American Airlines Operational Meltdown Getting Worse

On Saturday morning I was first to cover the ongoing issue American Airlines is having mass-cancelling flights. They logged about 125 cancellations on Saturday after a big cancel day on Friday. That’s about five times as many flight cancellations as United Airlines and Delta combined.

Today is worse than yesterday with 176 cancels already. That’s nearly 50% more than Saturday. And there are already about 100 cancels on the books for Monday.

The issue centers around Boeing 737 aircraft, and the internal reason listed for the cancels is mostly “FLIGHT CREW UNAVAILABLE.” That’s even commonly the case for ‘right start’ flights which receive a special emphasis from American – first flights of the day where if those delay or cancel there are knock-on effects throughout the schedule.

American Airlines is normally prompt with a response or statement, but more than 24 hours after being asked about their mass cancellation of flights they’ve yet to respond. The airline has said they needed to hire more pilots for fall but it appears that the issue here is a lack of 737 pilots available to operate their current schedule. As of about a week ago only half their inactive pilots had received the 5 day course (2 days in class, 3 days in simulator) needed to requalify for flying duty.

One 737 pilot who told me, “we’re incredibly short staffed” reports that,

Crew Scheduling has been offering premium pay like candy. For us, premium pay is essentially extra work paid at 150% of our hourly rate, all in addition to our monthly guarantee. We have an app that allows us to request trips at premium pay on our off days.

Nonetheless American hasn’t been able to adequately crew its 737 trips. Until we know more about when this situation will be resolved, it would seem advisable to stick to Airbus equipment and regional flights for domestic travel on American if possible.

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. Until the issue is resolved, how about just staying away from this piece of shit airline altogether, what did they do with all those billions of dollars and extra time to prepare!!! Give me a break.

  2. AA is the WOAT. Will never fly them again. It takes 12 hours to return a call about a cancelled flight. Not cool calling you back at 4 AM.

  3. Maybe the Airline is under a ransom attack. I guarantee you the government isn’t reporting all the attacks going on, nor are businesses (they want to cover up their vulnerabilities rather than tarnish the brand). Nobody would EVER fly on a specific airline again if word got out that an airline was vulnerable. I’m certain airlines were on Biden’s list of the “special” 16 infrastructures he requested Russia to not attack…

  4. Good question! What did they do with those millions of taxpayer dollars?
    When they have time to lean, they have time to clean, fix up, repair, and prepare.

  5. Maybe the pilots have moved on to better things ,ala the employees at H & H Bagels(Seinfeld-“The Strike”)???

  6. I wish SW’s meltdown was covered more. It was horrendous and still happening though in a lesser scale. Who is next?

  7. Angela,
    does it make AA’s problems any less real or inconvenient to passengers if someone else is having problems too?
    WN had a horrible week and it was due, based on multiple reports, due to IT which has long been WN’s weak spot.
    WN’s cancellations have returned to low levels but their on-time is still bad.
    WN is much more of a point to point airline than AA so delayed flights have less of an impact on WN customers.
    Gary is right that airlines EACH took billions of dollars in government aid and many are not prepared for the crushing amount of traffic they are trying to carry.
    No one is defending any airline but, in case you missed it, there are huge disruptions in business right now – from chip shortages that have caused automakers to cut production or cut out key systems in order to deliver the cars – to sporadic shortages of any number of types of food – to energy shortages. Of course all of it is compounded by the oceans of federal money that is keeping people out of the workforce.
    Given that we are only 2/3 of the way through the month of June, the chances are high that AA’s reliability will remain bad as the summer progresses. Some pilots will fly all of their allowable time long before the end of the year.
    Responsible companies fix these kinds of problems and staffing issues at airlines have been known weeks ago. and if they don’t, it isn’t too much to make sure that customers are aware of the disruptions they face.

  8. I’m so glad you were FIRST, Gary. That clearly is the most important part of this story.

    It seems occasional operational meltdowns are just part of the US airline business model these days. Southwest’s had one. Delta’s had more than one recently. And now it’s AA’s turn. UA I’m sure will be up soon.

