American’s CEO Reveals They’re Blaming Weather for Cancellations Caused By Mechanical Problems

American Airlines is in a bitter fight with its mechanics, who still don’t have a new contract since the US Airways merger and still operate as separate work groups. The airline wants to do more maintenance work overseas (but less than United and Delta do) and move US Airways mechanics over to the less generous American health plan.

The airline got a temporary injunction against mechanics who have been engaged in a work slowdown, which led to the carrier cancelling approximately 4% of mainline flights in June.

One consequence of American running a less reliable operation is passengers getting stranded. When the airline blames weather they aren’t responsible for costs like hotel rooms and meals. So airlines have a long history of being less than forthcoming about the true reasons behind operational problems. For instance,

  • United used to regularly list weather as the reason for delays on its website but provide the real reason in writing at

  • WestJet actually told customers that they were cancelling flights because their destination airports were closed, when those airports were not closed.

At an employee question and answer session this week, a tape of which I reviewed, American’s CEO Doug Parker said that because of the job action by mechanics they’re starting each day with about twice as many aircraft out of service as usual and as a result they’re unable to recover from weather events the way they normally do. That means plenty of flights are being cancelled ‘due to weather’ that wouldn’t have had to be cancelled if they had the operation running right with planes ready to fly each day.

We are not starting with the right number of airplanes at the start of the day. Our goal was 35, that was a reasonable goal it’s what the company has done in the past, 35 airplanes out of service at 7 o’clock. …that’s a perfectly acceptable level, we can fly every airplane in the schedule with 35 out of service at 7 a.m. because we have enough spares to cover that.

What we’ve been experiencing for about 3 months now almost every single day the number of aircraft out of service at 7 o’clock in the morning between 55 and 60 or higher, numbers that we have never seen before even on individual days..we’ve been seeing every single day for the last 3 months.

That creates an enormous level of disruption in the airline, because when we started the day without enough airplanes immediately now particularly in the summer we’re cancelling flights to start the day.

That means we’re trying to re-accommodate customers on full flights. That hurts our D0. That means we have crews out of position immediately, not at the end of the day at the start of the day so we’re going to have trouble with legality toward the end of the day, and any other level of disruption.

That’s enough to cause a bad day but then when you combine that with any other kind of disruption like a bad weather day, we can handle bad weather days they come and they go, but if you already start with that the bad weather day even exacerbates.

Not only are customers being inconvenienced by huge cancellation numbers at American Airlines this summer, when their flights are cancelled weather is being blamed even though many of those flights wouldn’t have been cancelled without the job action by mechanics, according to the CEO of the airline.

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. Let’s see how this flies with the EU when it comes to claiming compensation for delayed/cancelled flights.

  2. @Gene – No, Gene, it isn’t. When weather happens they can’t handle it because of out of service aircraft, and more flights are getting cancelled.

  3. Looks like an all-out push by AA to drive customers away…if you have a problem with a unionized workforce why lie about it to your customers (or try to conceal the truth and its cost)

  4. @Gary — I think the headline is misleading unless there’s data indicating that more flights are being cancelled with weather given as the reason. Does the data suggest that?

  5. I agree with Gene and flightwonk, all he is blaming bad weather being exacerbated by mechanical issues, but he is certainly not blaming the weather for the cancelations caused by mechanical delays.

    If he you found out that they were telling CS agents to list the delays or cancelations “for weather” when they are really because of “mechanical” then your subject line would be correct, otherwise, it really comes across as click-bait where we are going to find out that Parker was caught doing what I just wrote.

  6. Hi Gary,
    I feel victim to this last night on a MTL-LGA flight.

    There was intermittent rain in NY yesterday, but an AA flight flew the same exact route 30 min before they cancelled our flight and our original scheduled departure time (it had previously been pushed back 30 then 60min prior to cancelling it) and other airlines flew several flights from MTL-LGA/NYC shortly after ours was cancelled.
    There’s no question, weather was not prohibiting the trip. Of course, it may have made logistics increasingly difficult for AA, but that’s not a bone-fide cancellation due to weather, is it??

    It happens to be, new regulations went into effect in Canada last week regarding passenger rights/compensation. Since the airline is alleging the cause was weather, I’m not sure how to proceed. Any suggestions?

