It’s Time to Regulate: American, Southwest Lead the Industry to a Cranky Jackass Award For Failing to Operate Properly

Cranky Jackass
Cranky Jackass

We knew the recovery would be choppy and difficult, but this is ridiculous. It was American’s turn this weekend to melt down, canceling 11 percent of flights on Saturday and 21 percent on Sunday. All of these meltdowns from American, Southwest, Spirit, and SkyWest have done nothing but erode confidence in the entire industry, and it is absolutely maddening to watch. Because of this combined effort, I’m very displeased to present the first industry-wide Cranky Jackass Award. I find this so exasperating that I believe it’s time for the government to step in.

Cranky Jackass

This flow of failure has been a colossal disaster for the industry on the whole. Coming out of a pandemic where travelers were already wary about flying, the airlines had only one job. They had to make people feel comfortable about getting back in the air. They have done the opposite with these high profile problems.

Just How Much Did They Suck?

Travel demand accelerated in the spring but then really got going in summer… until the Delta variant slowed things down. But before that, the momentum was there for people to get flying again. And the airlines welcomed them with a “whoops, have patience with us.”

Just take a look at the number of days with big cancellation numbers since June 1.

% of Days with High Cancellations Between June 1 and October 31 By Marketing Airline

Data via masflight/Anuvu
Numbers in white boxes are days with between 5 and 10% of flights canceled
Numbers in red boxes are days with more than 10% of flights canceled

Five of the nine biggest US airline brands have had multiple days where they’ve canceled more than 10 percent of their flights. You can look on the right side of the chart to see all the airlines that have had meltdowns over the last few months. Now, in 2019, some airlines had these kind of days as well, but to me that’s a whole different story. There are 18 percent fewer flights this year. There should be more slack in the system yet most of these airlines have done worse.

There was Southwest in June and again earlier this month. Spirit had its July/August failure. American had some ugliness in July at the same time as Spirit, but that was nothing compared to this weekend’s flight attendant shortage-induced mass cancellation event. And Allegiant, well, it has run under the radar this whole time while having a staggering number of bad days. Sprinkled into these results is last week’s technology failure at SkyWest which hurt travelers on regional flights at Alaska, American, Delta, and United.

Even Delta, which appears to be the best performer as you’d expect, has had snarls on key holidays. And let’s not forget the mess of ultra-long hold times on the very likely chance you actually need a Delta agent to help you with something. United hasn’t had any meltdowns — if you exclude the United Express SkyWest problem which certainly isn’t United’s fault — but it still hasn’t been running a stellar operation with on-time performance in the low 70% range for most of the summer. That vaults United toward the top of the class for operational reliability which really says something about the state of the industry.

With the possible exception of Alaska — if you exclude the SkyWest issues — and Hawaiian which isn’t on this chart since it had no days with more than 5 percent canceled, no airline has escaped unscathed.

An Employee Problem

Setting aside the SkyWest technology-caused meltdown, these failures all paint pictures of airlines that have failed at ramping up after the pandemic. The most recent airline employment data is from August and that tells the story.

Mainline Flights per Employee by Airline – August 2021 vs February 2020

Data via BTS and Cirium

The red numbers show the change in employees per mainline flight since before the pandemic began. Southwest, Allegiant, and Spirit have all seen significant increases in flights per employee, meaning there is more stress on the operation. Related note: This gives no explanation for American’s inability to operate here.

This is an imperfect measure, but you get the point. The airlines are returning service faster than they are restoring employment. That means there’s less margin for error when outside factors hit, and outside factors hit often.

American, Southwest, and Spirit have all blamed weather for their problems, and they are right in a twisted, yet factual way that ignores what really matters. Weather did start all of their problems, but bad weather happens all the time and we haven’t seen repeated meltdowns like this before. It’s that lack of enough employees and other internal factors that have messed things up.

Look at American’s most recent failure this past weekend. Dallas/Fort Worth had been hit by high winds that forced the airport to use its cross runways and that meant a reduced arrival rate. Then storms ran up and down the east coast. So what happened? American had to dip into its crew reserves more than usual to push them into service. That meant American burned through its reserves and got to the end of the month with a bare cupboard.

The flight attendants union decided enough was enough. As they said in a communication put out Saturday, “We are in the last two days of the month and are currently seeing an alarming number of illegal Reserve assignments and reschedules… you will not be required to accept an assignment that would take you over your monthly maximum.” Airlines often will bank on being able to incentivize crews to take additional trips, but apparently that didn’t work this time around. That lack of available flight crews caused the airline to have to simply cancel en masse.

