Fort Worth

American Airlines Reveals Summer Travel Preparations

American is using artificial intelligence to help the airline run more efficiently

NBC Universal, Inc.

Summer travel season is almost here, and Fort Worth-based American Airlines is bracing for the rush.

"We expect a really busy summer," said Julie Rath, American's senior vice president of airport operations. "We've been preparing since last year," Rath said.

American says it has 469,461 flights scheduled between May 25 and Aug. 14. It expects to serve 52 million customers during that period. 

Heading into summer, Rath says American has been hiring across all of its working groups. She says American has 1,000 more people at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport alone, which is the airline's largest hub. Rath says it's a process that started months ago so workers would be ready. 

"We actually started preparing for our staffing with the hiring process back in January," Rath said.

Technology is also a big part of American's plan to keep flights on schedule. American gave NBC 5 rare access to its Hub Control Center at DFW Airport. It's a secure, darkened room filled with people, computer screens, and a giant wall of video monitors. It's where American manages its entire operation at the sprawling airport.

"This is the team that's really responsible for planning, executing, and then recovering if we have weather or anything that heads our way that we weren't planning for," Rath explained.

American is using a sophisticated technology called HEAT, which is short for Hub Efficiency Analytics Tool. It crunches critical data. 

"It looks at all the inputs -- air traffic control, crew resources, when is the weather going to hit. And it tells us how we should operate the airline," Rath said.

For travelers, it means fewer canceled flights. "It has just been performing remarkably well," Rath added.

American is also using artificial intelligence to help the airline run more efficiently. A process called "smart gating" allows computers to make decisions about gate assignments for arriving flights. The goal is to save time.

"When you look at running an airline, seconds, minutes matter," said Rath.

Less time on the taxiway saves fuel and gives passengers more time to make connections. The airline has also tried to plan for the unexpected. 

"We get to be experts at that exact topic," Rath said. That's one reason why Julie Rath says her big summer break won't come until the fall. 

"Right after summer we get ready for a big vacation," she said with a laugh.

Julie Rath, the senior vice president of airport operations at Fort Worth-based American Airlines, offers the advice she tells family and friends for making a trip go as smoothly and trouble-free as possible.
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