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Saturday, September 18, 2021

American Airlines cancels hundreds of flights due to staffing crunch, maintenance issues


Planes from American Airlines arrive at LaGuardia Airport.

American Airlines said it cancelled hundreds of flights over the weekend due to staffing shortages, maintenance issues, and other issues, highlighting the carrier’s challenges as travel demand approaches pre-pandemic levels.

According to flight tracking website FlightAware, approximately 6% of the airline’s mainline schedule, or 190 flights, were cancelled on Sunday. According to the airline, this amounted to about 3% of total flights, including those operated by regional carriers. According to an internal company list obtained by CNBC, roughly half of those were due to unavailability of flight crews. According to FlightAware, approximately 4% of its mainline schedule, or 123 flights, were cancelled on Saturday and 106 on Monday.

American said it is reducing its overall schedule by about 1% until mid-July to help alleviate some of the disruptions caused by bad weather at its Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dallas/Fort Worth international airport hubs in the first half of June.

Airlines are scrambling to meet a surge in air travel demand as governments ease travel restrictions and allow more attractions, ranging from concerts to restaurants to theme parks, to reopen after spending much of the previous year attempting to reduce staff. Some returning visitors have expressed dissatisfaction with the hours-long wait times for customer service.

The Transportation Security Administration reported screening more than 2.1 million people on Sunday, the most since March 7, 2020, but a 23 percent decrease from the 2.7 million people screened two years ago, months before the Covid pandemic began.

In late-morning trading Monday, American’s shares were down about 1%, while most other airlines and the broader market were up.

“The bad weather, combined with labour shortages at some of our vendors and the incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand, has led us to build in additional resilience and certainty to our operation by adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flying through mid-July,” American Airlines spokeswoman Sarah Jantz said in a statement. “By adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation, we were able to impact the fewest number of customers.”

Bad weather has impacted flight crews’ ability to get to assigned flights, and storms and other weather can cause crews to work outside of the hours they are legally permitted to work, according to the spokeswoman.

According to Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s approximately 15,000 pilots, the company should offer more overtime in advance to encourage staff to fill in, as well as more flexibility in pilots’ schedules to cover staffing shortages.

“They’re putting a Band-Aid on something that needs stitches,” Tajer, a Boeing 737 captain, explained.

American is also racing to train all of the pilots who were furloughed in the interim between two federal aid packages that prohibited layoffs, as well as those who are due for periodic recurrent training. Jantz stated that American is on track to complete training for furloughed pilots by the end of this month, and that the company is offering overtime due to operational issues.

The airline isn’t the only one whose operations have been hampered by a lack of personnel. Due to a pilot shortage, Delta Air Lines cancelled more than 300 flights over the Thanksgiving weekend and scores more during the Christmas season.

The weekend’s disruptions, as previously reported by the airline blog View from the Wing, come at a time when carriers are attempting to capitalise on a sharp increase in travel demand while avoiding record losses. In a filing earlier this month, American stated that it expects its second-quarter capacity to be down 20 percent to 25 percent from 2019, while United Airlines estimates a 46 percent decrease and Delta predicts a 32 percent decrease from 2019. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines expects its July capacity to be down only 3% from last year, compared to a 7% drop this month.


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