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. Gary,
    While you reach out to AA, I’ll reach out and grab another beer. Which one of us will be satisfied first?

  2. My flight tomorrow night (6/20) on a 737 out of JFK was canceled at 8AM this morning. Get to take the long way home now with a stop in CLT

  3. Sure glad the two people in the pointy end of the plane have had a vaccine that is causing Bell’s Palsy, myocarditis, thrombocytopenia, etc are entrusted with the safety of passengers. Since travellers are advised not to fly due to blood clots, are pilots being advised not to fly due to blood clots?

  4. I was shocked when my friend’s evening EWR-ORD on an A319 was canceled yesterday, for Wednesday! Now the only alternative is via CLT, which was $50 cheaper when we booked originally. Really disappointed in AA!

  5. Why would AA talk to you? They owe you nothing with your constant barrage of BS including this half azzed story which is biased. Show us facts when you make these allegations. Just your word isn’t good enough.

  6. “Stupid is as stupid does” sure fits here… while our politicians screw around with idiotic infighting and meaningless grandstanding, their constituents get screwed by lying f’n airline execs who knew this was coming at them, yet there is no criminal action by our politicians, for these airline asshats who knowingly lied while taking handouts and lessening the $$ available to businesses really in need. What a shell game! It sure isn’t JUST the airlines, who ripped off taxpayers when you look at who and how much was grabbed by piggish people who have no scruples, but the airlines (especially AA) are never to be trusted in anything they say… to reference another colloquial saying “How do you know they are lying?” BECAUSE THEIR LIPS ARE MOVING… Airlines really screwover people’s lives with this kinda BS and don’t give a crap, because they know we’re a captive audience… so what if you miss a wedding, funeral, really important business meeting, etc., just because the Airlines execs and operational people are are inept at planning and know they won’t face any repercussions for their lack of appropriate actions to avoid this kind of impact.

  7. Are they accepting private pilots for kamikaze flights now? Asking for a friend.

  8. Meanwhile the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 737 cancels ZERO
    flights due to pilot shortage.

  9. Throw another log on the “train wreck fire.” Senior executives who should have been on top of this months ago instead “let Rome burn” while they wasted all of their worthless time beating the social media drum beat. Unfortunately, no Calvary in sight to rescue the powerless victims (customers) thanks to a do nothing Board and major investors totally unwilling to do anything to fix the soon to exponentially expanding disaster.

  10. I really don’t understand the knee jerk reaction to start sending barrels of cash to the airlines immediately. We were grounded. Gov’t is too big and stocked with idiots that make these decisions.

  11. This is where once again, the difference between sharing real information vs blogging, is on full display. A blogger with an agenda to “blog American into submission” tells the story as we see here.
    The full story would be to explain the reason behind the the cancellations…beyond “pilot shortage”. It’s a bad situation regardless of reasons, especially for those traveling. We could assume with all the blogger’s leak sources, he would have the full story.

  12. C’mon Gary, American had more important things to do than honoring promises, like figuring out the details on getting rid of their award chart.

  13. Yikes! Not a great headline when you are two AA flights the next two days. However, today’s is an ERJ-145 and tomorrow’s is a 787, so fingers crossed.

  14. I dealt with this Thursday on a DEN to CLT flight. If AA’s 3 flights, 2 were canceled. Passengers received little advanced notice and were frustrated. The poor ground crew is left to deal with all of this.

  15. With social distancing, and in the midst of a pandemic, there can only be so many in a classroom and in Sims. You seem to think keeping pilots active should have been business as usual. American kept to pandemic protocol for all employees including flight crews. Seriously. Common sense seems to be missing in your complaining.

  16. @Amapas, which part of “pilot shortage due to failure to maintain current flight certification” do you find lacking in explanation? As someone reluctantly scheduled on AA—which I avoid like the plague—for the end of this month, I found this “blog” entry helpful to read. I don’t need a WSJ story. More facts are always better, sure—and wouldn’t it be nice if AA supplied some?—but I found this informative.

