Remember way back in early December? There were no absurdly-named bomb cyclones to speak of (if you have had to touch that mess of an airport that is JFK in the past week, my condolences), but there was a looming pilot problem. American made a pilot-scheduling mistake, and there were plenty of prognosticating pundits who predicted the end of the world (or at least the imminent stranding of all adorable children and cats). Now that the holiday season has passed, did all the doomsday predictions come true? Of course not. It was a non-issue.
For those who have already forgotten what happened, here’s a summary. American’s pilot-scheduling system messed up and accidentally started raining down vacation days on pilots during the peak holiday season (December 17 – December 31). The upshot was that American didn’t have enough pilots scheduled to run the operation. The pilots union was unconcerned about wrongly scaring the public and instead selfishly sensed a negotiating opportunity. This gave the general media fodder for a sensational story, and that sent everyone into panic mode. Thousands of flights could be canceled! You’ll never get home in time for Santa! Blah, blah, blah.
Of course, American would never let that happen, and it had the ability to fix the problem itself. As it understood from the terms of the contract, it would offer extra pay to encourage pilots to volunteer to take trips. And then it would also rely on reserve pilots to pick up any slack. This move started to close the gap and fill up flights right away, but the union was still waging war publicly. After sitting down, American swallowed its pride and came to a deal with the union that included even more pay for the pilots. All of a sudden, both sides said that everything was fine and there would be no disruptions.
That period of time has passed, and as you know, there weren’t any broad issues, but I wanted numbers. The masFlight tool I’ve long used to pull real-time flight information appears to have stopped functioning (hopefully this is temporary), so I turned to OAG for data. I focused solely on the mainline operations of American, Delta, and United since the regionals weren’t impacted by this problem. And here’s what I found:
Both American and United completed more than
99 98 percent of their flights. Delta was atypically lower, but that was residual pain from the Atlanta computer power outage. Presumably without that, Delta would have been at the top. Of course, anything over 99 98 percent for American would certainly indicate that there were no major pilot issues impacting the whole system, unless… could they have just taken massive delays and not canceled flights?
On-time performance wasn’t stellar by anyone, but they were all pretty much in line with each other. I should point out, however, that United while United finished slightly behind in arrivals, it was best in other on-time metrics, and it was best in completion factor. From a customer perspective, it’s remarkable to see the improvement operationally at that airline.
But overall, this is just a non-story. There were enough pilots and most people made it where they were going.
I say “most” because there are always normal problems that impact flights without the help of a pilot snafu. So, sorry to the person who emailed every American exec and copied me because using her obvious airline expertise, she had found that the pilot scheduling problem was real and caused her flight to be delayed. No, it didn’t. This was just a pretty normal holiday.
Now, once we got into January, it was far from normal, but that had nothing to do with pilots. These weather mess on the East Coast has made for a very bad situation, especially at JFK, and one that hasn’t gotten much better. The broken water pipe in Terminal 4 is only making things worse. This situation is an embarrassment, but I suppose that’s a topic for another time.