Cancellations Surge at American Airlines

Experts warn travelers to avoid flying American

Flight cancellations have spiked at American Airlines, which is fighting with unhappy pilots.

The Wall Street Journal's veteran travel reporter, Scott McCartney, on Tuesday told travelers to avoid the carrier because "American's operation is in shambles."

McCartney said American Airlines is too unreliable because of trouble with the pilots union.

Denny Kelly, an aviation expert and former pilot, said he agreed that travelers should avoid the Fort Worth-based airline.

"If you're going to fly a trip from Dallas to someplace and you have a choice, and you have to be there on time or within a reasonable amount of time ... why take a chance  on American?" he said. "Why take a chance on [if] a flight's going to be delayed or canceled? Go on somebody else that doesn't have that problem."

But that could be easier said than done when flying in or out of North Texas.

"The problem is, at DFW, 75 percent of the flights are American, so what do you do?" Kelly said.

American said on Monday that it would reduce the number of flights at least partly because of staffing shortages.

American spokesman Bruce Hicks said the airline was cutting its schedule for the rest of September and October by 1 to 2 percent because of "a number of factors." Among them is an increase in pilots calling in sick and maintenance reports filed by flight crews.

The airline has struggled over the past few days with a large number of pilots calling in sick and a higher-than-usual number of requests for aircraft maintenance.

An American Airlines representative told NBC 5 on Tuesday that it is aware of the higher sick levels and maintenance requests. The company said the airline is being proactive and is taking steps now to prevent more problems in the future.

American canceled more flights on Sunday and Monday than any other airline.

On Tuesday, only 53 percent of American's flights arrived on time.

"I would say it's about a D-minus," Kelly said.

Tuesday's on-time number was higher than Monday's 39 percent and Sunday's 48 percent.

Kelly said the situation is ultimately the fault of the airline's management because of how it has mistreated the pilots.

"The pilots are the ones that are involved in this job action, if you will," he said. "And, of course, it's not organized, they say. But that's exactly what it is. And the bottom line is, if a pilot follows every rule in the FARs -- the federal regulations -- the contract, the company regulations, they'll shut the airline down, and that's exactly what they're doing."

The cancellations came a few days after American imposed new cost-cutting terms on its pilots, including outsourcing more flying jobs to other airlines and terminating one of the pilots' retirement programs in November. Pilots rejected more-generous terms in the last contract offer from American, which has been under bankruptcy protection since November.

Last week, the union sent out ballots for a strike-authorization vote, although federal officials have not cleared the way for a legal strike at the nation's third-biggest airline.

Most travelers flying on American Airlines on Thursday did not seem that concerned by the Wall Street Journal warning, saying they would stick with the airline.

"No, no, I have confidence in them," said Linda Cankar, who just returned home from Jackson Hole, Wyo. "They'll do what they need to do. I know some people and, from what I hear, it's nothing to really be worried about."

Travelers who spoke with NBC 5 said they had not personally experienced late or canceled flights.

"I've flown since that release, and I arrived at my destination on time with my bag where it was supposed to be," Jenice Bowman said. "I haven't experienced that personally so, as of right now, my faith is pretty strong with American. I'd still fly them this fall."

But the idea that travelers could be inconvenienced as the airline and its pilots hash things out didn't sit well with everyone.

"Hopefully, they get themselves together," Robert Crump said. "Everybody needs a job, wants a job, but by striking, delaying things, it's going about it the wrong way."

NBC 5's Brian Curtis and Chris Van Horne contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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