American Airlines’ Operations Crisis And What It Means For You

by on September 20, 2012 · 54 comments

in American

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On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article by Scott McCartney who writes “The Middle Seat” column with the first line: “If you’re making travel plans for this fall, avoid American Airlines. American has become too unreliable.” You don’t need a decoder ring to get his point!

Pinpointing The Problem
So what brought on the strong words? As many of you no doubt have seen, read or heard about this week already, American has been having huge problems with its unions and flight delays that brought its on-time availability down to a miserable 48% in recent days, and an even further disheartening 39% of flights arriving on time on Monday with 29% of the total flights coming in excessively late.

With the recent delays and cancellations, looks like we won’t be seeing many of these planes taking off.

The article points out that many of American’s competitors didn’t seem to experience any similar issues, with United, Southwest and US Airways notching an 80% on-time record, and Delta and JetBlue with numbers around 90% according to FlightStats.

McCartney blames pilots and their union for the delays, claiming they have called in sick in large numbers, moved aircraft deliberately slowly and grounded flights for mechanical issues that wouldn’t normally cause delays. However, the union is strongly denying the charges, and one AA spokesperson told NPR’s Marketplace program that since the airline is under increased scrutiny in bankruptcy, pilots are being extra careful with operations and doing everything by the book so the airline comes off with as clean a record as possible. What’s the point, though, when over half your flights are coming in late and you can’t prove it’s for verifiable safety issues?

McCartney goes on to say that American flyers are in for more of the same and that American has announced it will be cutting back its fall schedule to increase flexibility with pilot schedules. However, there are probably more labor skirmishes in the future.

Regardless of who wins, though – the airline or the workers – it’s the passengers who get caught in the middle, often in messy, exhausting, expensive situations, and as McCartney points out, angry passengers can take a long time to give their business back to a company that has burned them.

The Response
American issued a response to the recent “operational challenges” that included the following statement: “As a result of a number of factors, including an increase in maintenance reports filed by pilots, as well as levels of sick leave usage that have been running higher than historical norms for some time, we are reducing the rest of our September and October schedule by approximately 1 to 2 percent. This will ensure customers are provided reliable service while minimizing any impact to their travel plans. We recognize these adjustments may affect our people and our customers, and are taking several proactive steps to minimize any inconvenience.”

To wit, AA is proactively canceling flights to help avoid future travel disruptions, though I suspect passengers on those flights have found the changes plenty disruptive. They’ve also redoubled efforts to stay in communication with elite flyers, saying they will prioritize “Communicating with our most frequent customers to explain why we’re experiencing schedule disruptions, and to reassure them of our eagerness to help if they are personally affected.”

It’s also taken other extraordinary steps like allowing passengers to standby for earlier flights at no additional charge, and the small but nice gesture of handing out snacks and refreshments to affected customers.

So what does all this mean? For me personally, I’m glad that I already requalified for Executive Platinum status for next year so I don’t have to try flying in this mess, because as much as I love to bank miles and points, my priority when traveling is to get to my destination on time and I wouldn’t want to take chances with all these cancellations and delays.

I understand the pilot union’s frustrations, and they have given up a lot to help the airline throughout the bankruptcy proceedings so far, but as Scott McCartney pointed out, I just don’t see how this tactic is going to fix anything. Rather, I only see it alienating even the airline’s most loyal flyers as well as causing the airline, which has already hemorrhaged $6 billion in the last four years, to lose even more money.

I don’t have any horror stories of my own since I haven’t flown American lately, but if you’ve been affected by the recent operations issues, I’d love to hear your stories.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • kyle

    7:30AM flight on Monday, DFW to Charlotte cancelled. re-booked on the 5pm, when I land I get another phone call that my return flight (Today, Thursday) CLT-DFW 715 has been cancelled, re-booked on the earlier flight.

    my flights to/from CLT are booked the next several weeks, I tried to cancel them calling plat desk, to no avail…

    wondering who I should switch to for the duration of my time in CLT.

  • Goat Rodeo

    On my trip this week – Ive had 2 cancelations thus far on my flights for “mechanicals.” I find the whole thing to be a bit annoying. Others on FT are reporting significant disruptions as well.

  • Comediandan

    I cannot tell you how happy I am to see American Airlines crumbling. I was so loyal to this crappy airline yet never got upgraded. Once in a while they would throw me a crumb of four upgrade certificates, but I needed five to get upgraded to the West Coast. What a ripoff. Their flight attendants were so mean and perfunctory.

    American got too arrogant because they knew they had all the corporate business locked up, and now they are getting their just desserts.

