DALLAS – (AP) – American Airlines canceled hundreds of flights for the third consecutive year on Sunday as it faced staff shortages and turned weekend plans for tens of thousands of travelers upside down.
By late afternoon on Sunday, American had canceled more than 900 flights – a third of its daily schedule – after nearly 900 flights had been scrapped in the past two days, according to tracking service FlightAware.
An American spokeswoman said the airline expects a significant improvement as of Monday, although there will be “some residual impact from the weekend”. By Sunday afternoon, American had already canceled more than 100 Monday flights, according to FlightAware.
The Americans’ problems began on Thursday and Friday when high winds temporarily paralyzed their busiest hub, Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport, preventing the airline from using all of the runways there. This made it difficult for American to get crews in position for upcoming flights and caused disruption. The number of canceled and delayed flights increased in number and geographic extent over the course of the weekend.
“To ensure that we take care of our customers and provide planning security for our crews, we have adjusted our operations in the last few days of this month by proactively canceling some flights,” said David Seymour, chief operating officer of the airline, in one Note to the staff on Saturday.
About two-thirds of Sunday’s cancellations were due to a lack of flight attendants in the right places, with almost all of the remaining cancellations being due to a lack of pilots, according to internal figures from The Associated Press.
The nature of the debacle – starting with bad weather in one part of the country before it got out of hand – was similar to the disruption at Southwest Airlines in early October. Together, the two failures have raised ominous questions about whether the major airlines are prepared for the busy vacation travel season ahead.
American says it will be.
Seymour said nearly 1,800 flight attendants will be returning to their jobs as of Monday and there will be at least 600 new employees on board by the end of the year. He said the airline is hiring pilots and reservations staff well in advance of the holidays.
Airlines were not allowed to lay off workers during the pandemic as a condition of billions in federal pandemic aid – Americans temporarily put 19,000 workers on leave when the money ran out last year, but reversed the leaves when aid was restored. However, that didn’t stop airlines from convincing thousands of employees to accept cash rewards and voluntarily quit. American, Southwest, and others are now hiring to replace some of those who left in 2020.
American unions have been warning for months that the airline is planning more flights than its reduced workforce can handle, leaving employees too sparsely distributed when bad weather affects air traffic.
Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, said the union had never seen so many cancellations after the storms ended.
“Since spring we have been warning of these post-weather management failures to recover and it only gets worse,” he said. “We remain very concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming winter vacation travel season.”
American was planning about 2,600 flights on Sunday, not counting regional subsidiaries that fly as American Eagle. According to aviation data company Cirium, that number is expected to rise to more than 3,000 flights over eight days around Thanksgiving and early December.
In early October, Southwest canceled well over 2,000 flights after disruptions began with Florida weather problems and were exacerbated by staff shortages. Southwest’s chief operating officer said the airline has “a very aggressive hiring plan” but “is still not where we want to be with staff, especially pilots.”
David Koenig can be reached at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter
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