What Happens When You Try to Game the PSP

American talks about how it’s doing something to fix this. It brought back 1,800 flight attendants from leave yesterday and another 600 will follow next month. But why is this even necessary? The airline industry very publicly groveled to secure government assistance that would supposedly avoid this kind of mess.

The whole Payroll Support Program idea was to have the government pay employee salaries to enable some level of continuity once the pandemic finished. For 18 months the airlines didn’t have to worry about payroll costs, but they certainly did anyway. They all put out early retirement and voluntary leave programs and dramatically slashed employee numbers, and that upset is what is causing so much pain now.

United has fared better than most, and part of that is because of how it worked with its pilots. It did not retire fleets, and it did not bump pilots off their airplanes. Other airlines did, and that required massive retraining requirements that slowed things down. But United tried to keep closer to the status quo, and that enabled it to come back better. While the airline did have an increase in number of flights per employee in that chart above, it clearly must have made those cuts in non-operational areas. In a post filled with anger, I have to take a moment out to give credit where credit is due.

But having one outlier here doesn’t really matter anymore. There is so much failure that I am forced to award the Cranky Jackass to the whole industry, because every airline will feel the impact. And a solution also must apply to the industry at large.

Regulators, Mount Up

It is time for the federal government to come in and regulate irregular operations handling. I don’t have a detailed proposal, but in short, the airlines need to be required to put passengers on any other airlines if they can’t provide another option in a reasonable amount of time. This needs to go further than the old Rule 120.20 and Rule 240 in that it should apply to all operations regardless of the reason for the delay or cancellation.

I’m not sure what that right threshold is exactly. That can be put out in a rulemaking to request input, but this should be fairly aggressive. If your airline can’t get you to your destination within, say, 2 hours of when another airline can, then your airline needs to sign that ticket over at an industry-standard settlement rate. And ALL airlines must be forced to participate in this program.

Readers all know that I tend to have far more sympathy for the airline industry than most, but this has unquestionably pushed me over the edge. Taxpayers threw billions of dollars at the airlines in an ill-advised attempt to ensure operational continuity and they have been repaid with repeated operational meltdowns.

When the US government implemented the tarmac delay rule many years ago, then US Airways CEO Doug Parker said that the industry brought it on itself by continuing to trap passengers for hours on end. The same dynamic is happening today, and DOT should step in and do what the airlines have once again brought on themselves.

64 comments on “It’s Time to Regulate: American, Southwest Lead the Industry to a Cranky Jackass Award For Failing to Operate Properly

  1. Here, here!
    Another idea: during situations like the one I found myself in at DFW Sunday, it should be all hands on deck. When my arriving flight gate agent refused to help me and instead sent me to the special place of hell on earth called the American “Customer Assistance” line, I likely still would have been in Dallas today since the app automatically rebooked me for 2 days later without any other options and the phone system took 5 hours to call me back. Instead I just ran from gate to gate all around DFW to other flights that could get me home until I found an amazing gate agent who didn’t even hesitate and went above and beyond to help me. So I would propose to AA and all airlines that during IRROPS, they need to design an all hands on deck approach that essentially puts every single gate agent at the airport into rebooking service, thus allowing folks to quickly get reaccommodated.

    Another idea: If one lands at 230am and is owed a hotel and one is available at the airport hotel, it should not be allowed to force said customer to have to travel 20 minutes away. Sure they gave me cab vouchers, but good luck finding a cab at 230am anymore. And those vouchers aren’t good for Lyft or uber, not that those were available either. So I just paid out of pocket for the airport hotel.

    I really appreciate you highlighting this very disappointing performance by the airline. I truly expected better because we literally are at their mercy when stuck in a different city far away from home.

      1. I personally experienced this on-demand assistance service at Dulles and it saved my trip. Kudos to UA.

    1. Oh I know. They cant decide if Steve Bannon will be charged with contempt of congress when that fact is obvious, so you can forget about something as important as the airlines & there roll in the economy.

      1. I was referring to easy things that they haven’t been able to accomplish in the past 60 years like getting rid of Daylight Savings Time, converting us to the metric system and losing the 9/10 from gas prices. How in the world would they be able to help the country with more important things?

        1. Why would we want to convert to the metric system? Would it really make a meaningful difference in anyone’s life, or would we just spend billions of dollars and confuse everyone for a few years to make things more convenient for visitors? We’ve selectively converted where there’s benefit to us, but does it really matter in anyone’s life?

