As American Airlines Pilots Turn Down Holiday Bonus Pay, Some Travel Experts Warn of Possible Holiday Impacts

AAA estimated 4.2 million Americans will fly this Thanksgiving

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This year, with more people planning to spend the holidays with family than the year before, holiday travel is expected to reach near pre-pandemic levels.

AAA estimated 4.2 million Americans will fly this Thanksgiving.

And despite a year filled with travel disruptions as demand picks back up and airlines battle staffing shortages, Scott’s Cheap Flights Product Operation Specialist Willis Orlando said analysts were expecting a smooth holiday season.

"We thought that the Halloween meltdown specifically served as a jolt to airlines to get their ducks in a row ahead of the busy holiday season,” said Orlando.

That was before the American Airlines Pilots' union rejected increased holiday pay.

“This recent dispute with the pilots’ union represents a potential roadblock for the holidays. If there are not enough pilots on reserve and we see a weather-related delay, which is very common around the holidays, we may see ourselves in a situation where they have to do large-scale cancellations again,” said Orlando.

The airline offered them packages similar to those accepted by flight attendants and other employee groups to incentivize work throughout the busy holiday season.

Instead, Allied Pilots Association said it's waiting on a more permanent fix for tight scheduling that leaves pilots fatigued, with too many flight hours or unable to pivot when severe weather strikes.

“You’ve got a hole in the roof. You can’t just stuff dollar bills in it. You’ve got to fix the roof. We’ve said for months there’s a problem with scheduling practices, and it’s shown. Every time the weather comes through on American, whether that’s in Dallas or other places, it takes them days and days to recover. They’re failing to connect the pilots with the airplane,” said Allied Pilots Association spokesperson Dennis Tajer.

CNBC airline reporter Leslie Josephs said it’s too soon to know how the lack of a deal could impact holiday flights.

"We haven't seen that there is going to be an impact yet. What is clear is that American does not in any way want a repeat of what happened over Halloween,” said Josephs.

Still, Orlando said American’s competitors are hoping to capitalize, pricing competitively out of DFW.

For those already booked to head out of town for the holidays, he offered this advice.

“Be proactive. Be vigilant. Be prepared. That means check your status frequently ahead of time. Make sure that you’re on top of things. You’d much rather discover that your flight is changed, delayed or canceled, you know, two or three days ahead from the comfort of home rather than being one of those folks who turn up at the airport to a nasty surprise,” said Orlando.

He also reminded that anytime a flight is significantly delayed or canceled, airlines are obligated to refund their passengers.

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