DALLAS - US Airways began meeting with American's unions about a month ago.
As far as the unions are concerned, partnering up with US Airways would hurt them less than being part of a restructured American.
"This is a sincere effort to to address some of the leadership issues that we've had at American Airlines," said Tom Hoban of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents Americana's pilots. "Right now [American] have made it very clear that they intend to take our employee contracts and put them through the shredder."
The current American is larger than US Airways.
American and American Eagle have about 88,000 full- and part-time employees. Together they fly about 900 aircraft on approximately 3,400 flights a day, according to its web site.
US Airways has about 32,000 employees, and 640 aircraft, including those flown by US Airways Express, most of which are flown under contract by other carriers. US Airways has fewer large jets than American, but much of its fleet is newer. American is updating its fleet, but a major infusion of new aircraft won't begin arriving for four years.
Combined with its commuter connections, US Airways flies 3,208 flights a day.
So what would be the upside for the smaller airline to merge with the bigger one?
In a letter to US Airways employees on Friday, CEO Doug Parker said his airline would trim fewer jobs than American plans in its bankruptcy: 6,800 vs. 13,000 in American's plan. Parker wrote that some benefits to American employees would improve US Airways' plan.
How this would happen is yet to be publicly revealed, although American's pilots say they had eleven days of intense talks with US Airways before they announced their support.
"What we have done in eleven days, AA leadership couldn't do in six months," Hoban said. "And that's negotiated consensual agreements with all three labor unions, across the board."
For many union members, a merger proposal offers a ray of sunshine.
"People just see hope," said Laura Glading of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. "For the first time in a long time we have something to hope about."
What does American think?
In a statement today, it essentially say it's no coincidence the unions are cozying up to US Airways in advance of bankruptcy court hearings on Monday. That's when American will seek a judges permission to throw out its union contracts.
So, have American's employees been disloyal by secretly negotiating with another airline?
"No, I think it's being loyal, in fact," Glading said. "We did this to save the company. I firmly, in my heart, believe that this is the best thing for American Airlines, or I wouldn't be doing it."
Currently, US Airways has no standing in American's ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, a major hurdle to a merger. The airline has until September to perfect its own restructuring plan to the court's satisfaction.
US Airways would need permission for the judge to even present its case.