    At the recommendation of a friend, I switched to Delta and am now a very happy Diamond Medallion. I always, always fly on the cheapest ticket and yet I’m never, ever in coach anymore because I get upgraded on every single flight.

    Good riddance, AA!

  • VR

    We are flying to Honolulu from East Coast on AA on Saturday. I hope there will not be any major problems or delays or cancellations. Traveling with toddler and a baby is difficult enough even when things go smoothly.

  • Scottpoli

    How about this one……..Sept 14 th Friday.. ORD TO LAS.. I am million miler aa………. Get to airport for 330pm flight…10 minutes before we are to leave,,, CANCEL…. Had to wait for a flight from Tucson that hadnt left yet… Get to Vegas at Midnight,,,,,,,,,Ruined day………NEXT …Leave Vegas Monday…. * 830 AM…. 5 minutes before flight to come home …. CANCEL…. Announcement says LINE UP ORDERLY….. 200 people jump up to line up…. So I get on phone with AA for rebook….NO FLIGHT TODAY.,…. Finally 4 hours later find a Delta to MINN then to ORD thru a super T-STORM on way to ORD,,,,,,,,,,I want to kill AA and the pilots who are calling in sick……….NO HELP whats so ever from AA….Not even an extra agent at gate to help rebook people……..SICK…………

  • Ryan

    I dealt with an AA travel disruption on Monday traveling from San Diego to New York. Mysterious mechanical issues on a plane that had been on the ground overnight. I am not excited to have two more trips booked on AA in the next 30 days!

  • สุภา วงค์เมือง

    Some plan, cripple the company that pays their wages .

  • Bigr3dbears

    Didn’t travel this week, but did go LGA-MIA, LIM-MIA, MIA-JFK 2 weeks ago.

    All 3 flights were great. No delays, relatively happy and efficient (though worn) crews.

    My biggest gripe was domestic First Class cabin on international portion of my trip from Lima to Miami.

  • Chad Gibbs

    I’ve got ATL-DFW-LHR then MXP-JFK-ATL with my parents next month for their first trip to Europe. Getting a little concerned.

  • iahphx

    Flew AA MIA-BWI Tuesday night. Had just seen Scott’s article, so I was concerned. Also, the weather looked bad in BWI that day. But my aircraft was already in MIA, and the flight was showing on time. Got to airport a little over an hour in advance and, just then, they posted a half hour delay. At around the scheduled departure time, they started boarding — I felt relieved. But after we all got on board, a deadheading pilot took the mic and said there was no crew yet! He said they were “en route” and, after another hour waiting on board, the pilots showed up. We were a little more than 1 1/2 hours late.

    Not sure how to allocate this between weather and job action, though, but there certainly was a strange amount of confusion.

  • ozzzie19

    Tuesday AM ORD-LGA went smoothly. On my way back in the PM, I got to the airport early and had ticket agent put me on an earlier flight, no problem (I’m platinum). There was bad weather coming through NYC Tues PM and at the gate it looked like agents were putting passengers on standby on the earlier flight regardless of status for free (which every airline should do in this type of situation). The earlier flight was delayed out on the runway for an hour, but that was LGA/weather’s fault as they only had one runway open for both arrivals and departures. Poor folks on the later flight got diverted to Buffalo (and I don’t know what happened from there). Had to be either mechanical or weather, but you’d have to think if it was weather they just wouldn’t have taken off in the first place.

    As for AA…I had given up on them a year ago for United. I’m a domestic sporadic business flier (was a lowly gold) so I status challenged over to United and have been enjoying economy plus. But with UA/CON merger and the mileage plus changes to only offer golds economy plus at check in it lost some of the shine, but I’ve still only flown AA when its more convenient than UA (and living in Chicago, thats rarely). BUT then I received an email a few weeks ago from AA saying that they’ve bumped me up to Platinum and all I need to do to requalify for 2013 is to fly 10K miles between now and 12/31. Pretty sweet deal and nicely timed with my busier travel season, so I booked 4 upcoming flights with them (I’ve already requalified for 2013 on UA). I assumed they were trying to win deserters back or at least prop themselves up until/for the merger. But if they have major operational issues, who cares what your status is and I’ll be back to UA in a second.

  • Brian L.

    You’re happy to see the airline crumble because you never got upgraded? Wow.