          1. How about competing with the rest of the world (except Myanmar and Liberia). Most businesses use the metric system are in the U.S. It is not hard to learn.

    2. Angry Bob – DOT should be able to do this with Congress. But if it requires Congress, I agree, we’re doomed.

  2. Time to copy old Europe with an equivalent of EU261…
    Rebooking shouldn’t be on “next available flight” but on next flight, regardless of availability (encourages airline to offer additional capacity asap).

    1. Kind of hard to force airlines to put passengers on the “next flight, regardless of availability” if that flight is booked full (or overbooked)!

    2. The ‘rebook on the next flight’ works in theory and if a single flight is cancelled. But when 10% of the flights get cancelled along with 5% at the next airline over, it gets difficult.

      But an EU261-like rule that would work (as an ‘incentive’ for the airline) is a financial penalty. If the airline gets you there more than 4 hours late (unless it’s purely a weather delay), the airline pays you $200 no matter what. Something like that.

  3. Agreed that making airlines interline on 2+ hour delays should provide a huge incentive to not run an operation at the ragged edge in the first place, since the cost of doing so will hit airlines much harder when things fall apart.

    I’ve gotten lucky this year, having not had to travel during the operational meltdowns, and being only minorly affected a couple weeks ago by the Southwest meltdown. But airline ops shouldn’t break this often…my tax dollars paid for them not to break this often.

  4. I’ll cry foul on pointing too much of a finger at UA — a fair percentage of high cancellation days for July thru September came from Newark runway construction, which turned an already congested airport into a one-runway operation when the winds kicked up. When the FAA says reduce arrivals and departures, there’s not a lot of room for argument.

    Mandating ticket acceptance at an industry settlement rate sounds great, but for a good portion of the summer, the number of seats available to accommodate OAL passengers simply wasn’t there unless IRROPS was happening on a Tuesday or Saturday morning.

  5. Not saying that the airlines aren’t to blame but it is also sound like an airport problem. If winds at DFW caused a reduced flow then then maybe airlines shouldn’t be allowed to schedule more flights than the airport can accept in a reduced flow situation even during normal times.. Short term no one would be happy, airports and airlines would get less revenue and passengers would get less choice but in long run if the infrastructure got fixed there would be a long term benefit. Same thing could be applied to delay prone airports such as SFO with fog, until the airport fixes the underlying problem causing the disruption, airlines arrival rates should be based on the lowest number of arrivals.

    1. @greg,

      Oh, you mean, say, something like our taxpayer funded (aka corporate socialism) airlines actually doing something that *benefits* the fare paying public that saved shareholders (and the stock options of senior managers) from being wiped out like drawing up more realistic schedules that includes copious weather data in their modeling using the same types of high powered algorithms as are used for opaque, er dynamic, pricing?

      Perhaps by no longer overscheduling flights using smaller gauge aircraft where fewer, larger capacity aircraft might result in fewer delays during perfect weather, let alone the catastrophic meltdown and days’ long cancel palooza nightmares seen at several airlines in recent months?

      And what, give up their union undermining, divide and conquer, labor “arbitraging” regional jet contract flying business models?

      Or instead of flying 2 narrowbodies, one at 5:22pm, the other at 5:37pm (aka “wingtip to wintip”) between hubs or NYC-DFW, simply fly one widebody aircraft at 5:30pm that like the union busting RJ flying using many smaller aircraft when fewer, mainline aircraft will do, just so happens to have the benefit of allowing those airlines to continue hoarding/squatting gates, counter-space and most significantly at the nation’s most congested airports to keep potential competitors locked out?

      Never mind the potential benefits reduced scheduling might offer at airports prone to chronic delays on the best of days, let alone during naturally occurring inclement weather for which there’s much historic data available to apply their slick, price gouging algorithms to if they really wanted to reduce their fortress hub protecting, delay prone, IRROPS nightmare inducing, overscheduling patterns, such as the industry’s looming pilot shortage, or dare I say, operating fewer flights using higher capacity aircraft that not just reduces the delays at congested airports, mitigates labor/pilot shortage, but also might help reduce CO2 emissions, too.

      Yeah, right, good luck with things like THAT…

      1. That’s “…and most significantly [hoarding/squatting], *SLOTS* at the nation’s most congested airports to keep
        potential competitors locked out” in the above.

        With apologies for the omission of that key word, “slots”, and any confusion it may have caused.

