American Airlines has cancelled over 100 flights already today. The most common reason is ‘flight crew unavailable’. Many other flights show cancelled due to ‘operational decision’ which appears to be giving that flight’s pilots to another aircraft (in other words, also ‘flight crew unavailable’). In contrast, as of this writing United has cancelled eight flights today and Delta has cancelled two.
The issue appears to be concentrated on the Boeing 737 fleet. American’s schedule seems too big for the crew they have available, especially since they’re only midway through the process of bringing inactive pilots back online.
- Government subsidies meant they couldn’t furlough anyone. However they didn’t need all of their pilots to fly planes, since they were operating fewer flights.
- They didn’t keep those pilots who were staying home active and qualified to fly. And they’re not all back yet, either. In fact as of last week they’re only about halfway through re-qualifying pilots with a five day course (two days in-classroom, three days in simulator).
Let’s be clear. Taxpayers were had. The primary argument for $79 billion in federal airline subsidies over the past 15 months was that this would keep airlines ‘ready’ for when passengers returned. American Airlines took its share of the money but did not keep its pilots current. And now that passengers are back, the airline is cancelling flights as a result. I want my money back.
American announced two months ago that they’d need to hire pilots this fall but didn’t prioritize re-trainings. And while you might argue ‘they needed to save money’ even though the federal government gave them over $10 billion (annualized cost per job saved for the second and third payroll bailouts was over $1 million), they were still converting these Boeing 737s to cram in more seats throughout the pandemic (Project Oasis). Keeping pilots current so they wouldn’t have to cancel flights might have been given… higher priority.
I’ve reached out to American Airlines hoping they will offer an explanation for the cancellations, and insight into when they expect the situation to resolve itself. Lack of available crew usually doesn’t manifest itself until the end of the month, and we’re still just in the middle.