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What's going on with all of those cancellations at American Airlines

June 21, 2021
4 min read
What's going on with all of those cancellations at American Airlines
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It was a rough weekend for American Airlines, and things look like they're going to get even worse.

The airline canceled 123 flights on Saturday and another 178 on Sunday, with another 146 coming on Monday as of 4:30 p.m. ET, according to data from FlightAware.

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The cancelations appeared to be mostly on Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 type narrowbody aircraft, the workhorses of American's domestic and short-haul international fleet.

According to the airline, these cancelations won't be the last: American will pull 50 to 60 flights from its schedule per day through the rest of June, and 50 to 80 per day through July — roughly 1% of its schedule.

The airline cited "unprecedented" severe weather in its hub cities as contributing to the problem. As weather delays pile on in one hub, they can create a ripple effect, leading to compounding delays across an airline's entire system.

American also pointed to a labor shortage.

Internal schedule notes shared with TPG show "flight crew unavailable" listed as a reason for many of the cancelations, with "operational decision" listed on others.

Staffing: American CEO Doug Parker tells workers to ‘tear up’ furlough notices after new relief bill

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American furloughed about 19,000 employees in late-2020 as Payroll Support Program (PSP) funding expired, including almost 8,000 flight attendants and more than 1,200 pilots. Another 1,000 pilots took early retirement offers, according to Capt. Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesperson for the airline's pilots' union, and more took three, six, and twelve-month long voluntary leaves of absence.

Although furloughed workers were recalled in late-December, when PSP funding was restored, reduced flight schedules meant that not all of them were able to begin flying or completing training requirements right away.

Now, American is working to catch up on getting pilots and flight attendants to meet recurrent training requirements. According to Tajer, all of American’s pilots expect to be fully up-to-date by the end of the summer.

Complicating the training backlog: pilots who were switched from one aircraft type to another, after American retired about 110 aircraft, Tajer said. Those pilots also need to go through training to be certified on their new aircraft types.

Earlier in the pandemic: American Airlines retires its last Airbus A330, goes all-Boeing for wide-body jets

The training backlog comes as American — and other carriers — race to take advantage of a big surge in demand as America continues to reopen amid high vaccination rates. However, those airlines must balance demand with limited staffing.

"We're glad that American wanted to be the No. 1 airline, but did they plan for it? There's clearly a pilot shortage," Tajer said, referring to American scheduling more regional flights in July than any of its competitors.

While the limited number of pilots and flight attendants available could have managed the number of flights scheduled, recent days have brought the scourge of even the best laid airline plans: weather.

American said that severe weather in its hub cities on nine of the first 15 days of June led to a cascading series of backups and cancellations that have rippled through its network.

More: American Airlines adds Athens, Tel Aviv routes from New York under new JetBlue pact

"The first few weeks of June have brought unprecedented weather to our largest hubs, heavily impacting our operation and causing delays, canceled flights and disruptions to crew member schedules and our customers’ plans," an American Airlines spokesperson said in a statement. "That, combined with the labor shortages some of our vendors are contending with and the incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand, has led us to build in additional resilience and certainty to our operation by adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flying through mid-July."

"We made targeted changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation," the spokesperson added.

While weather is unavoidable, Tajer called on American to offer more last-minute flexibility to pilots when building their monthly schedules, so that pilots can swap trips with each other, making them eligible to pick up more overtime.

"We'd take all the available overtime," Tajer said. "But they have to make it possible for us to do it. And advertise it early, when they know they're going to be tight on a day."

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
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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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023