The B scale or two-tier pay scale is a system under which new employees earn less for doing the same job as the more senior employees. The first B scale implemented in the industry was at American Airlines in 1984, where new-hire pilot pay was 50 percent less than the original pay. This was to be a non-merging scale, that is, the 50 percent less was to be forever. At the time the B scale was adopted, American was planning a massive expansion and transition program.

With the upcoming retirements and American's positioning to hire hundreds of pilots, the theory was that eventually everyone would be on the B-scale.

Eventually, the B scale at most airlines will be brought up to merge with the A scale in the fifth year of a pilot's employment.


In 1983, the APA’s leaders agreed to a contract that would pay newly hired pilots approximately one-half the going rate. Deregulation had rekindled the traditional rivalry between United and American, historically the two biggest airlines in the industry. To leaders of the APA, Blue Skies seemed like naked aggression against their carrier, amply justifying a response. Crandall sweetened the deal by granting a small pay raise (in lieu of one that the APA had given back earlier), agreed not to lay off any pilots for the life of the contract, promised to recall 500 furloughed pilots by 1986, and established a profit-sharing plan. So in effect, this first major-airline B-scale bribed American’s 3,400 pilots with some middling benefits, but it boiled down to selling their patrimony on faith for a mess of Crandall’s pottage.

But initially, the American pilots’ gamble paid off. Crandall, unlike Ferris, did use his givebacks constructively to “grow” the airline. Not that it benefited American’s pilots all that much. By the early 1990s, despite American’s phenomenal growth and the near doubling of its pilot force, lagging pay and increasingly harsh working conditions had made American’s flight crews among the angriest in all of aviation, driven to the desperate expedient of a wildcat “sick out.” This massive action forced Crandall to cancel 11 percent of his flights over the holidays in January 1991 and to run full-page ads headlined “AApology” (with American’s familiar eagle logo cutely placed between the redundant double “AA”). In a startling lapse, American’s publicity flacks mistakenly identified their own pilots’ union as ALPA! So they had to spend more money correctly identifying the APA in additional ads!

Thus, the sins of the fathers were visited upon their children. The roots of their transgression lay in the unprecedented B-scale “giveback” the APA’s leaders handed Crandall in 1983, which went far beyond Blue Skies.