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AA Claims It's Solved the Holiday Pilot Crisis, Pilot Union Agrees

Nov. 30, 2017
4 min read
AA Claims It's Solved the Holiday Pilot Crisis, Pilot Union Agrees
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Update: In a new statement Friday afternoon, American Airlines notes that "If Santa Is Flying, so Is American." And the airline has the pilot union on-board with this statement:

We are pleased to report that together, American and the Allied Pilots Association have put that worry to rest to make sure our flights will operate as scheduled.

The Allied Pilot Association put out its own statement to say that "APA and management have reached an agreement in principle addressing our respective needs, and we have withdrawn our grievance."

On Wednesday, the story broke that a bug in the American Airlines pilot scheduling system left "more than 15,000 flight" with insufficient crew for flights in the critical holiday period from December 17-31.

Facing a Ryanair-esque mass cancellation— and the resulting backlash — the airline moved quickly to offer to pay pilots "as much as [American Airlines is] allowed to pay them per the contract" so the crisis could be solved. However, these efforts were being hampered by the pilot union filing a grievance about the proposed solution — the situation looked grim.

We were pretty amazed by the update we received Thursday morning indicating that the airline has almost solved the crisis already. According to a statement from an American Airlines spokesperson to TPG "only a few hundred [flights] are currently unassigned to pilots." Compared to the 200,000 AA flights scheduled for December, this is already a small percentage. But, the airline is still working to get pilots for the remaining affected flights.

That number of open flights continues to decrease thanks to our pilots who are stepping up to the plate and picking up trips to ensure customers are taken care of. It’s another example of why we are thankful to have such an incredible team. In addition, we have more reserve pilots on hand in December than normal months and they provide us with the ability to fly many of the trips that are currently uncovered.
We have not canceled any scheduled flights in December and will continue to work to ensure both our pilots and our customers are cared for.

However, that claim was thrown into question by the Allied Pilots Association statement this afternoon headlined "Thousands of Flights Still Unassigned." The short statement explains:

The Allied Pilots Association is able to view in real time December flight crew assignments for American Airlines. That data does not support management’s statement regarding December flights that “only a few hundred are currently unassigned to pilots.” In fact, thousands of flights are still listed as unassigned.

So, we went back to the AA spokesperson about the union's response. Turns out, the two sides are looking at the same data — but it seems that it's not as cut and dry as either side originally made it seem. Here's AA's take:

Our estimates are based on the exact same data. The difference is that we take into account the reserve coverage that we know we have for the month – that coverage is part of every airline’s forward schedule. When reserve is included, and you look at the number of pilots jumping in to sign up for trips, there are only a few hundred flights left that still need to be covered. We are grateful to our pilots for stepping up and taking care of customers.

However, the pilot union grievance still looms large. There's no indication yet whether the Allied Pilots Association will back off of its union complaint of the airline's proposed payment solution and allow it to stand. For the sake of all of our holiday trips home, let's hope it sticks.

Right now though, one thing is for sure: American is looking for a new Director of Crew Scheduling.

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The new job listing was posted Tuesday, days after the problem was revealed internally but before it became public knowledge.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto