According to many news sources, American Airlines has had to cancel over 100 flights per day this past weekend. The cancellation wave has continued into today. What is going on and how long will this last?
The Cancellations Begin
American Airlines cancelled 123 flights of Saturday, 178 flights on Sunday and 97 were cancelled for today. I suspect that the cancellations started at least a week prior. Tomorrow I am headed to Zurich Switzerland flying a combination of flights on American and British Airways:
- AA 1667 from Seattle to DFW,
- AA 50 from DFW to LHR and
- BA 712 from LHR to Zurich.
As in the case of any itinerary with connecting flights, the successor flights are dependent on the predecessor fllight arriving on time. A week ago, I started looking at the daily performance of AA 1667 and AA 50 and what I saw made me nervous. Looking specifically at AA 1667, this is what I saw:
- Saturday, June 12th, this flight was five hours late departing SEA,
- Monday, June 14th, this fight was cancelled and
- Wednesday, June 16th, this flight was cancelled.
Ameican is now saying that 50 – 60 cancellations per day could last through the end of July.
Destinations Are Opening Back Up
The Covid vaccine has changed the landscape of travel. As the vaccinations rise so do the destinations both in the U. S. and around the world are opening back up. People are tired of being stuck at home. Summer is here and people are ready to explore. This pent up demand is a major driver of the situation facing American Airlines.
One of the issues facing American Airlines is a shortage of pilots, particullary the pilots for Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 aircraft. After the pandemic hit and pilots were furloughed, there were a number of these pilots that retired or left American Airlines to find new employment opportunities. Besides the pilot shortage, recalling or hiring new pilots is not a quick process. Pilots have a lot or requirements in order to maintain the certifications to fly commercial aircraft:
- Pilots may need to get in the queue to renew their FAA flight physicals,
- Pilots may need recurrency training,
- Pilots may need to be line checked with a training captain and
- Pilots may need to be updated on airline operational policies.
There are airline jobs where you can hire an employee today and they can start working tomorrow. Airline pilots can’t return or begin work in a short span of time.
The pandemic forced airlines to park a substantial part of their fleets in desert locations. These aircraft have to be brought back online and ferried back to airline maintenance bases. Some of this aircraft were parked on a short-term basis where they were kept maintained for a quick return to service. The aircraft that were parked in “deep storage” will need to undergo maintenance and testing to certify them as airworthy before they can be ferried back to the airline.
This adds to the backlog of aircraft that are already in the maintenance queue. Like the situation with pilots, mechanics need to have FAA airframe and powerplant (A&P) certification for the aircraft they work on.
Maintaining Radio Silence
What I find most concerning about the wave of cancellations is that American Airlines really isn’t making this known.
“We made targeted changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation,” according to an American Airlines statement.
I am concerned that my flight tomorrow out of Seattle might be cancelled. I have heard nothing from American that a cancellation is a posibility. However, the recent track record for AA 1667 had two cancellations in a three-day period.
American needs to do a better job in communicating to their customers.
The top of the splash screen has a block for travel updates. This is where American Airlines should be notifying the consumer that they may be impacted by flight cancellations.
The other airlines are all facing this pent up demand for airline customers. Could it be that American Airlines was late to the party to ramp up for the resurgence of travel? For those travelling on American Airlines, check the operational performance of your flights and prepare to have a Plan B.
I am working of getting a same-day change out of Seattle tomorrow from AA 1667 to the earlier AA 2748. That will give me an extra two and a half hours to play with. We’ll see how that goes.