  9. “Your flight has been canceled due to Covid-19 for your safety. Thanks for flying with American…..where Great Is What We’re Going For!”

  10. Are most flights cancelled on the same day or days in advance? I have a flight this coming Thursday on 737 that I need to be there on that day. Wondering if I should have a backup plan.

  11. Regarding the Southwest cancellation problems, something must be going on because my daughter was offered (and took) a massive offer from Southwest on Friday evening to agree to take her flight late morning Saturday. Probably fallout from the earlier cancellations in the week, but getting a free flight to her destination plus the cost of her ticket plus $1400 in SW credit (one year expiration) and a hotel if she needed it was a no brainer. For her, that’s like a year of free flying on SW.

  12. @Bob

    My wife’s flight was cancelled two days in advance. Website would not let rebook the return flight and the customer service line took over 12 hours to call back. She had to rebook at the airport. Traveling with two children. We usually fly United and the one time we fly AA and their customer service was horrible. Will never fly with them again. It’s not just frustration of a flight being cancelled but the abysmal lack of effort to correct it; very disappointing.

  13. I’ve always wanted to fly a 737. If they can start it for me, I’m sure I can fly it. I might clip the jet brigde on the way in, but there’s always the emergency slide.

  14. Where is “Dandy Don” when we need him the most to sing his famous song for the benefit of the Board..they still haven’t gotten the message it’s time to:

    “Turn out Duggie’s lights….his party is (at long last) is over and it’s time to go!”

  15. Flew yesterday and it was quite clear that they are severely understaffed in some airports and in their call center. Not nearly enough agents to check bags. My in-laws arrived at the Des Moines airport 90 minutes before their flight and missed it. 6 hour wait time for a return phone call. They eventually gave up and are trying to get a refund. We had a similar experience at Cedar Rapids and fortunately made our flight with about 15 minutes to spare. AA needs to seriously get their act together. As an aside, United at Cedar Rapids was similarly staffed. Just not acceptable…

  16. How many times do I have to tell you people, I don’t have time for these little annoyances. I’m busy polishing my BLM pins and planning my next virtue signaling campaign so I can save America from its systemic racism. You AA employees will just have to fend for yourself.


  17. The summer of 2019 was also a disaster with numerous cancellations.Parker should continue with his BLM and voter rights agenda can get out of the airline business. He already caused enough damage to a once great airline.

  18. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

  19. The comments regarding the current mismanagement and cancellations of flights by the
    airlines is reminiscent of the story of the ass hole who wanted to be boss. If you have never
    heard that story, here it is….

    In the begining, when man was created, the brain thought it should be boss becuase, it said it
    thought for the man and caused him to get what he wanted. Then, the mouth spoke up and
    said it should be the boss because it fed the man when he was hungry. Not being satisfied, the
    eyes spoke up and said they should be the boss, since they saw what man needed to see.
    Not long after that, the arms spoke up an decided they wanted to be the boss because they
    reached for everything man ever needed or wanted. Soon afterward, the legs spoke up and
    decided maybe they should be the boss since they took the man wherever he needed to go.
    Finally, the ass hole spoke up and said he wanted to be the boss. The brain, eyes, mouth, arms and legs all laughed and said to the ass hole: you’re just an ass hole, what can you do? So, the
    ass plugged it self up. When it plugged itself up, the brain could not think or concentrate; the eyes could not see straight and got crossed; the mouth had no appetite and could not eat and thus
    could not feed the man. The arms became limp and could not reach what the man needed.
    And, finally, the legs became weak and wobbly and could not take man where he needed or
    wanted to go. So, all the parts of the body decided “yes”, the ass hole could be the boss of man.
    The moral of the story is that, like airline managers, you don’t have to be smart to be a CEO
    or an executive. You just have to be an ass hole….

  20. A simple observation regarding these mismanaged, WOKE corporations which are being
    run by misguided and inept senior management officers, most of whom have no idea how or
    what their companies are supposed to do, or how to do it. This is particularly true of the
    airlines lately, but applies equally to nearly all of the large US corporations, and as well, to
    most US politicians.