        1. Finally, is it just me, or isn’t it such an “happy coincidence” that American Airlines just so happened to have recently put in place a sort of “Meltdown Protection Contingency Plan”, er “amended” [as in changed] for the worse, stripped down, barer bones, “Contract of Carriage”?!?

          Who knows?

          Maybe miracles, or at least “happy coincidences” CAN and DO happen for the cleverest, (p)luckiest and craftiest among us! ;)

      2. You can’t fly widebodies to LaGuardia, at least not American’s widebodies.

        The other thing is it costs a lot more to run those. You have a much larger turn time, you need more ground personnel over a short period of time, and it’s hard to do connections. To make a hub operation work, you need banks of flights that match up. Using all bigger planes screws that up.

        And to the person advocating making airports schedule to avoid weather limitations, that would mean you’d have to not allow flights to Chicago from December to April, since it might snow. You couldn’t schedule anything to Atlanta or Miami in the summer, because of thunderstorms that might shut it down. See what that doesn’t work?

        One last comment, regarding paying passengers $200 if they get delayed for a certain amount of time – are you willing to pay $100 more per ticket? That money is going to come from passengers. The airline isn’t going to come out of its own pocket.

        1. I don’t know current regulations, but I’ve been on an American widebody flown from LaGuardia. to O’Hare.

          Granted, it was a DC-10, and widebodies were brand new. The airlines still mistakenly believed they would be like large buses, carrying lots of people on high density domestic routes – think Spirit, but a widebody. (Are we cringing yet?)

          And when I walked up to that gate in the still-barely-extant D concourse, I looked at it in comparison to the nearby 727s. My first thought was, “they really landed THAT here? Or did the truck it in and assemble it here?”

  6. I am scheduled to take American from Fresno to Phoenix in a couple weeks. Going to see a concert and a buddy is flying out from ONT to meet me at Sky Harbor. We are already discussing Plan B, which would be for me to drive down to his house in West Covina from here in Tulare. And then he drives us out to Phoenix, That would be a really, really long drive. Hopefully AA gets back in order before then.

    1. Matt D – Things are already much better today with only 3% of flights canceled. But if you’re flying from FAT, good chance you’re on Mesa on SkyWest anyway.

      1. Okay cool. IDK. My wife booked it for me a couple months ago for my birthday. So fingers crossed it all works out.

  7. “Taxpayers threw billions of dollars at the airlines in an ill-advised attempt to ensure operational continuity and they have been repaid with repeated operational meltdowns.”

    Sorry Brett for saying this, but duh! I posted numerous times here when the pandemic began that the airlines shouldn’t be bailed out by the tax payers& I was flamed for making that statement. Now 18-months later we have seen service reliability just plummet when there was no justification. They’re trying to operate as if it’s still 2019 & only pay lip service to the reality of the pandemic.

    If you cant fly the schedule you file with the DOT then you must cut it down to where you are able to do so & the public must be made aware of this fact so they can make informed decisions on their travel plans.

  8. If the airlines are already running full, interline won’t solve major irregular operations, no seats available. Cranky, you are so wrong on this take. Re-regulation will make things so much worse. The airlines and other industry’s have no playbook on how to handle this.

  9. I’m not sure more government regulation is the answer. But I do remember American CEO Doug Parker saying that a chronic lack of performance on the part of airlines usually leads to legislation when responding to a question about the rash of tarmac delays a number of years ago. While American and Southwest have had the most problems, others haven’t been totally immune from operational meltdowns. Self-regulation is usually better than outside regulation.

    1. RE “Self-regulation is usually better than outside regulation.”

      Not always. See, for example, self-certification of aircraft at Boeing.

      1. Howard,

        With all due respect, you’re comparing apples to hammers. The issues at hand are about scheduling and cancellations, not crashes where people are losing their lives.

