ShareThis Page
Travel

Glitch has American looking for pilots for holiday flights

| Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, 7:45 p.m.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
In this May 27, 2015, file photo, American Airlines jets taxi at Miami International Airport, in Miami.
In this May 27, 2015, file photo, American Airlines jets taxi at Miami International Airport, in Miami.

DALLAS — A scheduling glitch has left American Airlines scrambling to find pilots to operate thousands of flights over the busy Christmas holiday period.

A spokesman for the airline said Wednesday that American expects to avoid canceling flights by paying overtime and using reserve or on-call pilots.

American isn't saying how many flights are affected, but the pilots' union says that about 15,000 flights were scheduled without a captain, a co-pilot or both.

American, the world's biggest airline, has about 15,000 active pilots and expects to operate more than 200,000 flights in December.

Pilots bid each month for flying assignments based on seniority. The scheduling glitch let pilots drop scheduled flights — to take a vacation over Christmas, for example — even when there were no other pilots available for that flight. Normally such a request would be denied, especially during busy travel periods.

The pilots' union estimated that when the problem was discovered late last week, about 19,000 cockpit seats were left empty. The glitch affected flights between Dec. 17 and Dec. 31 from nearly a dozen airports including hubs in Dallas, Chicago and Miami.

“This is a potential crisis that we see well in advance,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the union. “This is very unusual.”

The union has lodged a protest against the company's plan to fix the mistake by tapping reserve pilots and offering overtime pay for some of the unstaffed flights. The union says American is violating its labor contract by imposing a solution without union input, and is improperly restricting premium pay.

Some nervous customers tweeted at the airline, looking for reassurance that their Christmas-travel plans would not be upset.

American officials “expect to avoid cancellations this holiday season,” said airline spokesman Matt Miller. “We will work with the (union) to take care of our pilots and ensure we get our customers to where they need to go over the holidays.”

Miller declined to say how much American expects to pay out in overtime because of the glitch.

Despite American's can-do response, scheduling mix-ups can create serious problems in the airline business. In September, Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair said it would cancel more 20,000 flights between November and March after admitting it “messed up” the transition to a new system for scheduling employee vacations.

Shares of American Airlines Group Inc. lost nearly $2 after news of the glitch, although they still closed up 3 cents at $49.25. Rivals fared much better — Delta, United, Southwest and JetBlue all rose at least 3 percent.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me