Sarah Nilsson JD, PhD, MAS
Sarah NilssonJD, PhD, MAS

Air Carrier Labor Law

Airline Labor Law - NOV 2017.pptx
Microsoft Power Point presentation [3.9 MB]
Airline Labor Law.pptx
Microsoft Power Point presentation [4.5 MB]
Airline Labor Law - short version APR 20[...]
Microsoft Power Point presentation [4.5 MB]
Airline Labor Law - DEC 2016.pptx
Microsoft Power Point presentation [1.9 MB]
Airline Labor Law supplement.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [6.9 MB]

Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)

The Railway Labor Act (RLA) of 1926 – governs labor relations in the air carrier industry as of 1936 – to minimize interference in interstate commerce caused by labor disputes in the mass transportations industries while insuring transportation employees’ right to engage in collective bargaining and collective action

Railway Labor Act - Full text


§ 181. Application of subchapter I to carriers by air

All of the provisions of subchapter I of this chapter except section 153 of this title are extended to and shall cover every common carrier by air engaged in interstate or foreign commerce, and every carrier by air transporting mail for or under contract with the United States Government, and every air pilot or other person who performs any work as an employee or subordinate official of such carrier or carriers, subject to its or their continuing authority to supervise and direct the manner of rendition of his service.


National Mediation Board (NMB) applies a 2-pronged test to determine whether a company fits the definition of "common carrier by air engaged in interstate or foreign commerce:

1. function test - whether the work is of a nature traditionally performed by employees of air carriers

2. control test - whether a common carrier exercises direct or indirect control over the work 

NMB has jurisdiction over:

  • companies providing scheduled air service
  • air charter companies
  • air ambulance services
  • fractional aircraft operator also holding a 14 CFR Part 135 operating certificate
  • FBOs providing air taxi, charter and on-demand air transport along with aircraft rental, refueling, and aircraft maintenance


General characteristics of the RLA:

  • union or agency shops
  • compulsory mediation and opportunity for binding arbitration
  • postponement of right to strike


 2 types of air carrier labor law cases:

  1. representation
  2. disputes


Representation cases

  • to raise interest union distributes information and air carrier may not interfere
  • union circulates authorization cards to prospective members
  • if 50% of employees eligible to vote sign authorization cards an election is justified
  • union petition NMB to hold an election
  • NMB investigates workers to determine who are “labor” (and can vote) and who are “management” (and cannot vote)
  • Election is held under NMB supervision
  • If simple majority of those who cast ballots, cast them in favor of union, then NMB certifies union as official collective bargaining representative
  • Once union is certified it has exclusive authority to represent all of air carrier’s employees
  • Union has duty of fair representation of all of air carrier’s employees
  • Upon certification, union will enter into negotiations with company management for an employment contract
  • Both sides have a legal duty to bargain in good faith
  • Once a new contract is negotiated union must present contract to affected members for ratification or rejection
  • If simple majority rejects the union returns to bargaining table and resumes negotiations


Dispute cases

2 categories:

1. minor disputes – grievances – disputes over interpretation and application of employment contract e.g. employee discipline

RLA requires that employment contract provide for creation of System Board of Adjustment to resolve minor disputes – minor disputes cannot be brought in front of court except in rare exceptional cases

Due process of law guarantees these rights:

  • to have a hearing before a fair and impartial decision maker
  • to have adequate notice of the nature of the charges and of the time and place of the hearing to allow one to prepare
  • to be represented by legal counsel if one chooses
  • to testify and present witnesses and evidence on your behalf
  • to cross-examine witnesses for the opposition

2. major disputes – involve negotiation of either a new employment contract or a change to the existing contract – aka Kabuki Theater – until procedure completed RLA requires status quo be maintained

Collective bargaining agreements do not expire – they have an amendable date

Kabuki Theater procedure:

  • party desiring change must notify the other side in writing aka Section 6 notice
  • both sides must then confer within 30 days and bargain in good faith – trade offs and counter proposals at this stage which continues until impasse
  • if impasse then either side can request mediation by NMB
  • if mediator declares impasse NMB will offer the opportunity for binding arbitration
  • panel of 3 arbitrators – decision is final and cannot be appealed
  • if either party rejects arbitration as a method of dispute resolution there is a mandatory 30-day cooling off period during which parties must keep the status quo
  • not uncommon for supermediation at this point: meeting with 1 of 3 presidential appointees to NMB designed to bring visibility and political pressure to bear on the parties to reevaluate their positions one last time
  • after cooling off period and still no resolution parties are free to resort to self-help – strikes etc


Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) – last effort to aid parties in reaching agreement without disruptions of a strike


