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SAG, AFTRA drop first-class travel mandate

New contract calls for actors to fly business or coach as of July 1

SAG and AFTRA members may soon have to get accustomed to business and coach seats for work-related air travel.

As part of their recently announced tentative agreement for a new feature-primetime contract with the majors, showbiz’s performers unions have agreed to eliminate the long-standing requirement that air transportation must be first class. If the pact is ratified by SAG and AFTRA members, the new provision would go into effect July 1.

Reps for SAG, AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers had no comment about the change. The unions disclosed Sunday that the tentative deal included “modifications” in its decades-old travel provisions but did not elaborate.

But according to sources close to the negotiations, the companies insisted — from the very first day of talks — that the first-class provision be eliminated. In exchange, SAG and AFTRA achieved 2% annual increases to minimum-wage rates and a hike in the health and pension contributions from 15% to 16.5%.

The pact specifies that business class will be provided on flights of more than 1,000 miles unless it’s not available, in which case actors will fly first class. However, on flights of under 1,000 miles, performers will fly the highest available coach class. Of course, thesps with clout will still have the right to demand first-class seats as a dealmaking point.

It’s uncertain if the elimination of first-class travel would provoke any opposition to ratification of the pact as proponents will likely contend that the gains in wages, health and pension outweigh the flight perk.

It’s likely the companies will seek similar travel concessions from the Directors Guild of America, set to start negotiations next week, and from the Writers Guild of America.

The 2% wage hike falls short of gains in master contracts from the previous round in 2007-08 but is in line with what the congloms are offering amid an uncertain business outlook, with studios and nets contending they haven’t fully recovered from the recession.

The scaling back of the travel provisions in the feature-primetime contract will bring that pact into line with provisions in the unions’ commercials contract.

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