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Security Changes Make More Tension

February 1, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tense relations between the financially strapped airlines and their unions have been taxed even further by the far-reaching security changes ordered since last fall’s terrorist attacks.

``We have safety problems. We have security problems. We have captain’s authority issues. We have integration and contractual differences. And we have an atmosphere of noncooperation,″ said Bob Ames, vice president of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines.

The concerns of pilots and flight attendants are putting them at odds with an airline industry struggling to tighten security and avoid long delays while stopping the hemorrhaging of millions of dollars in losses.

``It’s our hope that safety and security will not be mutually exclusive to customer service,″ Michael Wascom, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the trade group for the major airlines, said Thursday. ``We should be able to have the best of both worlds.″

No airline has been harder hit than American Airlines. Two of the four planes hijacked Sept. 11 were American planes, as was the pre-Christmas Paris-to-Miami flight that a passenger boarded with explosives allegedly hidden in his shoes.

Also, an American plane crashed in November shortly after taking off from New York’s Kennedy Airport, though authorities do not think it was a terrorist attack. And the airline has come under fire for removing an Arab-American Secret Service agent who was on his way to President Bush’s Texas ranch on Christmas Day.

More than 70 American pilots have signed a petition urging the airline to ground Airbus A300 jets over safety concerns. Flight 587, the plane involved in the November crash in New York, was an Airbus A300.

``If another airplane crashes, the airline could be placed in jeopardy,″ said Robert Held, an American pilot for 13 years. ``Many pilots feel American Airlines has not done everything it should be rightly doing to prevent such an occurrence.″

For example, company officials ended the security briefings that captains give their crews, a feature of every flight since the terrorist attacks. Pilots say they were told that the briefings were delaying flights.

And pilots say they were never told of the shoe bomb incident while they were in the air.

American spokeswoman Karen Watson said captains can continue security briefings if they want, but the airline decided to stop requiring them, as post-Sept. 11 procedures became routine. As for not telling pilots in flight about the shoe-bomber, Watson said the airline wanted to make sure it had all the details first.

``Whenever you have any sort of incident, you cannot instantaneously communicate with all of your crews,″ she said. ``You may, in fact, have incorrect information.″

Because of staffing cuts, some American flight attendants said some sections of the plane are left unguarded when they’re preparing or serving drinks and food.

``You could have two or three individuals go to the back of the plane and not be seen by anybody,″ said Trice Johnson.

Watson said the airline meets Federal Aviation Administration requirements and attendants can watch all areas of the cabin even if they’re not physically there. ``The requirement is having visual access,″ she said.

There are complaints at other airlines as well.

Many airlines have ground crews or other employees that conduct preflight cabin searches to make sure there are no weapons or bombs. But on several commuter airlines and at least one major airline, that job has fallen to the flight attendants.

Their union, the Association of Flight Attendants, contends the searches are not being done properly. Flight attendants at Atlantic Southeast, Atlantic Coast Airlines, Air Wisconsin and three US Airways regional carriers handed out flyers last week to protest what they say is a lack of training and time to do the job.

``It takes away from other things,″ said Thom McDaniel, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant and president of the Transport Workers Union Local 556. ``We don’t believe we have adequate time to accomplish these duties.″


Associated Press Writer Jonathan D. Salant contributed to this report.

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