Pilot seniority is a touchy issue in any airline merger, as it can determine their pay, work schedules and career prospects.
After a previous pilot seniority deal fell apart in August, a Southwest spokesman said if the company received a no vote on this deal, "it means that we cannot execute the original integration plan and we will have to reset." Southwest management was eager to see the new seniority deal approved to avoid going to arbitration.
The airline raised the possibility of a "Plan B" scenario, in which AirTran may not be fully integrated into Southwest as planned -- which could put AirTran pilot jobs at risk. A presentation to AirTran pilots by their union leadership laid out the Plan B scenario.
But with the deal approved Monday, AirTran pilots will gradually transition to Southwest pay rates and positions, starting next April and to be completed by the end of 2014, according to union documents. The first deal had included an increase for AirTran pilots to Southwest pay rates next year.
But AirTran pilots will retain their longevity with AirTran after they move to Southwest and would not be furloughed before the transition is complete, "unless prohibitive conditions occur."