American Airlines Is Cancelling Scores Of Flights Due To Lack Of Pilots

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sure you could, and AA might hire you if you had 1500hours, an ATP and you made it through an interview and initial training! You would be ready to show up for work in about four years minimum if you started from scratch right now!

  2. I worked at a major airline’s ops planning department for a while. The building of schedules is a months long process that involves many departments with a number of draft versions. Somewhere in the process, pilots demand should have been communicated to the department that schedules pilots training and oversees availability. Accordingly, their feedback should have been passed on to the schedule and ops planning groups. There seems to be some mismanagement in the process. There is one reader who pointed that Doug and Isom turned the AA into AWest. I can’t agree more.

  3. The media is skewering the company but what they ignoring is AA has, by far, restored far more service (especially domestically) vs their peers. United/Delta are both down 30% if not more, AA’s domestic seat miles are on par with 2019.

    Delta is the one who should be getting all the media attention. Not only did they take taxpayer money but they then held town halls with employees directing them how to take leaves of absence while taking the government $600 unemployment kicker. Remember the issues they had last year with days long hold times? How about the fact that they put 2000 pilots on the lowest paid position and then let them expire and go unqualified, which is why they canceled hundreds of flights over the major holidays.

    How about United? Remember when they read the fine print and instead of reducing pay rates, they reduced pay HOURS which was a defacto pay cut and again contrary to what the government money was supposed to do?

    To AA’s credit, they’ve kept everyone on payroll as the government subsidies were meant to do, and even OVERNIGHTED pay checks to everyone to make them whole when the new round went through (this was posted on Twitter IIRC).

    This was simply a case of scheduling too many (domestic) flights than the airframes and staffing would allow. I’ve read that about half the cancels are due to lack of airframes on the 737 as keep in mind they are still down 20 MAX’s.

  4. Sure you could, and AA might hire you if you had 1500hours, an ATP and you made it through an interview and initial training! You would be ready to show up for work in about four years minimum if you started from scratch right now!

  5. Gary Leff is an idiot who dislikes AA and puts his negative spin on every story he writes. He is wrong here. It is a training issue at AA not a pilot shortage. It has been difficult for every airline to keep their pilots current when they trimmed their schedules to half of what they were Pre-pandemic. Couple that with a massive amount of initial training due to airplanes being parked and pilots forced to fly a different type of jet and you have a huge training bottleneck with not enough simulators to meet the demand. It takes at least 6 weeks to complete training for a new aircraft. But Gary has no clue about airline training or the result of parking certain aircraft types at an airline. He would rather criticize the airline for what he assumes the problem to be. You need to get below the surface Gary!

  6. @Gary – The $10B you mentioned did go to employee salaries. You are totally off base about why we have cancelled flights. You don’t even understand the training backlog it creates when an airline parks over 100 planes permanently. When that occurred, the company frantically attempted to retrain more than 1200 pilots and at the same time try to keep the pilots who would have been furloughed current in landings and check rides. This is a monumental task considering it takes at least 6 weeks fir a pilot to complete an initial training course. Delta encouraged leaves and stressed bilking the government for unemployment while United forced a cut in monthly hours flown. That was a pay cut in disguise that fooled our government into believing they didn’t cut their pay. AA paid every penny if payroll support money to the employees it was designated for…. Not to line their nest!
    You really have no clue what you are talking about and you need to get a new line of work or educate yourself before you make such ridiculous claims. AA management is well aware of the issues our training department has been dealing with and thus fired our director of training a few weeks ago. Network planning wrote a check that our training department couldn’t cash. It isn’t a pilot shortage it’s strictly a training bottleneck coupled with an overzealous network planning department! Get a life and get off AAs back!

  7. @Dave – “The $10B you mentioned did go to employee salaries.”

    The money did not go to *keep people on salary who would have otherwise been let go* and it did not go to *keep people working and ready* rather than paying people who were not working.

  8. @gary .. You amaze me at how you know AAs finances better than our own CFO! Gary, you are wrong! Face the facts, the Payroll support paid the salaries of AA employees. We did not furlough pilots. Any who received furlough notices were recalled and paid back pay from the date of furlough (roughly a month) and were kept current if possible. That was the requirement for the company to receive federal funds. You are flat out wrong and need to get your facts straight! You really don’t understand aircrew training, equipment bidding or staffing so you need to quit making accusations that are erroneous. The mere fact that you fly a few times a year on various airlines doesn’t qualify you as the airline expert you claim to be. Let’s face it, you take one thread of truth and weave it into a fabric of garbage to support your hatred of American Airlines. I’m sorry you feel this way but you really need to do your homework! Please quit vilifying our company to generate followers!

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