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American forced to cancel hundreds of flights due to labour shortage

written by Hannah Dowling | June 21, 2021

A file image of American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 N314RH. (Nathan Coats/Commons Wikimedia)
An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 (Nathan Coats/Commons Wikimedia)

American Airlines was forced to cancel hundreds of flights over the weekend due to staff shortages and maintenance issues, according to the airline, as the carrier struggles to meet growing demand for air travel.

On Sunday alone, the carrier cancelled around 6 per cent of its scheduled flights, about 180 flights total, while on Saturday it was forced to cancel 4 per cent of its planned services, or 123 flights.

“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,” an American spokesperson said of the matter.

The airline cited poor weather and “labour shortages” off the back of an “incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand” as its reasons for the slew of flight cancellations.

Longer term, the airline is planning to cull its schedule by around 1 per cent through to mid-July in order to avoid future disruptions.

An American spokesperson said that poor weather conditions impacted some pilots’ ability to make their flights, and delays can push out flight crews’ fatigue management.

However, unions will argue that American has been slow to reinstate its furloughed pilots, each of which needs retraining after an extended stand-down period.


“They’re trying to put a Band-Aid on something that needs stitches,” said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s 15,000 pilots.

Tajer also said the company must be willing offer more overtime in advance to encourage staff to fill the gaps in instances where weather causes delays, as well as more flexibility in pilots’ schedules to cover staffing shortages.

American said it is hoping to see all furloughed pilots back and fully-trained by the end of this month, and said it is now offering overtime to staff in light of these issues.

The news comes just three weeks after American Airlines announced it planned to increase its capacity to near pre-pandemic levels, in light of strong passenger demand recovery following the US Memorial Day weekends.

The carrier announced it planned to increase its flight capacity by up to 93 per cent compared with pre-COVID figures, after it reported a first quarter net loss of US$1.3 billion.

Earlier, in April, rival Delta Air Lines was similarly forced to cancel around 100 flights over the busy Easter weekend, due to a shortage of active pilots and other staff.

In a statement, Delta apologised to affected passengers, and noted that an “overwhelming majority” of passengers were re-booked onto another flight on the same day.

In order to achieve this outcome, the airline also back-flipped on its intentions, announced just last week, to keep middle seats free until 1 May, as customers were instead moved into all available seats on other flights.

The airline said that the cancellations were partially due to “large numbers of employee vaccinations” as well as “pilots returning to active status”.

As per US Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, pilots are required to wait at least 48 hours after each dose of the vaccine before they are allowed to return to active duty as a pilot.

The airline’s self-reported “staffing issues” were the likely results of a slew of early retirements and voluntary redundancies that were taken by pilots throughout the year.

For the pilots that remain with the company, many will need to be re-trained onto other aircraft types, or otherwise undergo pre-flight checks in order to return to active duty after months of being stood down.

It was the second time in six months that Delta has been forced to cancel flights due to an insufficient number of pilots.


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