Wildcat strikes – employees acting independently of the union – injunction compelling workers to go back to work – back to work order – if not then held in contempt of court and fined and/or imprisoned


In proceedings for reorganization of companies under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code bankruptcy judges are empowered to order modification or termination of collective bargaining agreements and often wield that power in their efforts to restructure the company to improve its chances of survival


American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) 


Microsoft Word document [51.0 KB]

Personal Jurisdiction


Walden v. Fiore - specific jurisdiction - 3 part test:

1. non-resident defendant must purposefully direct his activities or consummate some transaction with the forum or a forum resident, or perform some act by which he purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of its laws

2. claim must be one which arises out of or relates to non-resident defendant's forum-related activities

3. exercise of jurisdiction must comport with fair play and substantial justice (must be reasonable)


Terracom v. Valley Nat. Bank - 7 reasonableness factors


Rice Aircraft Services, Inc. v. Soars


Everett v. BRP-Powertrain, GmbH, & Co. KG


Sutcliffe v. Honeywell Intern., Inc. 


Daimler AG v. Bauman - Court nearly eliminates general jurisdiction


Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, SA v. Brown - Court nearly eliminates general jurisdiction


Williams v. MD Helicopters Inc. - Court restricts use of general jurisdiction


Brady v. Southwest Airlines Co. - both general and specific jurisdiction


Mullen v. Bell Helicopter Textron


ITL Int'l, Inc. v. Consenla, SA


Davidson v. Honeywell Intern. Inc.


Carpenter v. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.


Lothrop v. North American Charter Inc.


JB Aviation v. R Aviation Charter Services, LLC


Broadus v. Delta Air Lines


Seegar v. Anticola


Kedrowski v. Lycoming Engines


Luvin v. Delta Airlines, Inc.


Subject Matter Jurisdiction


Flylux, LLC v. Aerovias de Mexico, SA de CV


Williams v. Perez




A. Federal Officer removal under 28 USC 1442


Lu Junhong v. Boeing Co. - based on admiralty jurisdiction


Watson v. Philip Morris Companies, Inc.


Executive Jet Aviation v. Cleveland


Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire


Brokaw v. Boeing Co.


Boyd v. Boeing Co.


B. Removal based on Preemption


Crown v. PHI Air Medical LLC - complete preemption


Baugh v. Delta Airlines, Inc.


Sangmi Lee v. AMR Corporation


Batteries R US Co. v. Fega Express Corp.


C. Fraudulent Joinder


Reynolds v. The Boeing Co.


D. Other


Bullar v. US Specialty Ins. Co.


Forum non Conveniens


Lumenta v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc.


Bjorkstam v. MPC Products Corp.




A. Field Preemption


Cleveland v. Piper Aircraft Corp.


Sikkelee v. Precision Automotive Corp.


Abdullah v. American Airlines


Cleveland v. Piper Aircraft Co.


Estate of Becker v. Forward Technologies, Inc.


Ahmadi v. United Continental Holdings, Inc.


Gilstrap v. United Airlines


Spadoni v. United Airlines, Inc.


Blackwell v. Panhandle Helicopter Inc.


B. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) - 28 USC 1605

- affords the "sole basis" for obtaining jurisdiction over a foreign state in the United States - if plaintiffs fail to satisfy the terrorism exception to the FSIAthe claim requires dismissal


OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs


Saudi Arabia v. Nelson


Abdel-Karim v. EgyptAir Airlines


Flanagan v. Islamic Republic of Iran


Aureus Asset Managers, Ltd. v. United States


Mohammadi v. Islamic Republic of Iran


C. Airline Deregulation Act (ADA)


National Federation of the Blind v. United Airlines, Inc.


Charas v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.


Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Ass'n


Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg


Geier v. Am. Honda Motor Co.


Xiaoyun Lu v. AirTran Airways, Inc. - 49 USC 44902(b) absolves air carriers of liability for refusal to transport to a passenger if the carrier decides the passenger is, or might be, inimical to safety

inimical: tending to obstruct or harm 


Overka v. American Airlines


Valencia v. SCIS Air Security Corp.


Grupp v. DHL Express (USA) Inc.


Morales v. Trans World Airlines Inc.


American Airlines, Inc. v. Wolens


Pac Anchor Transp., Inc. v. California ex rel. Harris


Glisan v. United Airlines


David v. United Continental Holdings, Inc.


Segalman v. Southwest Airlines Co.


Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA)


Baez v. JetBlue Airways Corp.


Montreal Convention (and Warsaw)


A. Limitations of Actions


Cattaneo v. American Airlines, Inc.


D'engle v. City of New York


B. Defendants subject to Convention


Baillee v. Medaire Inc.


C. Venue


Avalon Technologies Inc. v. Emo-Trans, Inc.