  17. No one should be surprised with the continuing dumpster fire managed by Parker & Company. They May be the World’s Biggest AIrline in some metrics but without a doubt they are the Poorest Run. Getting to the point they are a National Embarassment and not fit to display the Name “American”. The Board of Directors clearly have shit for brains or none at all to allow this Circus to continue.

  18. @Jackie – they should have worked with the union to get flight hours from lower seniority pilots, they should have been doing training of anyone not flying even if throughput was reduced. and with over $10 billion in subsidies they should have just run takeoffs and landings if need be.

  19. It was a disaster these past two days. 4/6 segments delayed. Musical flights… each one delayed. The only saving grace was the flights I was going to miss also got delayed. No explanations. No apologies. Surly as ever. Now at my final destination. Wonder if my bag will get here before I leave?

  20. @Jackie – ah, the arbiter of common sense!… LMAO… perhaps you haven’t been paying attention to reality (and it sounds like you work for AA)…

    I’m a long time AA loyalist, 2 Million AA domestic miles… BUT, despite the pandemic, shouldn’t a company who took 10 BILLION dollars from “us” with, associated promises (broken of course), do something intelligent to get in-front of what the whole industry knew what was coming… talk about lack of common sense…!

  21. I just got jacked around with flight changes JFK-SFO on A321t’s for August. NO, it is not convenient to fly until midnight EDT because you seem to want to kill midday schedules! Now I get to spend a couple of hours researching this dumpster fire and waiting on hold to get it adjusted, yet again. Thanks, Doug!

  22. I guess this why the Exec Plat desk is backed almost 3 hours today( dont want to imagine what lower tier travelers encounter). Had to call in as trip credit wasn’t working on the web site.

  23. Doug and this team are busy celebrating Juneteenth and planning their next virtue signaling activity. They don’t have time for this nonsense.

  24. One of the popular pilot YouTubers, Juan Browne, just recently returned to flying the 777 after a 3 month “vacation” from AA. To be qualified, one needs 4 landings every 90 days, and of course, after 3 months off, there was no currency. So, back to the simulators. At least with flying 777 domestically, there is a 50% chance of getting a landing on each flight segment. On international trips with 4 pilots, the pilots flying the middle of the flight get no chance at a landing.

    I can imagine more of the pilots on non-flight status are having trouble being scheduled for simulator time, especially if they need 737MAX simulator time

  25. AA execs giving them self promotions using the the cloak of reorganizing leadership roles.
    Pilots paid monthly hours while on the PSP handouts , not flying but sitting at home collecting a paycheck.

  26. Doug Parker and Robert Isom have dismantled AA and have turned it into America West.
    As soon as the money from the government runs out.
    They will blame the ground crews that are killing themselves trying to make there ridiculous business plan work. Which all the unions have gone to them and pleaded there cases to deaf ears.
    Bankruptcy is there exit strategy. Watch and see.

  27. Would’ve been MUCH worse without Government assistance… the managerial ineptitude runs that deep.

  28. Today AA had no crews. Tuesday Southwest had no crews. Last week delta had mass cancellations with United
    What do expect when you shut a whole country down, airlines cant just flip a switch? A lot of the issues are pilots running out of duty time due to no airplane fuelers to fuel the plane, catering delays, and weather.
    Obviously your a lame little blogger, btw I want you Cares check back you little man.

  29. This is why the reservations team is on constant mandatory overtime. EVERY agent is forced to work 10 hour shifts everyday and more if weather appears anywhere in the system. Give them a break and dont scream at them as they are overworked, tired, and not at fault.

  30. American has been cancelling two or more percent of its mainline flights for several weeks. Its recent on-time has been consistently at the bottom of the industry regardless of the weather. JetBlue is also aggressively scheduling and has multiple days over the past two weeks that have had over 30% of its flights delayed.
    The DOT has released on-time and cancellation performance thru the first 3 months of 2021 and the trends are pretty similar to before covid; Hawaiian and Delta have the best on-time and lowest rates of cancellation while JetBlue has the lowest on-time with Allegiant just rank higher and United has the highest rate of cancellations with Southwest just ahead.

