American Airlines cancels 950 July flights, with its workforce stretched thin
American Airlines Group Inc. dropped about 1% of its scheduled daily flights for July after a faster-than-expected surge in summer travel led to crew shortages.
The airline will cancel 950 flights during the first 13 days of July, after it scrapped about 775 flights over the weekend and into Monday on what it cited as poor weather conditions at its Miami and Chicago hubs that exacerbated a shortfall in pilots. In some cases, delays caused by storms exhausted its group of reserve pilots.
The sudden jump in demand — fueled by people who are tired of staying close to home — has strained airlines’ ability to rebuild operations that they cut back amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Pilots who took leave and those who were switched to new types of planes have had to be retrained as flight demand has recovered to near-2019 levels.
American added flights back faster than its primary competitors and is operating about 10% below its 2019 seat capacity, according to records from flight-data firm OAG. Delta Air Lines Inc. is more than 20% below pre-pandemic capacity, and United Airlines Holdings Inc. is more than 30% below. American didn’t immediately comment on the difference.
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American and other airlines have had trouble matching their desire to offer flights with their ability to assemble crews, although American expects to complete training for furloughed pilots by the end of June. The airline said that it dropped flights in markets that have other options for passengers and that it is working to make schedule changes before travelers’ departure dates.
Southwest Airlines Co. canceled about 200 Monday flights and at least 30 Tuesday flights ahead of summer storms that were expected to push across much of the U.S. South and Northeast, a spokesperson said. About 823 Southwest flights, or 23%, were delayed Monday, according to tracker FlightAware.com; 24% of American flights were delayed.
American’s flight cancellations grew by about 300 on Monday, in part because of storm activity at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the airline’s biggest hub.
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U.S. carriers have struggled to match the supply of aircraft and crews with soaring demand for air travel. The seven-day average number of passengers exceeded 1.9 million for the first time since the pandemic, according to Transportation Security Administration tallies of people going though security at U.S. airports.
Although raw passenger counts have been climbing steadily as new coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths fall, the trend coincides with the traditional increase as the summer travel season approaches. As a result, the number of people flying has remained at about 73% of 2019 levels, including for all of June.
“We’re just seeing a rocket ship straight up to where we were prior to the pandemic domestically,” said Dennis Tajer, an American captain and spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Assn. About 1,000 American pilots have retired early or left the airline voluntarily during the pandemic as U.S. carriers sought to reduce their workforces to match gutted demand.
American’s scheduling system, which has long been a sore point between the carrier and its pilots union, hasn’t kept up with the expanded schedule, Tajer said. “We’re disappointed that management is surrendering to reducing the schedule rather than working with APA to create solutions to fly the schedule.”
Aviators have encouraged the airline to “be aggressive” with allowing willing pilots to pick up overtime flying, he said.
The airline didn’t immediately comment on the union’s claim.