Travelers Try to Work Around ComAir Strike

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Knoxville (WVLT) - There's word of a possible strike at ComAir. The pilots are talking, but they haven't backed off the threat of walking; the deadline is Saturday.

What could that mean for your business trip next week, or maybe a bowl trip this weekend?

The commuter flight next week is a bigger concern than any bowl trips.

Most Vol fans have booked through other carriers, but even next week's threat may not be that big a worry.

A lot's changed since that pilot strike five years ago.

Few trips are ever as hectic as that flight home after Christmas. Linda Maertzweiler's simply glad her ComAir flights not this Saturday.

"Although I'm sorry for everybody else, I'll sit at home and watch it on TV and feel really bad for them," she says.

Pilots have threatened to walk if ComAir guts its own contractual promises, and imposes a $6,000 pay cut rather than a $2,800 raise.

"It's really hard, I think a lot of people are taking pay cuts, or you're just taking the same amount you were making the year before," says Linda.

The expense cuts are court-ordered, but ComAir already has been losing a fifth of its pilots a year to other airlines.

"We're booking ComAir, we're not selling away," Knoxville Travel Agent Bill Murphy's betting the pilots won't dare strike, because their position's even weaker than Comair's.

"Their impact on Delta's overall picture has been lessened by the fact that Delta has awarded some of ComAir's routes to other carriers, Delta has pretty much spread the risk out among all their regional carriers," Murphy says.

Five years ago, a pilot's strike grounded ComAir two and a half months.

Back then, it flew 8 trips to and from McGhee Tyson.

Today, as one of four partly-independent Delta subcontractors, it's down to three.

So even if you have booked and the pilots do strike, "Our agents will go ahead and take the initiative, and back travelers up and book them on other flights," Murphy says.

"I hope the pilots don't go on strike," says Linda.

ComAir is looking for some insurance against that.

Even while talks go on, it's asking for a court order tomorrow to declare any walkout illegal, given its bankruptcy status.

Delta hasn't talked about any contingencies if the pilots do walk, but Knoxville, and a number of ComAir commuter markets have competition, either from other airlines or delta direct partners.