  • cmrk

    This sure explains a lot. Last week I spent 12 hours getting from CLT-SFO via DFW, on a trip that should have taken half that time. Late inbound aircraft, lengthy maintenance issues, gate unavailability, cooling our heels on the tarmac before and after multiple flights… I won’t be flying AA again anytime soon. Between that and the near-unusability of my BA miles, which I had once hoped to use for travel from San Francisco to visit family in Europe, I’m starting to feel like kissing oneworld goodbye.

  • Joel


  • StockShooter

    How is award seat availability affected going forward?
    Are Aadvantage Miles in jeopardy of becoming worthless?

  • cmrk

    CLT is a US Airways hub, so they will have the best domestic availability. I have often bought United tix to CLT but half the time they’re on US Airways metal anyway. JetBlue also flies there.

  • Comediandan

    Not just because I never got upgraded, but because of their atrocious customer “service”, and the rotten attitude of their personnel. Why be mean to customers that are paying your salary? I don’t understand that. The Chinese have a saying – a man who does not smile should not open a shop.

  • SgFm

    Four flights on AA in the last two weeks. No problems, all were either on time or early.

  • steve

    i think thats a pretty legitimate reason to be happy. all those flights he flew to become a million miler

  • eaamx

    I been flying both United and AA this year and I can say that United is terrible too with delays due to lack of crew most of the time. Last month, for a 6 am flight out of FLL to IAH, got stock for 4 hours because the crew was not there. Even the pilots were upset. But you know who is worse than AA and UA combined?: Aeromexico. Probably is not totally their fault since they operate in an airport that is too small for all the traffic that it gets and also the bad design of its new terminal, which complicates things a lot when planes have to back up and exit the terminal to the runways. Once you have experience Aeromexico, you will know what is bad.

  • bigredbears

    Try Iceland Express and/or AeroSvit and all of the sudden AeroMexico will not seem so bad ;)

  • Smgoshga

    9-19 Flt from LAX to DFW, delayed to depart, finally on board when maintenance was called on board, then pilot came on announcing he did not fill out all his flt documents so delayed more. Finally on tarmac..canceled flight. Back to gate to get onto another flight, they now had (3) flights leaving LAX at the same time as the flights were all delayed. Finally arrive at 12:15 a.m., 4 hours late!

  • baqa

    SEA-DFW-CLE 9/17. SEA-DFW delayed multiple times until my arrival was set to be past the departure of DFW-CLE. It eventually did go, 3.5 hours late, but I had already rebooked SEA-ORD-CLE. SEA-ORD was then delayed 30 mins and on arrival we taxied for what seemed like ages. ORD-CLE (American Eagle CRJ flight), in contrast, departed 30 mins late but we made it up in the air and landed pretty close to on-time.

  • Polymerase

    ORD-LAX 1445 9/19. Last minute downgrade from 767 to 757 (the incoming plane was flying just fine). We board late b/c the 757 was late. Elites already upset over the downgrade in equipment resulting in loss of upgrade, but also resulted in general downgrade of other paid 1st class passengers, and several coach customers not making it onto the plane. We all eventually get on, and THE PILOT holds the flight up from leaving for an additional 15 to 20 min because craft services did not bring the flight crew (him and first officer) their salads. That’s right, we all sat on the plane, loaded, with the pilot walking around waiting for salad. Everyone in the exit row (we boarded mid section), flight attendants, and gate agents were witness to this. AA staff seemed pretty embarrassed. Finally get on our way, but damage was done – missed connections at LAX, resulting in unplanned overnight stay for some passengers. Great service from call center for re-booking while I was still on the plane in ORD, waiting for salad…

  • Sean @ One Smart Dollar

    I just flew American a few weeks ago and how no problems. Both our flights were on time.

  • Znender

    I’ve been flying back and forth between ORD-LGA on Monday and Thursday for the past 7 months and I’ve had constant delays on the Thursday flight from LGA-ORD. The worst I’ve experienced was a delay from 6:10PM, which turned to 7:00PM, 8:30PM, 10:30PM, and then we finally left at 12:20AM.

    It was dreadful but that was a one time experience, other flights delay for about hour on average for take off. And today, there’s another delay for probably another hour and half..

  • Deemcpee

    I’ve had horrible luck with Delta flying in and out of LGA over the last month – out of one terminal, into another (crap parking experience); hours and hours of delays on both sides and the latest? my carryon luggage which didnt fit into the overhead space because of plane size, was left behind in LGA because the baggage guy I physically handed it to somehow forgot to actually put it on the plane…flying sucks period but how else can you get where you need to go?

