American Airlines cancels hundreds of flights due to pilot, staff shortages as thousands more loom

Angry passengers railed at American Airlines over the weekend after the carrier was forced to cancel 303 flights due to 737 pilot shortages, sick call-ins, and aircraft maintenance issues.

The bigger problem as the carrier attempts to return to full operations, however, is the pilot shortage; up to 3,000 more flights could be axed over the summer because the airline dismissed around 1,200 of its 15,000 pilots at the beginning of the pandemic due to a substantial drop-off in fares.

But as the country emerges from the COVID-19 economy, air travel is returning to pre-pandemic levels, and carriers are struggling to meet the renewed demand.

In the case of American Airlines, frustrated passengers vented on social media after the carrier cut 123 flights on Saturday and another 180 on Sunday. Also, more than 100 flights were already canceled for Monday as the airline warned thousands more may come by the end of July.

Airline officials said that ongoing staff and pilot shortages would result in the cancellation of 50-60 flights per day, or roughly 600 aircraft, throughout June, while cancellations could ramp up to around 80 per day, or 2,480 planes, by July.

As life returns to normal around the country, demand for air travel has returned more quickly than airlines anticipated and has caught the larger carriers by surprise, according to ABC News.

“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,” a statement from AA read regarding the weekend cancellations.

The airline also said officials will attempt to notify passengers ahead of time if their flight has been eliminated.

U.S. air carriers lost a combined $35 billion in 2020 due to COVID-19, but American Airlines took the biggest hit because it’s the largest carrier in terms of planes and passengers: AA lost nearly a quarter of that amount, or about $9.5 billion.

The cancelations did not sit well with passengers, many of whom were stranded for hours at airports.

Sitting on hold for over 35min now because our flight was CANCELLED 6hrs before departure with NO NOTIFICATION  Not how I wanted to spend the beginning of my vacation,” one user tweeted.

“I thought that my flight from Chicago to Kansas got cancelled because of the weather, but it turns out that American Airlines found some old tweets from that aircraft and suspended it immediately,” gun control reformist Cameron Kasky, founder of Never Again MSD, noted.

“American Airlines delayed my son’s connecting flight because the flight attendant wasn’t there. Now, the flight is canceled & they’re saying they don’t have to provide a hotel because the flight was canceled due to weather, which is a LIE. I’m so angry,” said another user.

“American Airlines cancelled my flight because ‘not enough people boarded’ and I’ve been stuck at the airport since 8 am and finally they just confirmed me for a flight at 6pm. Never again,” added another.

Other users shared photos and videos of lengthy lines at airports.

It’s not just the airlines that are having difficulty finding enough staff to operate at full-tilt. The Transportation Security Administration is struggling to find enough airport agents after laying off staff during the pandemic, ABC News added. The agency is attempting to hire some 6,000 new employees to handle the summer travel rush.

“When air travel came to a halt in March 2020, thousands of employees were offered early retirements and buyouts, but now the airlines are desperate to fill these positions again,” the network reported Monday.

While AA is also dealing with shortages of catering contractors and wheelchair operators, other airlines are facing staffing deficits as well. United Airlines, for instance, is short baggage handlers.

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Jon Dougherty

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