  10. American and Southwest and only American and Southwest have had repeated and back to back cancellations of double digit percentages of their system all the while blaming weather. The difference between Alaska, Delta and United – all of which have had double digit percentages of single day cancellations but recovered within a day – is that none of those airlines have repeated it.
    Runway construction at Newark is just as preventable as staffing shortages. JFK went thru the same thing pre-pandemic and, despite predictions otherwise, Delta and JetBlue operated fairly well.
    On-time matters in addition to cancellation rates. JetBlue has done a lot better job of not cancelling but they have been at the bottom of the industry for on-time for years; they and their customers accept very low on-time performance. WN has been operating well below their historic on-time levels since June even when they are not cancelling. AA generally recovers both on-time and cancellation rates – until the next event.
    Other airlines do not want to be forced to take American or Southwest passengers when those or other airlines repeatedly meltdown. They sell their remaining seats for far higher revenue and the best advertising to thousands of AA and WN passengers watch those airlines depart on-time.
    Finally, regulation is not the answer when just a few companies fail. The best thing the media can do is repeatedly and aggressively cover these meltdown stories; a couple sources had responses from Delta and United this week saying “we are not experiencing large scale or weather related cancellations.” This is a company-specific problem, not one of the entire industry.
    It is time for customers to accept responsibility for the buying choices they make. It is also time for American and Southwest’s CEOs to be hauled in front of Congress to explain why they can’t get it right after receiving tens of billions in aid and then make laws to start recovering that aid for taxpayers if it happens again to a single airline at a time. If government regulation is required, then the cost of it has to be born by the companies that need it and not the entire industry.

  11. The *entire point* of the PSP bailout was so that airlines would be able to return to normal operations smoothly and without disruption! And how has an airline like Alaska handled the most generous government gift in commercial aviation history? By laying off and early-outing 100s of employees, never *once* thanking the U.S. government for the assistance – and, now, promising stock buybacks as soon as legally possible! Going right back to the old days, all while employees are suckered into covering for their cheap, stingy executives. All the while, during an earnings call, characterizing their PSP-enhanced performance as blessings coming uniquely from a Divine CEO’s Unmatched Wisdom. A reckoning is coming for Alaska and it ain’t gonna be pretty. But then again, what future can Alaska even have if it remains too cowardly to ever leave the Seattle nest in a meaningful, risk-taking way?

  12. What about enhancing the technology of the ATC system? That would go a long way to minimize some of the airport delay programs and even en route delays. Not saying the airlines don’t have work to do, but our infrastructure is way behind where it should be.

    1. Yeah, Government intervention helps everything. If you like that approach might I recommend you move to Venezuela

      1. James, thanks for the response but I don’t think I’m following. If the FAA is using technology developed in the 50s and 60s and it’s resulting in some ATC delays that otherwise wouldn’t be happening, shouldn’t the technology be updated, just as it would in any other industry?

        Are you saying the airlines should bear the cost of the upgrades instead of the government? They’re already paying taxes and fees, but FAA is a government entity.

        I totally agree AA and WN need to their houses in order and resolve their crew issues, but updated technology/infrastructure would go a long way too.

      2. Eh, I don’t know about you, but I kinda like driving on the government provided roads all over the United States. Among other things, they make the airports more useful.

      3. Ah, the old “if you don’t like our capitalism just move to Venezuela” line. Come on – create something better than that as that one has become stale.

  13. ” the airlines need to be required to put passengers on any other airlines if they can’t provide another option in a reasonable amount of time”

    Well, that might have worked in the old days but it won’t work now. Back then, you had a paper coupon in your hand. Whichever airline lifted it, got paid through the clearing house. The paper is gone thanks to IATA and now we have electronic tickets. Airlines that used to have 137 interline agreements are now down to six. The problem is an IT one. To set up an interline agreement now requires both parties to invest quite a bit of time and effort in IT changes and testing so if you don’t expect significant volume, it doesn’t get done. In the good old days all they had to do was sign a piece of paper and that was it, even if they only saw a dozen passengers in a month. Job done. So if they don’t already have an electronic interline agreement in place, it can’t be done. OK, maybe you can reintroduce some paperwork but that is going to take increased manpower. Up go the costs.

  14. Airlines have relied on incentives to entice staff to work overtime and stay late – both inflight, on the ground, and corporate.

    But with as sh*tty as some passengers are treating employees, I can tell you, I don’t know of ANYONE who is willing to work overtime or extra shifts right now, and I don’t blame them.

    On the other hand, I get why passengers are so irate and upset. However, civility is gone and now employees are saying “f-u” back to passengers and literally walking off or away (and managers aren’t forcing them to stay). I’ve seen this with my own eyes as a traveler.

    Reservations agents can at least put someone on mute, but when every caller is pissed they have been on hold for 3 hours, its hard to remain friendly. Airport agents get blamed for every. single. delay. And flight attendants have nowhere to hide when the onboard folks start complaining and getting irate. They can’t even calm them down with alcohol or food anymore.

    Lots of blame to go around, but I will point one HUGE finger back at society and travelers. The way we are treating our fellow man is absolutely disgusting. And its only going to get worse.

