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American Airlines meltdown raises concerns for holiday travel

Nov. 01, 2021
4 min read
American Airlines aircraft taxiing at La Guardia Airport.
American Airlines meltdown raises concerns for holiday travel
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American Airlines suffered an operational meltdown this weekend, canceling more than 1,500 flights between Friday and Sunday. The issues spilled over into Monday, with another 375 cancelations as of 1 p.m. ET — about 13% of the airline's mainline schedule — and another 375 delays, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.

Hold times on American Airlines' phone lines were cited at more than two hours as the airline struggled to catch up and rebook passengers. A flight attendant who spoke with TPG on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with media said that flight crews were seeing significant changes to their schedules this week as the airline worked to fix its operation.

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American Airlines cited strong winds surrounding its Dallas-Fort Worth hub as the primary cause of the delays, saying that the weather reduced arrival capacity and left flight crews bumping up against the maximum hours that they're allowed to work in a given time period.

"This week saw two days of severe winds in DFW, with gusts of up to 50 mph on Thursday, creating crosswind limitations that sharply reduced arrival capacity by more than half. This weather drove a large number of cancellations at DFW, as we could only use two runways instead of the usual five that handle our operation," American Airlines COO David Seymour said in a memo to employees, which was seen by TPG.

American was proactively canceling some flights in order to bring the operation fully back on track, Seymour wrote.

The episode was reminiscent of a similar meltdown experienced by Southwest Airlines in October, and another by Spirit this summer where seemingly modest weather events cascaded into multi-day network-wide disruptions.

Southwest, which also has a large amount of its operations based in Dallas, also saw an impact from the weather this weekend, albeit less of one: The airline canceled 203 flights on Sunday — or 5% of its schedule — while delaying 1,151, or 31%, according to data provided by flight-tracking website FlightAware.

Seymour said that 1,800 flight attendants were returning from pandemic-driven leaves of absence between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1, and said that the airline would hire more than 600 new flight attendants by the end of the year.

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Nevertheless, the episode raised questions about the airline's ability to manage holiday travel demand, which is expected to surge this year with large numbers of vaccinated Americans returning to the roads and skies. Less than two weeks ago, during a quarterly call with financial analysts, American Airlines president Robert Isom claimed that the airline would be able to handle the demand.

"We’re getting ready for the holiday season," Isom said. "We expect a lot of passengers. We’re making sure we have the right people in the right places at the right times (and) we’re flying a full schedule."

In the memo to staff, Seymour pointed to the airline's moves to add staff.

"The hiring of pilots and within Tech Ops continues to take place, and we already began ramping up hiring in Reservations so more team members will be in place for the holiday season," Seymour wrote.

More: Here’s what’s behind the Southwest Airlines cancellations

"Additionally, hiring for our Airports is well underway and we anticipate 4,000 new team members joining us across the system in the fourth quarter."

American Airlines declined to comment directly on the holiday travel to TPG or make an executive available for interview.

In an interview with TPG last month, incoming Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said that the airline trimmed its schedule to build in more of a margin for error during the holidays, and said that expects to have enough staff to handle the busy travel period.

Featured image by SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more