    Btw, the first flight they offered to book us on was 4 days later! We booked on delta for the following day (today) and stayed in a hotel overnight, of course all at our own expense.
    Depending on the person, I was given different (some incoherent) reasons why they wouldn’t book us on delta or a different airline.

  7. Once again the CEOs words and facts have manipulated to create a headline that while being a prevarication of the truth, fits the blogger agenda. Whatever it takes to blog AA into oblivion.

  8. AA cancelled my flights from the Midwest to return back East yesterday. All flights through ORD appeared to have been cancelled, due to weather. My AA app then allowed me to rebook these same flights – today. My company’s travel agent managed to get me back home on non-cancelled DL flights. They arrived quite late (I reached my home airport ~2:00 am), but they did fly nevertheless, versus AA’s non-flying situation. The flights on WN through MDW appear to have also gotten off the ground yesterday. AA’s “summer from hell” continues. Many may want to reconsider flying on AA this summer if they don’t have the luxury of being stuck somewhere for 24-48 hours while enroute.

  9. Weather cancellations should only be allowed due to weather at the originating or destination airport, not because of plane availability due to weather at a different location. That is not due to weather, it is logistics.

  10. And and liberals call it: climate change. Isn’t that the ultimate get out of jail free card now? We failed because of climate change.

  11. Gary, your theory is bogus. These flights are being cancelled due to weather. There is no obligation for an airline to have lots of spare aircraft around to handle weather recovery — although, obviously, it’s a good idea for a large airline to have such capacity. It has obviously been unfortunate that the mechanics slowdown at AA this spring eliminated that extra capacity. But that still doesn’t make the cancellations “mechanical” under any reasonable definition.
    More importantly, you remain several weeks behind in your coverage of this issue. You failed to alert your readers in real time when there was a HUGE problem with AA’s reliability. Now you’re harping on it, even though the publicly available stats (which I’m sure you would know how to access) show that the “mechanics problem” is basically over at AA. Thanks to the Judge’s order in the lawsuit, the mechanics are working. In the past 3 days, AA has actually been the most reliable major carrier in the USA, even beating DL. For example, as I write this, today, AA has 21 cancelled flights and DL has 60! That’s the real frequent flyer story. Are you going to wait until September to report it?

  12. Let’s consider the real core of the problem: the maintenance folks have NOT had a contract for over seven years because management refuses to negotiate. There are numerous aspects of their contract(s) that are considered voluntary. Items like overtime and “road trips” to repair airplanes that are stuck are out stations. If you were a contractual worker and hadn’t had a COL raise for over seven years, what would you do?

  13. I have first hand experience of flights being cxld due maintenance but yet having AA CS claim it was “weather” or “ATC” in spite of very clear statuses viewable on EF that it was maintenance….. MULTIPLE TIMES.

    I concur Gary’s “presented evidence” isn’t quite as strong as it should be to match the headline – but AA IS falsely claiming weather and ATC on a systemic basis.

  14. Happened to me this week. Inbound was 2 hours late, as we were about to board Captain came out and said there was mechanical. AA switched gates to new metal and then suddenly flight cancelled “due to weather.” The regularly scheduled flight that was supposed to leave around same time pushed an hour and left. I think it was logistics with plane or crew. If plane wasn’t 2 hour late coming in, and had another mechanical issue on the groun, weather neer would have been an issue.

  15. @jim if you are a contract worker and did not have a COL increase and want more then get a job at another airline or somewhere else (sorry but they are not hiring elsewhere!!) , that is why they are not leaving. If a manager at a retail store does not like their wages or forced overtime then they get a job somewhere else. But when these mechanics can only fix airplanes and nothing else it is hard to transition into another job. Case for point my neighbor was a Mechanic at United in Boston… after 9/11 he lost his job He as not able to get a job at American in PVD (they left) or JetBlue in BOS (they did not exist) or Southwest in Manchester … there are no repair facilities in the North East … he ended up working for as a building maintenance work before finally getting a job 2nd shift at a manufacture facility (no they do not build airplanes in New England ).

  16. 7/7 had our AA flight (2 people) from Phoenix to Charlotte cancelled after we had checked in – reason given – weather. A few days before that cancellation, my sister & I had our AA 9/28 flight to Tampa cancelled. No reason given. Then 7/12 – after we had checked in, our AA flight (2 people) flight was cancelled from Charlotte to Phoenix- reason – weather. Gotta wonder what is going on with American!???

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