American Airlines Refuses to Lend Part to Air Italy, Forces 35 Hour Delay For Spite

Two years ago, in the midst of the lobbying push by Delta, American and United to get the federal government to reduce US flying by Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, an Emirates flight from Seattle was delayed 6 hours because Delta wouldn’t sell them a $300 part.

In fact, Emirates requested the part, Delta had it, and the part was provided and installed on the Emirates aircraft. Delta headquarters interceded and ordered the part removed.

Emirates Boeing 777

That broke with longstanding tradition that airlines provide assistance to each other during irregular operations, at an agreed upon set of prices. Delta, of course, had already broken with that tradition in demanding that American and United pay above industry-standard rates to take those carriers’ distressed passengers.

United caved. Eventually Delta, which had its own operational disruptions and was unable to accommodate their own passengers on American, came around and re-instated their agreement to take each others’ passengers when needed at customary industry rates.

When Delta refused to provide a part to Emirates, though, I suggested a new category of delay alongside standards like weather, maintenance, and crew called spite. Now, it seems, American Airlines caused a lengthy delay due to spite, not learning its lesson from dealing with Delta.

This past Saturday, Air Italy’s flight IG938 from San Francisco to Milan went mechanical. American Airlines had the part Air Italy needed, but they wouldn’t sell it. The scheduled 7:10 p.m. flight didn’t actually depart until early Monday morning,

Air Italy’s Chief Operating Officer, Rossen Dimitrov, gave an interview to an Italian publication in which he explained (Google translate),

One of our aircraft was damaged in San Francisco and could not leave without the spare part. Our ground aide asked American Airlines if they had that piece, they had it and when we asked for it they refused to send it to us and our plane was stopped for some time.

He’s suggesting, of course, that American Airlines did this for spite. The largest US carrier doesn’t want the Air Italy flying to the U.S., arguing that because they’re 49% owned by oneword member Qatar Airways, and Qatar said they didn’t have current plans to fly between Europe and the U.S. themselves even though they had a legal right to do so, that Qatar is ‘breaking their agreement’ with the U.S. but supporting the second largest Italian airline. (Qatar Airways, incidentally, owns 20% of American’s joint venture partner British Airways and 10% of proposed joint venture partner LATAM.)

American has a maintenance facility in San Francisco, and operates Airbus A330s, like Air Italy does, from the airport. Loredana De Filippo, a senior manager in corporate communications for Air Italy, confirms the incident.

An American Airlines spokesperson acknowledges that they had the part and refused to sell it to Air Italy.

American offered on the one hand that they needed the part themselves “for upcoming scheduled maintenance” but that even if they didn’t they wouldn’t have made the part available to Air Italy, because an airline has to be “an approved carrier and have a partnership with us to borrow parts, and we don’t have a partnership with Air Italy.”

In other words precisely because American is in a spat with Air Italy they won’t list the airline as an approved partner, and won’t lend parts. Let’s hope no American Airlines flight ever goes mechanical in Milan.

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. It is never that simple. I have personally refused to lend/sell a part to another airline for a variety of reasons unrelated to spite, just as I have happily loaned/sold stuff to my competitors under other circumstances. Just because you have the part in stock doesn’t mean you can afford to spare it from your inventory – depending on stock levels, reorder times, forecast replacement rates, etc… you could be putting your own operation at risk by doing that.

    Certainly some airlines have refused to assist competitors in a situation such as this for other than operational reasons, but that is very much the exception. Part/tool swaps occur on a daily basis without anyone even noticing.

  2. @Sean M – absolutely, but American made clear to me that even if they had a surplus of the part, didn’t need it themselves, they will not lend parts to Air Italy because they do not partner with Air Italy. And why don’t they partner with Air Italy, 49% owned by the largest owner of joint venture partners BA and Iberia, and 10% owner of planned JV partner LATAM? Who also happens to be in the same alliance, and part-owner of alliance member Cathay Pacific, as well as part-owner of China Southern who is also part-owned by American…?

  3. @Sean M –sure, there are other considerations like inventory and part availability, etc. However, Air Italy was able to get the part within ca. 36 hrs and so could AA for the replacement. This was a silly decision on AA side because the overall effect on Air Italy flying and competition with AA would be incremental. AA does not flt SFO-MPX nonstop and I highly doubt that customers will switch to SFO-DFW-FCO because of this incident. Right now AA has a pathetic reliability record of flying internationally due to many mechanical problems.

  4. The question is did you expect any other behavior from Doug Parker and the LCC band?

  5. This is so childish and unprofessional on AA’s part. Perhaps our U.S, airlines’ senior management should go back to kindergarten and play in the sandbox and learn how to share their toys again.

  6. Good thing they didn’t use AA mechanics to install it. They would have delayed it even more.

  7. Why do you think that “interline agreements” only apply to ticketing and baggage. They don’t! There are all kinds of underlying agreements. If AA and Air Italy don’t have them, I cannot see this being spite. There are also plenty of “gentlemen’s agreements” that airlines do many things for other airlines that they are not required to do. You need to not forget that these agreements are unilateral and can be canceled on a moment’s notice. So, who really knows what happened? It is all speculation here.

  8. Did I read the same article as the rest as everyone else?

    So AA needed the part for scheduled mx and didn’t have any sort of agreement with IG for lending parts but somehow they are the ones in the wrong?

    I would have done the same thing if I were AA. If there is no agreement where is the guarantee I will get paid or get the part back?

  9. Yet another reason why I avoid flying American Airlines. I say that as a charter member of AAdvantage 30 years ago and as someone who was an ultimate AA loyalist. No more.

  10. This has got to be the most dumbest article EVER!!!!! Clearly, AA and IG didn’t have an agreement, and AA makes it very clear what its policy is, however, the author takes it upon himself to spew his personal uniformed assumption about the whole ordeal, and it’s coming from a guy who has probably never worked behind the scenes in the airline maintenance or operations division.. Airlines have agreements, all across the board, including in the maintenance division. If the other airline wants a part, then ensure you have an agreement in place so they can cater to your needs. Simple. IG did not. Who’s fault is that? That’s IG’s fault. This is a dumb article.

  11. “They did it out of spite” is the most ridiculous reading one could make of the situation, and doesn’t demonstrate anything other than the author’s bias against American. (Someone is going to have to explain at some point how AA spurned him that caused him to react so badly.)

  12. @Piers it’s been obvious for some time that AA did something to earn a special place in the bloggers heart. Unfortunately what it was, has never been revealed.

  13. BFD. . .first DL didn’t lend AA a part when I was in MPLS and we had to wait for it to be flown from ORD. Air Italy is Qatar’s way of flying into the US illegally. Good for AA.

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