American Airlines has been cancelling hundreds of flights a day for several days. They don’t have enough pilots, especially Boeing 737 pilots, to operate the schedule they published.
However it appears that the system American Airlines uses to try to find pilots to pick up overtime and crew open trips is making things worse.
- American Airlines has 3 systems for pilot scheduling. The main scheduler is the Preferential Bidding System (PBS). There’s a separate Trip Trade System (TTS). And then there’s the Daily Open Time Coverage (DOTC) system which is how pilots volunteer to cover open trips for more pay.
- It seems that many pilots won’t use this voluntary DOTC system because it is so complex and seems to award trips to them that they do not want.
- What’s more, pilots are concerned that it could award trip them that they don’t find out about, and that scheduling would think were covered.
There are several problems with the DOTC system, according to pilots I’ve spoken with. The guide for using it is over 100 pages long. Scheduling at American Airlines is so complex that many pilots even use a subscription-based third party app to manage the process.
- Before this system, pilots would list for trips on a website and crew scheduling would call pilots one-by-one until open trips were filled. It was voluntary, pilots didn’t have to answer, and if they did it was up to them whether or not to accept the trip.
- The DOTC system allows pilots to pick up specific trips or accept trips within a number of different parameters that they set. In theory this gives them control over when the trip will take place, how long it will last, where they’ll lay over, etc. But there’s a catch. Anything that meets the parameters set is accepted, and they’re obliged to work the trip.
- Pilots may not know when the trip they’ve volunteered for gets scheduled. They have to opt into notifications on their crew scheduling app, and there’s no phone call anymore. (The app that some pilots pay for will actually generate a phone call for this. And – ironically – before the merger with American Airlines, legacy America West pilots at US Airways actually paid a monthly fee to the airline for access to the scheduling system.)
An American Airlines spokeperson tells me,
Our open time award system for pilots has multiple notification options, including email, text and an internal crew system message, to ensure pilots are aware of their open time selection being awarded. We’ve also developed materials to assist our pilots in setting up these notifications. We’re not seeing data to suggest pilots are missing trips because of the system’s notification process, but we are always looking to improve the system and welcome feedback from our pilots and APA as we do that.
It appears the system American uses to get pilots to cover open trips is making it harder to cover open trips, since some pilots just don’t use it, even as some are savvy enough to pay a third party app to help them figure it out. When there aren’t enough pilots, American Airlines can offer premium pay (generally 1.5 times normal pay for extra hours flying) but even if they’d have pilots who are willing that doesn’t necessarily translate into getting pilots onto planes.