United’s Operation Improves While American’s Falls Off a Cliff

Just over a month ago, I profiled United’s poor operational performance and how it wasn’t getting better. My, how times have changed. United is once again running a solid operation while American, well, American is in real trouble thanks to what can only be seen as pilot action.

Why don’t we let this chart tell the tale.

United Rising While American Falls

Clearly United has seen serious improvement while American has, um, seen the exact opposite. But why did I break these dates out this way? My original post showed performance through August 12, so that’s why I isolated the beginning of August. After that point, things started to improve. The end of the month saw an airline in far better shape than at the beginning.

I broke it at the end of the month just because it’s a natural break. There was no other reason than that. But why September 12? Ah, that one was easy.

On the evening of September 12, word started to leak out that American management had released the terms it planned on imposing on the pilots now that management had received permission to do just that from the court. The airline decided to impose some terms off the original term sheet, certainly worse than what the pilots had already voted down. Needless to say, the pilots were not happy.

Does that make it the fault of the pilots? Not entirely. I’d say both sides blew this one. The pilots were not smart to reject the last proposed contract. They did it out of anger but it was bound to result in something worse than they could have had if they had just come to an agreement. Now I think they’re starting to realize just what a bad idea that was but they’re just getting angrier.

Now, management could have implemented the last terms sheet as proposed and the pilots probably wouldn’t have had the kind of negative reaction they had. In the end, both the pilots and management should have been able to see where this was going to end up. Anyone want to take guesses what happened next?

Starting the very next day, on time performance tanked. That’s right. The 10 days after the terms came out, only half the airline’s flights went on time. (And by the way, American Eagle was over 87 percent so it wasn’t a weather issue or any sort of anomaly like that.) Oh, and the cancellation rate for American went up a lot as well. We’ve all seen this story play out before.

You’ll hear plenty of rhetoric saying there is no pilot action, but that’s just ridiculous. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily illegal pilot action. There are clear differences between what’s happening here and what we saw with US Airways last year. Most notably, the union leadership is actively discouraging any kind of organized pilot action, at least on the surface. But it is defending pilot decisions to not “ignore serious maintenance issues.” But we all know what’s going on here.

My guess is that this will get sorted out in the courts one way or another, but for now, American is running an awful operation. Talk about a complete flip from where we were a month ago. Now all I can say is that it’s best to avoid flying American in the near term. Please note I say American, and that’s specifically what I mean. If you’re flying American Eagle, then you should be just fine. In fact, American Eagle is running a very good operation lately.

Meanwhile, if you’re flying United, you can take a deep breath. It looks like the operation has finally turned a corner. Let’s hope it stays there and doesn’t go backwards.

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RobMkeDr. CocktorMarksSean Recent comment authors
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Memo to AA management: you get the labor you deserve. You squandered the opportunity to strengthen the company in 2003 when the employees helped you keep the airline out of bankruptcy. Instead, you rewarded yourselves with their sacrifices. If you behave stupidly and persistently so, how can you expect labor to respond constructively?

Beware the path Eastern went down. The saying about “cutting one’s nose off” comes to mind…


As you know, Cranky, both my recent United experiences would not have contributed to the upturn in performance. Two transatlantic flights in 36hrs, both delayed through mechanicals, was a poor show. Can’t blame one legacy vs another, as the first flight was on a (very) ageing UA 767 and the return on a CO 757-200. These are the first mechanicals I’ve experience on UA in nearly 500k’s worth of flying.

David SF eastbay

It was good that you mentioned UA doing better and not just focus on AA doing badly.

Amazing how at AA so many serious maintenance issue popped up after Sept 12. What is considered a ‘serious’ issue in their eyes, and are they really serious?


Now if United gets back to Number One On Time I will say its a true turn around


Funny to think of all the UA FFers that jumped ship to AA when they status matched and UA couldn’t operate its way out of a paper bag…


Reliable Sources say anything leaking or bulbs burned out on
flight deck or not enough tread on tires
on a AA plane will not be flown until fixed….
I am betting next time you check on time performance
will be less than 40 %… Where’s my Plan B


before the pilot-bashing kicks in again: ask yourself: how does your daily job performance depend on your attitude towards your employer? you can go out of your way to make things happen if you feel supported, encouraged and a valued employee. you’ll track people down if things are not getting done and will suggest alternative solutions if something doesn’t work. decent pay may partially offset bad management-labor relationship/ a bad working environment. take that with no way to switch jobs (seniority) and you’ll work near the contractual minimum if you feel your employer is not trying to work on a… Read more »