  15. There’s no need to gloat over different airlines’ relative performance. These awards are deserved, and the awardees need to get their acts together. That’s all that needs to be written.

    1. First, nobody is gloating or wishing any airline to fail but understanding the scope of the problem of repeated mass cancellations is necessary to figure out what to do about it.
      Even with CF’s data – which is based on marketing (not operating carriers) and thus not an accurate reflection of how bad or good some airline’s own operations have been – it is clear there are marked differences between operational reliability. The DOT and every other source will confirm that there is a difference in how airlines are run.
      You may not like to hear yet again that American (and Southwest) are not on par with the rest, let alone the best of the industry but that is the cold hard reality.

      Roger Cohen,
      Even before deregulation, airlines did not provide identical levels of service and the removal of economic restraints on pricing, capacity, and market access.
      There has been a tortured history of declining service from the U.S. airline industry. The solution is not regulated era solutions like making airlines pick up each others’ messes – you’ll recall that Delta did not participate in mutual aid pacts – but for consumers to understand what they are buying. Even the mandatory flight specific on-time data that was supposed to be displayed is no longer updated for many flights. And there is no information on cancellation rates on any US airline’s website.
      The first step is to recognize that specific airlines, not the industry, have a problem and for the offending airlines to be highlighted and held accountable. No one wants to be in a class where one bad apples always manages to get recess cancelled for the whole class.

      1. Tim,

        With all due respect, you sure fooled me. Your rhetoric usually reads like you’re gloating. But you’re right that both American and Southwest have to get their collective acts together.

        1. what you and anyone else reads does not translate into reality.
          Airlines generate enormous amounts of data – operational and financial – and most of it becomes public at some point.
          It is simply not gloating to note that some companies – and they are companies – generate metrics that are well below not just the industry average but also well below their own competitors, and they are competitors.
          In fact, there are a few airlines that generate premium revenue because they do so much better than their peers, not because they are built on anyone failing.

    2. DesertGhost–

      For a long time, some airlines’ entire business plan consisted of hoping another carrier would fail. Most have moved past that, but many in the aviation community have not.

  16. As always, “Angry Bob Crandall” is right….just like he – -and every US airline except UA — were back in 1978 when we OPPOSED deregulation. Reform, yes — eliminating the foundational public utility structures that built the industry was wrong.

    Mandatory interlining — what a novel concept. Dates back to pre I Love Lucy…hell, TV!

    I might be risking my A4A pension – – or worse, the friends I still love after a 40 year airline lobbying career — but after taking the PSP $$$$ — the excuses aren’t gonna cut it anymore.

    Forty years shilling for the airlines — made too much noise, didn’t want to pay our taxes, cost too much to fly LA-Sacramento, landing fees too high — never one day felt bad being an airline lobbyist.

    Really glad I’m not in my first airline job — working the complaint department in reservations! But then, no one’s getting through anyways…

  17. Several Phoenix news stations ran stories about a group of FFA students stranded in Charlotte en route to Phoenix (iirc, the convention was in Indianapolis and apparently had to connect to IND via CLT) who are now having to caravan back to Northern Arizona because of American’s snafu. My gf and I are concerned because her mom is supposed to fly PHX-CVG in a few weeks on AA. Thankfully its nonstop.

    Oddly enough, I flew for the first time since the pandemic began (10/7/2021 IWA-CVG and 10/24/2021 CVG-IWA) on Allegiant and was pleasantly surprised that not only were the planes on-time, but nobody on board went into a fit of rage, even though the forward lavatory on the return trip was out of commission.

  18. Complain all we want, but it is an interesting case study into how can AA and WN take so long to recover. WN hinted a few weeks back that their staffing was looking good during the week but was still lacking on the weekends and their snafu started on a Friday evening. They tried to ‘protect their network’ by cancelling a bunch of Friday night flights in/out of Florida but it seems their weekend staffing challenges combined with crews all out of sorts couldn’t get things back in place for 3-4 days. It seems that AA might have gotten itself into the same boat, though they might have been more related to end of month flight attendant max hours. I know that WN mentioned they don’t have as many flights/day between locations to help with irops recovery for both crews and customers, is AA still in the same boat? @CF you do a masterful job in digging through schedules, is AA still doing more regional based hubbing for most of their destinations or has the overflying of hubs mostly gotten back to its 2019 network which would allow for better re-routing of customers through other hubs to their destinations?