  31. I find it amazing how there are so many experts here who know exactly how to run an airline, schedule crews, coordinate training and staff an airline as we emerge from a pandemic! Most of you probably have no idea that the airline was prohibited from furloughing pilots when they accepted the Payroll Support money but because we have a union contract we had to have a bid to see what airplanes the pilots would fly and who would need to be trained. It isn’t quite as simple as it seems. Additionally, American is flying a current schedule at least a third larger than Delta and almost twice as large as United. Very aggressive but the demand is there. The other carriers didn’t attempt to meet the demand. Gary Leff has no clue what he is talking about and has no evidence to back up his claim. Never mind that a huge storm is railing the southeast as well. It’s really easy to criticize AA when you have no clue of how an airline operates and don’t include all of the facts!

  32. Dave,
    if demand is strong and resources are limited, the appropriate strategy is to raise fares, not push the system beyond its capabilities. American has been offering sub-$100 fares on multiple major routes including where it is already the dominant airline.

  33. Tim,
    I totally agree with you … simple supply and demand. I’m not defending AAs poor decisions overall but I think the original author is errant in his article. There is so much more that goes into staffing the jets properly that I don’t expect anyone outside of the system to understand it. No doubt AA could be running a tighter ship right now but every airline management has had to shoot from the hip to try and guess what they might need next. Europe is still crippling our international operation because of the individual countries Covid requirements while domestic travel has surged. It is a juggling act that no one has dealt with before. Combine that with ridiculous mask mandates in airports and planes and you have a boatload of pissed off people before you even leave the gate.
    Raising the fares is definitely in order but they won’t do it unless they think DAL and UAL will follow suit.
    Sorry, long answer to your comment!

  34. @ Dave Patrick, 100% what you said . These keyboard Cowboys have no clue and you can tell by what they post they have miserable lives and hate themselves ! And Gary seems to get info from an Employee before anything is released , I have Corporate Security opening a case and looking into it.

  35. Everything Dave Patrick said may be correct, but it seems AA is making decisions way in advance of any potential crunch time. Do they already know now they still won’t have enough pilots in September? E.g., I had a ABQ-ORD-HPN flight booked for Sept. 4. But they canceled the ABQ-ORD leg, which was on a 737. Only remaining flights were on an EMB-175, neither of which could make a one-stop connection to HPN. As a result, switched to ABQ-DFW-JFK itinerary. If it’s a supply and demand issue, with all the people traveling out west to national parks this year, you’d think there’d be more clamoring for ABQ flights, especially around Labor Day weekend.

  36. @Dave Patrick – sorry, but with $10 billion to American on the table it would have been an easy solve to keep pilots active – AA’s goal was pocketing most of the money for themselves, and the claim about ‘keeping the airline ready for when people need to fly’ was a false narrative used to sell the subsidies for creditors and shareholders.

    And the size of American’s domestic schedule is half the point, they’ve scheduled flights they are now unable to crew.

    @Tim – The number of employees who share things with me would shock you, American Airlines is well aware of the scope of the issue – you aren’t telling them something they do not know.

  37. @Gary,
    Why are you constantly so narrow minded and negative? It’s a rare time I read anything you write which contains complete consideration of all possible variables to achieve a reasonable and thoroughly accurate OpEd. I’m no fan of AA, but I have to call a spade a spade. The money they were offered and took was to keep staff on payroll, not to interfere with union contract requirements and keep people working outside of seniority bidding. There’s a huge difference between staying employed/paid and staying current.

    I’m thinking you’re in the wrong category for reporting, opining, blogging, or whatever it is you call this.

  38. @TIM: So, Corporate Security has subpoena power, or do they just wiretap everyone’s phone?
    I’ve been getting 33 people into the PHX lounge every day using my Executive card. I have to operate my business on the skinny, you know.

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