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American Airlines grounds 933 more flights

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Travelers faced another round of airport turmoil today as American Airlines scrubbed 933 more flights so it could continue inspecting and repairing wiring on its MD-80 aircraft. It now appears it could be Sunday before American's flight schedule returns to normal.

In addition, Milwaukee, Wis.-based Midway Airlines joined the ranks of carriers canceling flights because of tougher federal oversight of aircraft maintenance. Midway said it scrapped 14 of its 290 daily departures to inspect the wiring on its MD-80s.

American, the world's biggest airline, has canceled about 2,500 flights since Tuesday, disrupting travel plans for more than 150,000 people and creating chaotic conditions at some of the nation's busiest airports. American normally operates about 2,300 flights a day.

American has returned 101 of its 300 MD-80s to service. But completing work on the remaining aircraft could stretch into Saturday morning, forcing cancellation of flights Friday and Saturday.

"Tomorrow will be much better than today, and Saturday will be much better than tomorrow and Sunday will hopefully be a normal day," American spokesman Tim Wagner said, although he noted that "it is a fluid situation."

That was little consolation for passengers stranded today at Los Angeles International Airport, where American canceled 15 of its 92 scheduled departures. That was down from 25 cancellations Wednesday, and the scene in Terminal 4 was noticeably calmer as 50 or so travelers waited in line for help. But there was still some bitterness toward American.

Andrew Cerber flew into LAX this morning from Australia with his wife, Kathy, only to find that their connecting flight to Las Vegas had been scrubbed.

"That is just really poor management; this is the last for me for American," said Cerber, 42. "If they had a customer-first mind-set they should've been looking at the planes already. That should be the first priority."

James Regester, 28, a medical equipment salesman from Marina del Rey, was trying to get to San Francisco for a noon business meeting, but his flight was scrapped.

"If it benefits our safety, I'd rather stand in line and wait than skid off the runway," he said. "However, I think it's a retroactive approach versus a proactive approach."

American also canceled a small number of flights today at airports in Burbank, Ontario and San Diego.

American is scrambling to re-book passengers on other flights, including those of its competitors. The airline said passengers booked on canceled flights can request refunds or credits for future travel and that travelers with reservations through Friday can rebook without charge. The airline is also paying food and lodging costs for travelers stranded overnight.

The customer service expenses, coupled with the costs of inspecting and repairing the aircraft, are expected to cost American millions of dollars. The carrier acknowledged that the costs would be "very significant," but didn't provide figures.

The latest round of cancellations followed American's decision to ground all 300 of its MD-80 aircraft, which make up almost half of the airline's fleet. The aircraft, used mostly on short- and medium-haul flights, are the same planes that were grounded last month for wiring inspections.

American Airlines executives said Wednesday the planes had to be re-inspected after spot checks by the Federal Aviation Administration found that adjustments made to wiring bundles near the planes' landing gear had not been made in strict compliance with FAA rules.

Other carriers have had to ground planes and cancel flights because of tougher FAA oversight -- sparked by revelations of inspection problems at Southwest Airlines that could result in a $10.2-million fine against the carrier.

In March, Southwest canceled dozens of flights while aircraft were inspected, and Delta Air Lines had to cancel flights last month while it inspected its MD-80-series jets. Alaska Airlines canceled at least 25 flights Wednesday after it grounded its MD-80s for inspection.


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