    The malady: “The Peter Principle”

    What is the “Peter Principle”?

    In case you don’t know, the simple definition goes like this: “Fuck up, Move up”! and nothing more.

    In other words, the more incompetent, arrogant, ignorant or just plain stupid one is, the
    higher he or she will be pushed up the management chain until he or she destroys whatever
    company or corporation he or she finally becomes the CEO of. No matter how many business
    degrees these folks have, they usually have no common sense and are ill-suited to the positions they hold and college degrees can’t fix stupid.

    A good example today: airline managers, aka “bone heads”, “idiots”, “morons”, “numb skulls”, and
    people who can’t fix a major and serious problem within their company, such as getting people
    from point A to point B, or insuring sufficient air crew are available before scheduling a flight
    in the first place.

    In the Army, we used to have a saying about this kind of performance:

    It was called the 5 P’s…Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

    Sometimes, it was called the 6Ps: Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

    Not paying attention to the 5Ps or 6Ps results in something called a SNAFU.

    SNAFU: (Military definition): “Situation Normal, All Fucked Up”

    Polite (civilian definition): “Situation Not Altogether Fully Understood”

  21. Any idea whether this applies to more to 737-800 or 737-MAX, or both?

    And if a flight I’m booked on, only one of the day, is nearly full a week out, does that lessen the chance of cancellation?

  22. If they would stop selling flights they KNOW they don’t have the staffing and resources for… #ThatwouldbeGoingforGreat

    They also need to realise their reservation agents aren’t robots and stop the chronic mandatory overtime. Enough people have had their health put at risk or worse dropped dead while working with their inhumane mandatory overtime hours.

  23. Gary: How about editing your column’s ” Comments” section to spare us all the political horse crap. The knuckledraggers are making YOU and YOUR Column look just plain stupid. Clean out the garbage.

  24. I work for AA and I’m embarrassed by this mess. Clearly more flights were scheduled than we have people to fly. We are short staffed and working mandadory overtime in every department I can think of and it’s nowhere near close to enough. We are exhausted and still failing our customers, and it feels awful. Customers don’t know that we are not yet profitable coming out of the pandemic, and they don’t care. I’m not sure I blame them. We are failing at getting them from A to B which is what they are paying for. It’s madness. I hope management can figure it out before everyone decides to stop flying with us.

  25. I can’t do this anymore. Just moved my entire department’s business over to United. It’s not just the cancelled flights. Every time someone is stranded the hotel cost and per diem come out of my travel budget. Its up 40% more than projected just due to AA canceled flights. A two day trip if often 3-4 now, and not only is it killing our budget, its killing the schedule.

    We’re sticking with United for the remainder of the year and then will re-evaluate. Of course, we’ll have status with United by then and doubt we will move back.

  26. To lovetofly, it is a huge mistake to move over to United Airlines. Either airline, not be negative okay, do not have the best customer services nowadays same for Southwest Airlines.

    However, I flew many years on American Airlines, mostly on TWA was the best as a frequent flyers mileages in the past. It is all about customer service (ticket agents, flight attendants, pilots) on how airline employees treat us.

    Today I find the most and the best outstanding remarkable airlines is Alaska Airlines and Skywest Airlines.

    Each airline has to take huge responsibilities on how to improve or deal with the passenger’s performance. It was about quality services in the old days, and today is about the dollars the money, not quality service, deplorable.

    I blame the passengers for being so rude to the flight attendant or the ticket agents, or the pilots sitting next to the passenger. Today is a totally a different world. I am tired of hearing people saying that time is not what it used to be, and time has changed. That is a copout, excuse, and lie. We can make a difference by being a better person with the right attitude.

    Being a flight attendant or ticket agent is not an easy job especially dealing with passengers who can be rude. We need to respect one another and do not forget we all have good and bad days, no excuse, just lift up positive, respect each other and help each other.

    Let’s make the difference maybe learn from Alaska Airline and Skywest Airline.

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