    I mean, couldn’t WN just take a couple of those cancelled flights and do some short hops loaded with crews depositing them along the system to help get things back in shape? Or, just like in the old wright amendment days, just overfly a city onto the next one if that city has problems like they used to do to skip MCI or STL and go straight to MDW when those cities had weather?

    On a side note, being a DFW-ite, maybe once every other year do you get a chance to avgeek out watching all DFW traffic use only 31 L/R. Seeing take-offs from 31R or landings on 31L can make you cringe seeing flight paths going to cross the main runways… or some pilot is completely lost.

    As mentioned above with the paper tickets and IT, it feels like all the creativity and flexibility of yesteryear is lost.

  19. While I agree with the sentiment and the accountability – clearly it’s a lot more complex. However, allow me to enumerate a few issues which I think will be relevant.
    1. I agree that there does need to be a new set of laws to govern performance. In any contract there are 2 sides. For far too long the airline contract of sale has been separated and isolated from the conditions of carriage.
    2. They need to be put back together and the airlines held accountable.
    3. I am in favour of a Regulation 261 type structure for performance. It has been tremendously effective at holding European carriers responsible.
    4. There is clearly a lot of BS being blamed on weather and ATC. The data here does not support that analysis. Indeed the entire payment for the use of public resources needs to be reconsidered and the ending of grandfather rights which favours incumbents.
    5. The airlines are all too big to fail and hide behind that cloak. There was clearly profligate behaviour prior to the pandemic. And now all of a sudden they can make profit? That doesn’t ring true.
    6. The airlines (both management and workers) are stakeholders in the delivery system and their contracts are in some cases anti consumer. They are also anti the efficient use of resources. This needs to change.
    7. The airlines must be held accountable for their use of public resources.
    8. The lack of transparency of information and some of the archaic metrics (like on time performance) need to be reformed. This is a public resource and we need there to be an accounting of the use of those resources. The suspension of “Use it or lose it” slots is in my view criminal.
    9. Techniques like schedule padding have reduced the ability of the regulators to enforce the existing (weak) laws and edicts. This results in wastage and higher costs for the public to bear.
    10. The cosy relationship between the FAA and the airlines needs to be undone. Ditto the cosy relationship between the FAA and the OEMs.
    Cheers

  20. Adding some thoughts and questions for this blog’s incredible participants to share answers too

    1. What commitments were made by airlines in return for PPP loans?
    2. Impact of Early Retirements, both Equipment and Staff?
    3. Impact of Equipment Mismatch –> weak International=Wide Body Equipment vs Strong Domestic=Narrow Body Equipment?
    4. Impact of Polarized Citizens over Masking-&-Vaccination and Public Health vs Private Choice?
    5. Impact of Employee’s saving their PPP Paychecks and not needing or wanting to work extra time and/or over time?
    6. Impact of High Equipment and Staff Utilization –> requires better systems to overcome events (weather, runway construction, etc)
    7. Impact of One-time window to run high equipment utilization due to mass servicing during equipment storage?
    8. Impact of Boeing 737 and 787 availability and deliveries?
    9. Impact of Airbus 220 and -neo availability and deliveries?
    A. Impact of rescheduled orders and pushed out deliveries of new equipment?
    B. Impact of Delayed Recovery Timeframe from Priority#1 = Minimize Cash Burn strategies?
    C. Impact of Airline Management-&-Staff not saying “No!” to risky plans given Industry Crisis that motivates all to “swing for the fences”?
    D. Impact of New Schedules with more flights to leisure areas versus where crew bases are?

    AA and WN management deserves the bad PR they are getting, especially for blaming the weather and the government. The New Management Norm is to be first in line for success, bonus, stock options, and salary and nowhere to be found for failure, punishment, and consequences. Perhaps Board-of-Directors could do their jobs and have Succession Plans that allow Management Change when Major Mistakes occur.

    I look forward to the expert data analysts on this blog sharing the delayed government-required disclosures that this already heavily rules-&-regulations industry provides.

    I believe the old expression is “The beatings will continue until the performance improves” applies to this industry and the beatings will come from both The Consumer and The Government.

  21. A question for you folks advocating regulation and other changes.

    How much more are you willing to pay for airfares?

    Nothing in life is free. If you mandate that they add staff that costs money. If you mandate that they cut flights…well, we are already very near capacity. supply and demand says if you cut capacity when demand is high prices shoot up.

    As long as people look for K-Mart prices for air travel they are going to get K-Mart service.

    The idea that airlines should only schedule flights for crosswind runways in places like Dallas and Atlanta and Chicago is silly. 99.9% of the it’s not needed. I would compare that to saying you can’t fly to New York in the winter because it might snow. Some of this is just going to happen. If you have a major blizzard people are going to get stuck.

