Strikebound Eastern Airlines, nearly idle while other carriers handled busy Easter weekend traffic, plans to return to federal court today hoping to have its veteran pilots ordered back to work.
As a backstop, the Miami-based carrier also plans to open a school for its first group of newly hired replacement pilots.
Eastern spokeswoman Karen Ceremsak said from 40 to 50 new hires would be in the first class, but she had no details on what their first day would bring.
Meanwhile, Eastern sat out what in years past has been one of its busiest, most profitable weekends.
“Easter was a traditionally heavy weekend for Eastern, but with only one-tenth of our former routes it’s obviously going to be very different” once figures are in and compared to past years, Ceremsak said Sunday.
She said routes from the airline’s Miami hub to the Northeast and from Florida to the Caribbean were the most heavily traveled on past Easter weekends, “and of course they’re not running them now.”
Under orders from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. District Judge Edward Davis scheduled new hearings in Miami to determine whether the 3-week-old walkout by Eastern’s 3,600 pilots is a sympathy strike, as the pilots claim, or is a separate strike seekings its own aims, as Eastern management contends.
Eastern asked a panel from the appeals court, meeting last week in Tallahassee, Fla., to overturn Davis’ earlier ruling that let the Air Line Pilots Assn. honor picket lines set up March 4 by Eastern’s machinists union.
ALPA claims the Railway Labor Act of 1926 gives its members the right to show sympathy for the striking machinists. The appeals court agreed, but added that “a claim of a sympathy strike cannot be used as a pretext to shield conduct that otherwise would be a clear violation of the Railway Labor Act.”
The Friday ruling called on Davis to report back to the appeals court after his hearings on the issue.
Eastern said that if Davis finds that ALPA members stayed off the job primarily to pursue their own bargaining objectives, “the court would be expected to order them back to work.”
Eastern Airlines pilots also said Sunday that the carrier’s Northeast shuttle is losing $2,000 a flight and that it took off last week with as few as three passengers aboard.
“Eastern is losing $2,000 per flight, which means it would be cheaper for the company to buy their customers tickets on the Pan Am shuttle and keep their aircraft grounded,” the pilots said.
“It is obvious that the crucial business traveler intends to avoid flying Eastern until the strike is ended by a settlement with the unions or until the company is sold,” the union chided.
Robin Matell, Eastern spokesman, dismissed the claims as pilot propaganda.
“It’s a ridiculous statement. There’s no truth to it whatever,” Matell said. “I can assure you the loads were substantially much heavier than what the pilots are claiming.”