American Airlines flight cancellations: Sickouts, work orders hamper airline

Photo: Associated Press

The skies have not been so friendly for American Airlines over the past week.

Hundreds of the carriers' flights have either been canceled or delayed over the past week because of a pair of issues - a spike in both mechanical work orders and pilot sick calls. Hundreds more are in jeopardy as a battle between the company and its pilots continues.

Ongoing employee unrest over American's effort to cut $1 billion in labor costs is fueling the mass cancellations and massive flight delays nationwide. According to, fewer than 37 percent of the airline's flights this past Monday arrived as scheduled.

Date Total Flights On-Time Cancellations Delays Excessive Delays Sept. 15 1621 51.33% 37 752 348 Sept. 16 1837 45.24% 92 914 446 Sept. 17 1859 36.58% 109 1070 513 Sept. 18 1798 45.15% 58 954 457 Sept. 19 1770 54.15% 34 796 291

Source: An excessive delay is defined as one that is longer than 44 minutes.

That's a huge drop year-to-date. Last September at this time, that on-time number hovered around 81 percent.

"You simply follow all the rules - the federal rules, the company rules and the union rules - and by doing that, you can almost shut the airline down," retired airline captain Denny Kelly said.

Earlier this week, the bankrupt airline gave layoff notices to thousands of employees after a judge allowed American to throw out its contract with its pilots.

The combination of sickouts and mechanical writeups is leading to the cancellation of 2 percent of the airline's flights, which amounts to dozens of daily flights. The issues may last into October, officials anticipate.

Stuck in the middle of all of this are the passengers who are just trying to get from point A to point B safely and promptly.

"I would encourage the pilots to take a deal and move on with things," American Airlines passenger Charles Weaver said. "It's probably the best deal they are going to get."

The entire ordeal has also caused industry experts to lose faith in the airline. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published a story advising travelers to avoid flying on American altogether until the strife ends.

In a statement to the company's website, American Airlines spokesman Bruce Hicks said that the cancellation of flights will actually lead to improved reliability and on-time performance.

"We recognize these adjustment may affect our people and our customers and are taking several proactive steps to minimize any inconvenience," Hicks said.

American Airlines later released this statement attributed to Hicks:

"We are confident in the causes of the recent operational challenges of flight cancellations and delays. Prior to the recent issues, American had been running a good operation, with on-time performance and reliability measures at their best levels in many years The recent disruptions are primarily due to the significant increase in maintenance write-ups by our pilots, many right at the time of departure. Additionally, continued higher-than-normal sick usage by pilots, which has been up more than 20 percent year over year and has been elevated for months, impacts the availability of reserve pilots, which can ultimately lead to cancellations. Our pilot staffing - without the recent actions regarding maintenance write-ups and the continued increase in sick time - is adequate to meet our scheduling needs and recalling pilots from furlough would not be needed.

First, we apologize to all of our customers for the inconvenience this has caused. We understand how irritating and unfortunate this is in interrupting or delaying their travel plans. We appreciate their patience and hope for their understanding. We also appreciate very much the extra and difficult work this has caused so many of our people and especially appreciate the fabulous job our maintenance crews have been doing in taking care of these additional write-ups and getting planes back on schedule as fast as possible. In addition, our inventory of spare parts is at the highest level in years.

American has taken significant steps to try to limit the impact on our customers. We have carefully selected some 300 flights this week to pre-cancel to allow us to re-accommodate passengers in advance. And, through October we have reduced our schedule 1 to 2 percent as well. In addition, we have increased staffing in all other areas to assist in re-accommodating customers and are reaching out to customers proactively to notify them of the options available and the ability to standby for earlier flights at no charge.

We remain committed to doing all we can to serve our customers to provide safe, reliable transportation, just as they have always expected and received from American Airlines."