Cranky on the Web: American’s Overblown Pilot Problem, Holiday Travel Deals

American Airlines updates worried travelers after glitch left thousands of holiday flights without pilotsDallas Morning News (Paywall)
When there’s a hard paywall like on this site, I don’t usually post the link, but this seemed like my best chance to comment on the American pilot issue. In short, it’s a non-issue for travelers.

I can’t quite figure out why the union was trying to scare people into thinking their flights might be canceled, because that’s highly unlikely. It was a tech issue, and now American is paying a pretty penny to make sure it doesn’t impact travelers by paying pilots time and a half to pick up trips. You may have seen American say a couple days ago that it’s down to having only a few hundred flights that need pilots. That was bending the truth, at best, since it included expected coverage from reserve pilots who are on call. (In other words, the flights hadn’t all officially been assigned pilots yet, but there will be pilots available.) The sentiment was right, however, and yesterday there was a further update where American fluffed the union and now everyone is holding hands singing kumbaya. Again, nothing to worry about here.

In case you don’t have a DMN login, here’s my quote from the article.

“Everyone’s already freaking out,” said Brett Snyder, author of the airline industry blog Cranky Flier and president of air travel assistance company Cranky Concierge. “There are a lot of things to worry about and stress you out over the holidays. I wouldn’t let this be one of them.”

Snyder said American will be motivated to prevent the scheduling issues from disrupting any flights, especially after stating publicly Wednesday that it expects to avoid cancellations.

“This kind of thing can happen. They caught it and they’ve stopped it. Now they just have to fill in the blanks” in the schedule, he said. “We’ll be watching closely, but at this point I’m just not that concerned.”

(And yes, eagle-eyed readers, American did basically steal my quote about holiday stresses for that press release yesterday.)

Even procrastinators can find deals on holiday travelAssociated Press
My sentiments in this article are actually the opposite of the headline. It’s hard to find deals on holiday travel now because the airlines have done a much better job in recent years of paring back capacity during off peak times.

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8 Responses to Cranky on the Web: American’s Overblown Pilot Problem, Holiday Travel Deals

  1. Billy says:

    I think the reason it became news is because it sounds very like Europe’s Ryanair meltdown, which is still bubbling away.

    • CF says:

      Billy – Totally different. Ryanair pilots had to take vacation in a compressed time period due to regulatory changes. Ryanair screwed up in estimating the impact but it couldn’t fix it because the rules were the rules. In this case, it was just a self inflicted wound on American’s behalf. Pilots aren’t hamstrung by rules here, so it’s much easier to fix. Just have to pay to entice them to fly.

      • Oliver says:

        Sure, different when looking at it with sufficient attention to detail, but most people don’t have the attention span or interest. Both stories boil down to “not enough pilots due to screw up with vacation scheduling”.

  2. David SF eastbay says:

    The American thing was ‘scare’ tactics gain big headlines and increases ‘clicks’ on news websites, and a whoops everything is all right now doesn’t. Plus unions like to play big shot and make people think they own and run the airline.

  3. Jeff says:

    It is beyond amazing to me to read about how the petulant pilot group at AA lives is a world of such constant negativity and search for conflict. This is the same union group that embraced Doug Parker and team in their merger to allow AA to emerge from bankruptcy with an industry leading contract. Then barely into the contract once UA and DL upped their pilot rates the caustic AA union went on the warpath and demanded an extension and raise although they were under contract. Parker and AA raised the hourly pilot rates to match UA and DL and that seemed to take some wind out of their constant whining. They also raised the profit sharing share because it was the right thing to do per Parker. Now, due a technology glitch / error they try to hold hostage AA ( and customers ) to demand more than the contractual 150% of the hourly rates. So, if I understand it correctly that takes an AA Captain from $260/hour to $390/hour. If you took a survey do you think that the customers who pay for the tickets would accept $390/hour to work. (Senior pilots make well over $225,000+ per year from what I have read) Yet, APA strives for media scare tactics to extort more from the company. They have a ton of new airplanes to fly and while not perfect the working conditions at a solvent company is much stronger than one that merely bobs along the bottom and close to bankruptcy , thus unable to reinvest in the airline and its employees.

    No one takes anything seriously from APA’s constant threats and extortion of their customers and the company they work for.

  4. tvmccabe says:

    Yes, it sounds as though AA has calmed their APA reps down and is working hard with premium pay and reserve pilots to patch all the holes in the late December schedule. But, it does sound as though their reserve crew buffer to handle any major weather events ( like a snowstorm in Chicago ) has been substantially eroded by assigning reserve crews to scheduled flights now, Poor weather could hurt them much more than other carriers.

  5. Ron says:

    Oh yes, fly on Christmas Day. We did this last year and got good air fares many months in advance. Then on Christmas morning we drove to LAX and found the long-term parking lot full, so we ended up leaving the car in short-term parking for 2 weeks at $30/day…

    But forget about Christmas now. I can’t even find good fares for Passover/Easter, and that’s 4 months out.

  6. Davey says:

    The amazing thing is that the pilot action has to have had the effect of driving passengers away from American Airlines at precisely the busiest time of the year. It was as if American’s pilots didn’t want full airplanes!

    One would have thought the appropriate action would have been to quietly work with American Airlines to deal with this problem. The outcome would have been the same but the bad publicity and the switching to United, Delta or Southwest would have been minimized.

    Before the pilots get too cocky with this stuff, they need to examine United Airlines’ pilots summer of discontent from the early 2000s and evaluate that impact on United’s Chicago position. American got rich at ORD and other stations from that mess!

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