Airlines and pilots battle over contracts, safety

Travel editor Peter Greenberg, and aviation and safety expert Captain Chesley Sullenberger in the "CBS This Morning" studio.
CBS News

(CBS News) United Airlines pilots have not had a new contract for nine years. Recently, their union launched a publicity campaign called "The Unfriendly Skies" telling passengers the airline is not only unfriendly, but actually unsafe.

In a statement, United says "safety is the airline's highest priority" and the pilots are using the campaign "to create leverage in ongoing labor contract talks."

But now that the issue has been raised, travelers are wondering just how unsafe it is to fly.

"It's actually very safe to fly," CBS News aviation and safety expert Capt. Chesley Sullenberger said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning." "But what we need to remember is you can't define safety solely as a result of recent accidents and incidents. Unless you look further behind the curtain and proactively look at it and mitigate it, you're not doing what our passengers deserve."

One of the big issues is the outsourcing of maintenance and outsourcing to the regional carriers. That could mean that less experienced pilots are flying the plane because there are different rules in play. It may say the same name on the side, but it's often run by a company who's the lowest bidder.

"When you go on a regional airline, you're not achieving the same level of safety that we have at the major airlines," Sullenberger said. "At the regionals, you don't have the same robust safety system in which we operate that you do with the large major airlines. So we still have not, in spite of our best efforts, achieved what we call 'one level of safety.' They're simply not the same."

To watch the full interview with Sullenberger and travel editor Peter Greenberg, click on the video above.