American Airlines said Monday that it is ramping up staffing—particularly within flight operations—to make sure that the thousands of cancellations that happened over Halloween weekend won’t happen again as people head home for the holidays.
COO David Seymour said the airline would wrap up what he called a “brief irregular ops period” in early November as the airline continues to ramp up crew staffing.
The airline said it will hire 440 hiring pilots between now and the end of 2021, as well as staff within tech operations, at airports and in reservations, “so more team members will be in place for the holiday season,” Seymour said.
But the most recent concern was in the back of the airplane: Nearly 1,800 flight attendants are expected to return to the job from leave beginning Monday and more than 600 new flight attendants will be hired by the end of December, he said.
American’s Rough Weekend
System-wide cancelations left thousands of American Airlines travelers stranded over the weekend. The mass cancellations, which airline officials said were a result of both bad weather and consequential staffing shortages, occurred weeks away from the kickoff of holiday travel and less than a month after nearly 2,000 Southwest Airlines flights were canceled over a long weekend in October—the result of similar issues.
The woes continued Monday as the airline announced that another 338 flights would not take off as scheduled. That represents 6 percent of the airline’s total flights for the day.
Between October 29 and the morning of November 1, at least 2,289 American Airlines flights were canceled, according to the airline. Disruptions peaked Sunday, when about one out of every five flights were canceled.
“We continue to see improvement today with some residual operational recovery,” a spokesperson from American Airlines said Monday morning.
The weekend’s disruptions began with bad weather at American’s largest hub airport, Seymour said in a memo released Saturday.
“This week saw two days of severe winds in DFW, with gusts of up to 50 mph on Thursday, creating crosswind limitations that sharply reduced arrival capacity by more than half,” Seymour said. “This weather drove a large number of cancellations at DFW, as we could only use two runways instead of the usual five that handle our operation.”
The weather delays had ripple effects, he said.
“With additional weather throughout the system, our staffing begins to run tight as crew members end up out of their regular flight sequences,” he said.
The airline proactively canceled some flights in order to create scheduling certainty.
“We are taking this measure to minimize any inconvenience as much as possible. Most of the customers impacted by these changes are being rebooked the same day, and we apologize for having to make these changes,” he said.
American’s weekend of flight disruptions is a result of airline management failing to rebound from storm events and connect crews with aircraft, according to Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, the labor organization that represents American’s pilots.
“It’s days like today that affirm our concern for the winter holiday schedule,” Tajer told The Dallas Morning News. “Management’s failure to quickly recover the airline after a storm is creating holiday travel uncertainty.”
Airlines need operational plans designed around the uncertainty of weather, another industry observer said.
“The reason that happens is because the airline is not adequately staffed to be able to handle everything,” said Brett Snyder of Crankyflier.com.
“I think what we’ve seen this year is absolutely made worse by these growing pains of airlines trying to return to where they were pre-pandemic, or close to it, and not being adequately prepared to operate the schedules that they are putting into the market,” he said.
What this means for the holiday travel season, however, remains to be seen.
“[The airlines] understand the importance of the holidays,” Snyder said. “But if I were a traveler, I would absolutely be wary, because we just keep seeing this.”