Continental ALPA seeks clarity as 70-seat rule is implemented

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Continental Airlines' pilots union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), is speaking to management today to ensure both sides agree on how to implement an arbitrator's recent decision, which disallows United Express 70-seat aircraft from carrying Continental's code at the carrier's three hubs or from being advertised as a codeshare.

But the union is making clear it will not accept a scenario whereby Continental Airlines can sell United Express 70-seat flights on its web site.

The Continental chapter of ALPA first raised its dispute in October, saying that management's plan to redeploy United Express Bombardier CRJ700s and Embraer E-170s under Continental's 'CO' code at Cleveland, Newark and Houston would breach scope language contained in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Continental and the union.

At the end of December arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled in favor of ALPA, finding that placing the 'CO' code on United Express aircraft "with a certification of 51 or greater seats to and from" Cleveland, Newark and Houston is a violation of the CBA.

"The company is ordered to cease and desist advertising and placing the 'CO' code on such flights," said Bloch in his statement.

In response management said it would adhere to Bloch's ruling, and assured that United Express 70-seat regional jets deployed at the three Continental hubs would only carry the United 'UA' code.

Captain Jay Pierce, chairman of the ALPA chapter of Continental, tells ATI that the union interprets Bloch's ruling to mean that Continental cannot be associated in any way with United Express 70-seat flights operated out of the hubs.

"Passengers can book [the flights] on United, but [Continental] can't sell these flights is our interpretation. We're working to get clarity right now, but it's only common sense that the Continental web site has to basically divest itself of these flights," says Pierce.

He adds: "We're working with management to make sure we're both on the same page to understand what the arbitrator's ruling meant. If there is a dispute, it doesn't go back to an arbitrator. We would have to solve that in court. Hopefully it won't come to that.

A conference call between management and the union is expected to take place this afternoon, says Pierce.

United and Continental merged in October 2010 and both carriers became wholly-owned subsidiaries of United Continental Holdings. They will continue to operate separately for the duration of the integration process.