than pay for hotels or apartments, or making quick turnaround flights back home.

Even though the parking lot is right under a busy flight path, Laclair says his RV is a better alternative to sleeping at the airport.

"What our message is showing the United management what it takes to make it work on our end," said Laclair.

Laclair and a handful of other United Airlines pilots invited the media to tour the quasi-campground Thursday morning as a way to voice their frustration with the airline over stalled contract negotiations.

"This does demonstrate the challenges that we as pilots and crew members face because of the economic stress we're under," said Jon Dudley, Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents United pilots.

The union says the average united pilot took a 40-percent pay cut to help the carrier stay in business after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Union officials say an average first officer for United makes about $75,000 a year.

"We are nowhere near as highly compensated as other airline pilot groups, and we're frustrated with the slowness in the negotiations," said Dudley.

United Airlines released a statement:

"This is nothing but a union PR campaign designed to create leverage in ongoing labor contract talks. United is focused on working with all of our work groups to reach new contracts that are fair to the company and our employees."

Those contract talks are ongoing. They've been at it for two years.

At LAX Parking Lot E, there are 87 RVs and campers parked in the lot year-round. The rent is $120 a month.


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