American Airlines Cancels Hundreds of Flights Due to Staffing Crunch, Maintenance Issues

  • The carrier canceled hundreds of flights due to staffing shortages, maintenance and other issues.
  • American Airlines says it will trim its schedule by 1% through mid-July though it canceled more than that this weekend.
  • The disruptions come as airlines are trying to capture a surge in vacation demand after record losses in the Covid pandemic.

American Airlines said it canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend due to staffing shortages, maintenance and other issues, challenges facing the carrier as travel demand surges toward pre-pandemic levels.

About 6% of the airline's mainline schedule, or 190 flights, were canceled Sunday, according to flight tracking site FlightAware. The airline said that equaled about 3% of its total flights, including those operated by regional carriers. An internal company list, which was viewed by CNBC, showed about half of those were because of unavailable flight crews. On Saturday, about 4% of its mainline schedule, or 123 flights, were canceled and 106 on Monday, FlightAware showed.

American said it is trimming its overall schedule by about 1% through mid-July to help ease some of the disruptions, some of which it said resulted from bad weather at its Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dallas/Fort Worth international airport hubs during the first half of June. The planned cuts amount to about 950 flights in the first half of next month.

Airlines are scrambling to keep up with a spike in air travel demand as governments lift pandemic-related restrictions and allow more attractions from concerts to restaurants to theme parks to reopen, after spending much of the past year trying to reduce staff. Some returning travelers have complained about hourslong customer service hold times.

American said it's in the process of hiring hundreds of customer service agents after about a quarter of its customer service agents took voluntary leaves of absence or buyouts. Delta Air Lines is in the process of hiring about 1,300 people for these positions, spokesman Morgan Durrant said. Both carriers said they are reaching out to people who took leaves or buyouts to help cover demand.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened more than 2.1 million people on Sunday, the most since March 7, 2020, but 23% below the 2.7 million people screened two years ago, months before the Covid pandemic began.

"The bad weather, combined with the labor shortages some of our vendors are contending with and the incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand, has led us to build in additional resilience and certainty to our operation by adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flying through mid-July," said American Airlines spokeswoman Sarah Jantz in a statement. "We made targeted changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation."

Bad weather has impacted flight crews' ability to get to assigned flights and storms and other weather can mean that crews can fall outside of the hours they are federally allowed to work, the spokeswoman said.

Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American's roughly 15,000 pilots, said the company should offer more overtime in advance to encourage staff to fill in as well as more flexibility in pilots' schedules to cover staffing shortages.

"They're trying to put a Band-Aid on something that needs stitches," said Tajer, who is also a Boeing 737 captain.

American is also racing to train all of the pilots it furloughed in between two federal aid packages that prohibited layoffs as well as its aviators who are due for periodic recurrent training. Jantz said American is on track to finish training furloughed pilots by the end of this month and added the company is offering overtime because of its operational issues.

The airline isn't the only carrier whose operations have been disrupted by staffing shortfalls. Delta canceled more than 300 flights last Thanksgiving weekend and scores of others during Christmas due to a pilot shortage.

The weekend's disruptions, reported earlier by the View from the Wing airline blog, come just as carriers are trying to capture a sharp increase in travel demand and stem record losses. American said in a filing earlier this month that it expects its second-quarter capacity to be down 20% to 25% from 2019, while United Airlines estimated it will fly about 46% less and Delta forecasts a 32% decline versus 2019. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines forecast its July capacity to be off just 3% from 2019, down from a 7% decline this month.

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