  • Comediandan

    I am not a million miler but I hope to be one day. The Delta reservation agents, flight attendants and gate personnel are always extremely, extremely nice. Of course there’s the occasional exception, but clearly their CEO cares about good customer service, unlike the CEOs of American or United. I flew United for years as well and that was the same horrible service and upgrade policy as American.

  • Elizabeth

    2-hour delay SFO-LAX on 8/31 waiting for the flight crew to show up. 20 passengers missed their Quantas connection to Australia and we missed our Air Tahiti Nui connection and subsequent inter-island flight. Lost a day and a half in paradise. Thanks American.

  • Fllhairydawg

    I find it disconcerting that this trounces AA unions and then has an advertisement for Delta Airlines (DL). There appears to be a fundamental journalistic crisis of conflict of interest in this article. I suggest open negotiations between executives and the unions with respect to the balance sheet and compensation between all group, which should be open to all unions at AA. honestly and an open discussions with shareholders is in order – this includes executive pay and incentives. seriously, a more egalitarian system of compensation is necessary for AA to regain the status of one of the worlds most profitable airlines. I hold that fairness wins – that deception looses. And that a motivated workforce such a AA with a proper cheerleading team could lead the airline into a realm they had never expected: world’s best airline. i’m sure AA has the economic algorithms to leave the others in the dust. but they must reestablish the world class relations to their employees so they give 110% every day and on every flight. this is a win win if AA plays it right.

  • Zassfdgdfdfsgsd

    NK looking better than ever

  • newbie 101

    flying bos-mia early nov for cruise.
    I wonder if I should book a refundable ticket on another airline to cover my self

  • LizC

    I had a similar problem on our last American flight in August from Santiago, Chile to Dallas. The flight crew arrived 1.5 hours late because they were “stuck in traffic” (flight left at 9pm). While rush hour in Santiago is heavy, like anywhere, given this is the only AA flight other than to Miami (which left on time), I thought it was incredibly lame to have a 200+ people waiting when the only thing the crew had to do that day was to get there on time!!! On this same RTW world trip, we flew 8 different airlines and AA came in, by far, at the bottom of the list in all categories. Unfortunately, have to fly them a lot living in South America since Oneworld dominates flights to/from the region to North America.

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  • William Fish

    I travelled to Austin Texas via Dallas from BWI on American on Thursday. Both flights were deliberately delayed by the pilots for over an hour each. On the return on Friday, the flight from Austin to Dallas was delayed by 90 minutes forcing me to miss my connection back to BWI through Dallas. I have elite status and managed to get rebooked on a flight to DCA, forcing me to rent a car so that I could retrieve my car at BWI on Saturday. Naturally, I will send American the bill for the car rental and additional tolls. I can’t believe the stupid behavior of the American pilots. What exactly do they expect to accomplish? It is something like an infant throwing a temper tantrum. I, and I am sure other elite flyers are finished with American until the pilots again respect their customers. Maybe finished forever.

  • Char

    My parents have booked flights from the Midwest to visit me in North Carolina in October. They paid a considerable amount for their tickets. After hearing about all of the delays, I don’t trust American to transport my parents to their destination in a timely manner. We have been looking forward to this visit for quite some time and I am truly disappointed in American Airlines. My husband is flying home tonight on an American flight from Chicago to Charlotte and he had to de-board due to a broken cabin door and will be arriving late. I have a flight on American next week to OKC. After this – NO MORE RESERVATIONS ON AMERICAN. I WISH I COULD GET MY MONEY BACK!

  • Pokeydog

    American Airlines union employee treat Executive Platinum customers, as well as all others, as a means to hammer out contracts. For years I have been a loyal customer, treating the employees with respect, now they treat me a vehicle to bolster their desire to hold on to benefits from a different time. Wake up American employees…we are all having to make adjustments. How dare you take out your issues on the consumers. I will no longer be an American customer. In the last 15 days I have experienced every issue mentioned. Ticket agents, especially in LAX, attempt to promote the pain to the customers by not being helpful at all. Today I saw ticket agents visiting in the gate area in the seats with the passengers seats. our flight was delayed and they refused to help.

    Just imagine it the mechanics have the same attitudes.

  • Comediandan

    There’s a simple solution – don’t fly American!

    If I were going to miss a show because pilots purposely delayed the flight, I am sorry, but I would get violent.

  • Smenge

    Here’s mine…cancelled my flight,then rebooked me on one departing over 5 hours later, when they could’ve put me on earlier departures. That was insult number one. Then they didn’t even bother to inform me; I just happen to look at me res on-line when I discovered this. That was insult number two. Then I tried to pick a seat (they gave me an unassigned one)–no go. That was insult number three. Oh, and I’m a gold member.