Atlantic Marine Const. v. U.S. District Court for W. Dist. of Texas 


D. Bodily Injury


Doe v. Etihad Airways P.J.D.C


E. Delay


Sangmi Lee v. AMR Corporation


Smith v. American Airlines, Inc.


F. Accident


Naqvi v. Turkish Airlines, Inc.


Nguyen v. Korean Air Lines Co. Ltd


Olympic Airways v. Husain


Blansett v. Continental Airlines, Inc.


Plonka v. US Airways


G. Cargo


Batteries R US Co. v. Fega Express Corp.


Han v. FedEx Express


Yoly Farmers Corp. v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.


H. Other


Narkiewicz-Laine v. Aer Lingus Limited


Sangmi Lee v. AMR Corporation


Product Liability


A. Proof of Defect


Lewis v. Lycoming


Tincher v. Omega Flex Inc.


Schwarz v. Abex Corp.


City of New York v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc.


Sikkelee v. Precision Automotive Corp.


Crouch v. John Jewell Aircraft Inc. - challenges to qualifications or methodology of experts



B. GARA/Statute of Repose


Linfoot v. McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co.


SOCAR (Societe Cameroonaise d'Assurance et de Reassurance) v. Boeing Co.


Hutton v. Boeing Co.


Federal Tort Claims Act 


A. Limitations of Actions


United States v. Kwai Fun Wong


Menominee Tribe of Wis. v. United States


B. Air Traffic Control


Tuturro v. U.S.


C. Federal Employees


Vanderklok v. U.S. 




Krogen v. U.S.


Class Actions


Volodarskiy v. Delta Airlines Inc.


Berkson v. Gogo LLC


Ranbarran v. Dynamic Airways LLC




A. Compulsory Insurance Doctrine


Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Professional Aircraft Line Service (PALS)


B. Ripeness of Declaratory Judgment Action 


Quest Aviation, Inc. v. Nationair Insurance Agencies, Inc.


C. Life Insurance


Williams v. National Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh


Florida Tube Corp. v. Metlife Ins. Co. of Connecticut


Punitive Damages


Johnson v. United States


Manufacturers Collection Co. LLC v. Precision Airmotive LLC




City of Dallas v. Delta Airlines, Inc.


Lewis v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc.


City of Burbank v. Lockheed Air Terminal Inc.


Anne Arundel County v. Bell


Friends of the East Hampton Airport, Inc v. Town of East Hampton


In re Flyboy Aviation Properties, LLC


Pofolk Aviation Hawaii, Inc. v. Department of Transp. for State


DBT Yuma LLC v. Yuma City Airport Authority


Civil Procedure


A. Twiqbal


Cheramine v. Panther Helicopters Inc.


B. Discovery


Tyre v. Southwest Airlines, Co.


C. Post-Trial Motions


Bouret v. Echevarria v. Caribbean Aviation Maintenance Corp.




A. Other Incidents


Wells v. Robinson Helicopter Co. Inc.


B. Experts


Dudley Flying Serv. Inc. v. AG Air Maint. Servs. Inc.


Lewis v. Lycoming


Birtciel v. XL Specialty Ins.


C. NTSB Reports


Helicopters Inc. v. National Transportation Safety Board


Paulsboro Derailment Cases


Seegar v. Anticola


D. Judicial Notice


Rowe v. Gibson


Administrative Law


Flytenow, Inc. v. FAA


Ege v. US Department of Homeland Security


Huerta v. Ducote


Joshi v. NTSB


Res Judicata


Medina-Padilla v. Piedmont Aviation Services, Inc.


Conflict of Laws


Manufacturers Collection Co. LLC v. Precision Airmotive LLC


Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. v. Arteaga


Linfoot v. McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co.


Breach of Contract 


Coulier v. United Airlines, Inc.


Opper v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.


False Claims Act 


US ex rel. Gage v. Davis S. R. Aviation LLC


Integrative bargaining (also called "interest-based bargaining," "win-win bargaining") is a negotiation strategy in which parties collaborate to find a "win-win" solution to their dispute. This strategy focuses on developing mutually beneficial agreements based on the interests of the disputants.


Distributive bargaining is the approach to bargaining or negotiation that is used when the parties are trying to divide something up--distribute something. It contrasts with integrative bargaining in which the parties are trying to make more of something. This is most commonly explained in terms of a pie.



Thousands Of Holiday Flights On American Airlines Have No Pilots Due To Computer Glitch: Union

Glitch at American Airlines could spell trouble for Christmas travel season

Thousands of upcoming American Airlines flights don’t have pilots



Case 75: Goodwin v. Ridge, 2005 WL 2176936 (E.D. Ark. 2005)


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