American Airlines scheduling problem allows pilots to drop thousands of flights in July

An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner approaches for landing at Miami International Airport on December 10, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

A failure in a scheduling platform left American Airlines pilots able to drop thousands of trips last July, their union said Saturday, a headache for the airline as it tries to minimize flight disruptions during a booming travel season.

American confirmed the issue and said it did not expect the issue to affect its operations, including over the July 4 holiday weekend.

“As a result of this technical glitch, certain trip trading transactions could be processed when they should not have been,” the airline said in a statement. “We have already recovered the vast majority of affected trips and do not expect any operational impact due to this issue.”

More than 12,000 flights in July had no captain, first officer or both, after pilots dropped orders, the Allied Pilots Association said earlier.

Pilots can routinely deliver or pick up trips, but free time during the summer or vacations is hard to come by for airline employees as schedules spike to meet high demand.

On Saturday alone, American had more than 3,000 main flights scheduled, which were 93% full, according to an internal count. However, flights that remain unmanned are an additional burden for any airline.

The outage occurred during a rough start to the weekend of July 4, when thunderstorms and personnel problems caused thousands of U.S. flight delays and hundreds of cancellations.

American and its pilots’ union, whose relationship is fraught, are in the midst of contract negotiations, and the airline has recently offered nearly 17% pay increases through 2024. The union’s new president, Capt. Ed Sicher, began a three-year term on Friday.

American’s pilots recently pecked at grueling schedules, something they want to address in a new contract. Pilots at Delta and Southwest have been pecking for similar reasons in recent weeks.

American said it has suspended a platform that allows pilots to change their schedules while it investigates the matter.

“We understand these are important resources for our pilots and are working as quickly as possible. We will provide updates throughout the day as we learn more,” American told pilots in an email on Saturday.

Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines captain and spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, said the company was failing to keep its IT system working properly, creating “uncertainty for passengers and pilots.”

A similar problem arose in 2017, when a technology glitch allowed US pilots to take a vacation during the busy December holiday period. The carrier offered pilots 150% pay for pilots who picked up assignments.

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