American Airlines can’t catch a break. Flight cancellations have plagued the airline and now it has gotten worse with the latest problem affecting crew scheduling.
Most Airlines Have Some Scheduling Issues
The biggest problem plaguing airlines is that they wanted to capture the post-pandemic, summer travel season. Like American Airlines, many airlines have had to cancel flights due to:
- A shortage of pilots and cabin crew,
- A shortage of ground personnel,
- Air traffic control delays and
- Severe airport weather conditions.
Airlines are behind in staffing key positions while posting ambitious summer flight schedules. Airlines foresaw the pent-up demand for post-pandemic summer travel. The airlines were caught flat-footed in airport and aircrew hiring and training to meet record-setting demand.
American Airlines has also had to cancel flights, particularly to international destinations, due to delivery problems at Boeing’s 787 production line. Boeing Commercial Airplane Company has been on a delivery hold of newly manufactured 787 aircraft due to quality control issues. This factor is outside of American Airlines’ control.
The Crew Scheduling Computer Malfunction
To add to the cancellation woes at American Airlines is the pilot scheduling computer malfunction that occurred last Saturday. Pilots use a scheduling computer to pick up or drop trips. Time off during the summer months is hard to come by. The glitch allowed the pilots to drop thousands of trips during the month of July. More than 12,000 flights suddenly lacked a captain, first officer or both. This problem couldn’t happen at a worse time leading into the July 4th holiday weekend.
This isn’t the first time that a computer glitch affected aircrew scheduling. The same type of problem happened right before the Christmas travel period in 2017. In that incident, the computer let pilots take vacation time during the busy month of December. The airline had to offer their pilots 150% pay for them to pick up December flight assignments.
The Cost To Fix The Problem
Before the computer scheduling debacle, it’s been a rocky road between the airline and the pilots that are represented by the Allied Pilots Association (APA). The pilot’s union has been in contract negotiations with the airline since 2019. Ameican Airlines has recently offered the pilots a 17% pay raise through 2024. The APA-represented pilots have been on the picket line showing their dissatisfaction with grueling flight schedules. This action has also been happening with pilots for Delta, Southwest and Alaska Airlines so this is not exclusive to American Airlines.
In a major effort to get the July flights staffed with pilots, the airline has temporarily agreed to pay their pilots 300% of normal pay to get the understaffed flights back on track. American Airlines also agreed to permanent double-pay for pilots flying on peak days which usually occur during holiday weekends.
American Airlines said in a statement:
“We’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the APA and appreciate their partnership in coming to a resolution quickly to take care of our pilots, our team and our customers,”
Ed Sicher, president of the APA, said in a message to members that he hopes this agreement can be a springboard to reaching a new labor deal for pilots at American.
Canceled flights also mean lost revenue for the airline. For those passengers rebooking on another carrier, American Airlines will lose money. To matter matters worse, when flights are canceled, it means that aircraft are out of position for subsequent flights using that aircraft type and capacity.
Airlines around the country and around the world are facing tough decisions on canceling flights. Most airlines are faced with ongoing staff shortages during the busy summer travel period. Airlines posted overly optimistic summer schedules without having the necessary staff in place to get the planes in the air.
For American Airlines, they just can’t catch a break. A computer system used to schedule flight crews had a major malfunction allowing pilots to drop flights during the month of July. It cost American Airlines triple-pay to get the pilots to pick up those understaffed July flights.