  • Comediandan

    If there is still anyone left in the world who thinks that they should fly American, please read this:

    Please, American, just cease operations and die.

  • William Fish

    Yes, what the American pilots don’t get is that after they kill of American, no one in their right mind will fly on a merged American USAIR operation with these wonderful American pilots. US AIR was already a terrible airline, and now with the American pilots!!! forget it.

  • pcg

    LAX-KOA-LAX in Nov with two children. REALLY hope they get this sorted by then, as (a) I cannot afford to book elsewhere (as these were booked with Avios), and (b) I have no desire to get caught in their sh*t storm with two kids sitting on a plane.

  • Baleon51

    No horror story yet, but a concern. I’ve been saving my ff miles for quite awhile for a future business class flight to Europe.Will AA’s current financial woes affect my miles? Could I lose them? I have over 200,00!

  • Comediandan

    If I were you, I would sell those miles as quickly as possible. Actually, if I were you, I would never have flown American to begin with. Although it would be quite interesting to fly in their new rocking chairs LOL.

  • Pokeydog

    just changed an international flight from American. after my lax experience I booked on United. I am no longer their pawn!

  • bkalka

    case study tonight – 35 min flight from DFW to AUS ended up over 1.5 hours late because pilot announced that there were some inoperable parts on plane, and that they could still fly without them, but he wasn’t satisfied that the log book was documented correctly, so he called for maintenance to fix the documentation so he wouldn’t “put his aviators license at risk.” Took an hour for maintenance to do this, and the pilot complained over the PA that “the maintenance team used half of the log book to write this up, i have no idea why.” Then finally, we’re ready to go, and there’s no crew to push the plane off, and the cargo door is still open. I have 7.5m miles with these guys, and I’m seriously consideration going elsewhere until they get their act together.

  • Comediandan

    You are “seriously considering” going elsewhere? You and anyone else who flies AAs is out of your minds!

    Let me ask you a question. When you all were sitting there, and the pilot came on and started making up this garbage, did you all just sit there and take it like sheep, knowing that it’s all a pack of lies?

    It’s time for everybody to stop flying this airline and that’ll put a stop to this nonsense real quick.

  • John Crispino

    I fly with AA nearly every week, and actually have not experienced any real hassles or delays. I really do hope they merge with US Airways, as they are my second choice when AA direct flights are not available.

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  • Robb Child

    Flew 2 weeks ago from Nashville thru Dallas to San Francisco. Got to the gate in Dallas 2 hours before my connection but the current connection was also going to SFO so I asked if I could get on just before they closed the door and yes no charge as they quickly handed me a boarding pass! As soon as I settled into my middle exit row seat they announced that mechanics noticed a bald tire and it would have to be changed. This took an hour. No drinks offered, no peanuts, nothing. We all just sat back and used our smartphones. Flying back 2 weeks later I had to make numerous changes to my flights (4 times) and wasn’t charged! Nice! BUT on the day of my departure at SFO to Dallas back to Nashville I sat in my middle 10b seat that had just a wall to the left. Not even a smidge of window. This was going to be a severe challenge for me feeling claustrophobic.

    As the full plane settled down the pilot came on to say 2 qualified mechanics were working on the plane fixing a small problem and we’d be delayed a little bit. After an hour I hit the flight attendant button and she came up and asked what I needed. When I asked about the delay she said she didn’t know so I asked if I could leave the plane. (I was going to miss my connection in Dallas at this point) She asked the pilot and 5 minutes later motioned me from first class that I could leave. I grabbed my bag as fellow passengers said “way to go” and “lucky you”. I was met by an AA agent as I walked off the plane and we booked an earlier flight for the next day. That plane sat on the tarmac for another hour!!! I was soooo thankful I got off that flight.

    Passengers know what’s going on. Everyone was talking about the slo-down by pilots and the mechanics. Sad. I’ll go back to flying Southwest thru the holidays and forego more delays like this until AA either emerges from bankruptcy or gets taken over by US Air. As much as I feel for all the unions amid AA’s poor management, this delay tactic is alienating the pocket books of your frequent customers. Best of luck getting many of these fliers back…the double mileage promotion helps but I don’t think it’s enough at this point…we may have friendly skies up there but on the ground it’s a skirmish among AA employees and management and the passengers and AA are losing.

  • Mart

    Flew over Thanksgiving on AA with no problems! Actually have flown about 7K domestic mi since 11/1 on AA and really have seen any major difference. So the bonuses are gravy to me.

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