American Airlines has cancelled almost 1,700 flights over the past three days, citing blustery conditions in Texas and a shortage of flight attendants.
The disruptions were similar in their initial cause and size to problems suffered in early October by Southwest Airlines, and they raised ominous questions about whether major airlines are prepared for the busy upcoming holiday travel period.
By early afternoon Sunday, American had cancelled more than 800 flights — almost 30 per cent of its schedule for the day — after scrapping nearly 900 flights on Friday and Saturday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
American’s troubles began late in the week, when high winds at times shut down flights and prevented the airline from using all runways at its busiest hub, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. That made it difficult for American to get crews in position for upcoming flights, and the cancellations and delays grew worse through Saturday and Sunday.
“To make sure we are taking care of our customers and providing scheduling certainty for our crews, we have adjusted our operation for the last few days this month by proactively cancelling some flights,” David Seymour, the airline’s chief operating officer, said in a note to employees on Saturday.
Seymour said American was able to put most of the stranded travellers on other flights the same day.
A spokeswoman for American said the airline expects considerable improvement starting Monday, although there will be “some residual impact from the weekend.” By midday Sunday, American had cancelled nearly 50 Monday flights, according to FlightAware.
Earlier in October, Southwest cancelled well over 2,000 flights after disruptions that started with weather problems in Florida and were compounded by staffing shortages.
Airlines were barred from laying off workers during the pandemic as a condition of billions in federal pandemic relief — American temporarily furloughed 19,000 workers when the money lapsed last year, but reversed the furloughs when aid was restored. That, however, didn’t stop the airlines from persuading thousands of employees to accept cash incentives and quit voluntarily. American, Southwest and others are now hiring employees to replace some of those who left in 2020.
Seymour said American is staffing up, with nearly 1,800 flight attendants returning to their jobs starting Monday and others on Dec. 1, and at least 600 new hires on board by the end of the year. He said the airline is stepping up hiring for other jobs including pilots and reservations agents in time for the holidays.
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