Wise words wich will unfortunately always fall on deaf ears for anyone in a position to actually implement change. It’s a sad trend nt just at AA, but the entire industry.


sorry for the long post but dont think many will check out a link. interesting take on the rest of the operation: From an AA FO ————————– I’m just here to do a job, my job. 5:00 AM show for a 6 o’clock go in XXX this morning. Took the 4:40 shuttle from the short layover, and after 4 stops, got through security at 5:10. Straight to the jet which sat all night. Parking brake pressure sat around 2,000 PSI, in the orange band. 3 of the 4 main tires with low pressure. A chip in a fan blade in… Read more »


“Do your job. No one else?s. Do not tell others what needs to be done. Do not continually follow up.”

It seems to me the commenter could have avoided most of those problems (and gotten something to eat much earlier) if he hadn’t followed those rules, stepped up, shown some leadership and got everyone to work together. Passengers would have been happy too.


Mke – that story was fascinating. I have days that are easily just as bad, only different. Amazing how events are like dominos and things just cascade. BTW, I’d love to hear more “life of an airline employee” stories.

Jim M

If this is typical then I am surprised their on-time rate isn’t 0%.


Exactly, that’s how you know it isn’t typical and it’s all being caused by the pilots. Also, how can pilots call themselves “professionals” if these types of maintenance problems are common but pilots are just now taking a hard line? So they’ve been putting their pax at risk all these years? Finally, clearly the union maintenance workers are awful and should all be fired.


no pax are being put at risk.

Doug – meet the MEL
MEL – tell Doug how you work :-)



The pilots blame management. Management blames the pilots. Maybe it’s time both looked for blame in the mirror.


I think AA should just speed up the merger with US and stop creating a bigger mess. That’s what the employees, unions, and US management want. It’s what seems that the creditors want too. And if it helps keep more jobs (like US is claiming), they might as well help the progress and not wait until the final moment (especially around the holiday times) to do it.

Melissa gastorf

I think I was on one of the few on time flights for American this weekend. And while I am happy about that, there were plenty of angry people at the airport on Saturday. I didn’t understand why until the lady next to me who had been on a cancelled flight told me (Sometimes it is just nicer to be oblivious) Hopefully they get it fixed soon, because it is just easier for me to fly American going out of Dallas, because I hate layovers


I’ve flown American several times since the drama began, and, as luck would have it, my flights have been on-time, with the exception of one 30-minute delay due to late-arriving equipment. I do have a flight this week that was affected by the cancellations. I am one of the lucky customers who AA offered to rebook on another carrier if travel plans were affected by more than an hour. Accomplishing the rebooking was harder than I hoped — the first phone agent was unhelpful and wasn’t aware of AA’s authorization to book on other carriers — but the second agent… Read more »


The pilots made their bed and now they must sleep in it…It was short sighted to turn your nose up at management when the court has so far been largely in favor towards mgmt. You can bet AA’s legal counsel is looking for a chink in the union rhetoric ‘excuse’ and I wouldnt be surprised if a lawsuit is forthcoming.


It would seem that pilots AND management have made their bed, and must now sleep in it.

Courts apply the law – not necessarily what is right or wrong – we see that often enough in compensation cases.

As any fool knows, once something gets to court, the only winners are the lawyers.

Pilots AND management should have managed this much better for their stockholders and members.

Dr. Cocktor

As someone who just completed a 2 week, 8 segment trip on AAL, the pilots deserve a sound spanking (and not the sexy kind). Flight out of DFW delayed for over two hours because (according to FA) the pilots wrote up a loose buckle on the flight bag retaining strap in the cockpit of a Super 80. Are you f***ing serious!?!? I also experienced several absolutely appalling taxis. I’m not saying that every pilot needs to taxi like they work for Southwest, but we had a 14 minute taxi from the runway at Tucson, including what I’m sure the pilots… Read more »


couple of comments: “loose buckle according to FA”? I call BS. highly doubt thats what the CA told the FA. i also highly doubt the FA looked at the maintenance records. 14min taxi is from runway -> terminal if i read your post correctly (or terminal -> runway?) does sound long, the average (excl. AA) this month was 7.9 minutes. taxi out from terminal to runway was ~12 minutes so that would be reasonable. yeah, flight crew love checking their bags. they do it because they really like looking for their stuff. this is not your man purse that needs… Read more »