    The DFW event was very similar to such an occurrence.

    Some of the airlines need to figure out they have to staff up and they will, but we will see more of this as long as passengers expect to pay bargain basement fares.

  22. Probably on of the top 5 dumbest things ever written on the internet. You have to be a special kind if stupid to believe any of this or even more of a moron to write it…stay on your own pay grade writing free internet smut you idiot..

  23. I work in an operation role at United. I’m happy with how much we’ve been making it work so far but we are exhausted. Our department is in the process of hiring but we are also part of the Great Resignation so we have had a net gain of 0 when it comes to staffing.

    1. Thanks for your very insightful comment that gets at the root of these operational disruptions that are happening not just in the airline industry but throughout the US economy.
      People don’t just quit work because they don’t like a policy. They are quitting because they have the financial resources to take a stand and still maintain their financial situation – or so they think.
      After trillions of dollars in federal aid to Americans and a very strong stock market, many people are simply not interested in fighting with anyone – whether that be their employers or customers.
      The airline industry is highly labor intensive but has also historically paid fairly well. When airlines struggle to rebuild their workforces, there are major shifts in the overall economy that are in play.
      Regulating service won’t work when the root cause is something far beyond the airline industry which was deregulated precisely so that companies can choose how they spend their revenues and so that the government does not pick winners and losers because that is the job of the customer – just as it is with Fedex vs. UPS, WalMart vs. Target, and Shell vs. Exxon.
      The airline industry received enormous aid and might be in the labor situation it is in to great degree because of the aid it received. While the industry as a whole was bailed out, it is up to each individual airline to figure out how to manage its way out of covid just as it has been for every American to decide how to decide whatever aid or financial gains or losses they have received or incurred. it should be clear that there will be winners and losers in the airline industry just as there are in the larger business world and between neighbors in the same community.

      1. My department actually does not pay well for living in Chicago. We have made multiple offers that have been turned down due to pay (in addition to the resignations). Flight benefits can only take you so far if you can’t afford your vacation when you get there…

        1. You are absolutely correct that many workers can’t afford to live in many of America’s cities, esp. those at the bottom of pay scales. Airline workers ON AVERAGE do make more than Americans as a whole.
          The issue is that there are many highly labor intensive industries that need a supply of reasonably skilled labor which is getting harder and harder to find. When there is expected to be a significant shortage of airline pilots- which pay well above average rates compared to the US as a whole – and the same is true for nurses and other non-aviation skilled jobs, we can expect to either pay more, have to deal w/ more automation, or watch continued deterioration in service, esp. from companies that cannot deliver high enough revenue to cover their costs or have large operations in high cost parts of the country.

          All the best to you and your coworkers in getting more help.

  24. I fear like I may be cursing them by writing this, but it would be interesting to learn more about why Alaska has not melted down to the extent of others—admittedly, they are smaller and have less geographical exposure in their operation, but I wonder if it is other things, too. Beyond performing well on cancellations and delays as operations have increased, Alaska has (quietly) restored real first class service much sooner than other carriers—back in August, for example, I got hot meals, on china, served on ORD-SEA and ORD-SFO. Meanwhile, AA is proud of managing to get sandwiches wrapped in plastic on trays. Why has AS been able to normalize faster and with less drama than others, across a variety of categories?

  25. Delta suffered $8B from losses due to the pandemic. Airlines did receive Cares Act funds from the government, but had their business affected by the federal government shutting down international travel and states imposing domestic quarantines (ie. NY, Hawaii, CT, NJ…). Part of the Cares Act was airlines had to continue to serve all cities prior to the pandemic where there was no demand and received funding for 70% of the workforces that would have been put on unemployment otherwise. The airlines essentially just acted as a conduit with which to pay staff they did not need.

  26. Your solution is so theoretical in nature that it’s not even close to practicable or doable in the real world.

    If an airline cancels flights, there is going to be a hub or hubs severely impacted by the cancellations. No collection of airlines would be able to fill the void since most hubs are dominated by 1 carrier. Other airlines won’t have the seat capacity at a competitor’s hub to absorb the volume, not to mention that they serve a much more limited number of destinations from the airport resulting in either significant re-routing or in the worst case scenario, don’t even serve the airport of the customer’s final destination.

    Better to keep the problem isolated to one carrier then causing the entire system across all airlines to slow down or completely freeze up.

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