Putting American’s Operational Challenges in Perspective and a Glimmer of Hope We’ll See Quick Improvement

In the Philadelphia Inquirer I try to put the recent sensational headlines about American Airlines in a bit of perspective.

Gary Leff, author of the ViewFromTheWing.com blog, said he planned to fly to Chicago on Thursday on American and was largely unconcerned about the problems.

“It’s beat-up-on-American week,” Leff said. “There are a variety of minor inconveniences – that’s what we’re facing at the moment. No doubt this will pass. They’re still operating 95 percent of their flights every day.”

Leff praised American’s response to delays and cancellations, especially its willingness to go beyond requirements and put passengers on competing carriers for delays of two hours or more, or one hour for elite-status fliers. “They’re bending over backward,” he said.

Leff and others said one side-effect of the dispute was that airline workers were overzealously delaying flights by reporting problems, such as broken coffeemakers or burned-out lights, that would usually be dealt with at the end of a day.

All carriers have operational challenges, American has struggled over the past few weeks but less than they did in 1998 with pilot issues and certainly less than United did in the summer of 2000 with their pilot problems (“The Summer from Hell”). And problems happen all the time in aviation, 10 weeks back a United flight from Shanghai to Newark took three days to get there. The amazing thing is that problems don’t happen more often.

None of which makes it less frustrating when your flight is delayed or cancelled, or you’re watching your connection time shrink by the minute while your pilot decides to taxi around the full length of the airport while being outrun by a tug.

Still, on the whole I think the reaction to the operational challenges has been pretty good.

And there may even be a glimmer of hope that things will improve and improve quickly. The indispensable Dallas Morning News aviation blog reports that American is holding off on implementing some of the planned changes to the pilots’ contract.

Among the items being deferred for October were plans to eliminate night pay, and to pay pilots for actual time flown on international flights rather than scheduled time if the actual time was shorter than scheduled time.

This can be seen as a peace offering in light of the pilots union’s decision to return to the bargaining table with the airline.

It remains to be seen whether the pilots have become more realistic in their demands, or what the airline will offer relative to their last contract which the pilots voted down prior to having the bankruptcy court approve American’s imposition of unilateral changes. And any new contract ultimately agreed to will take awhile to ratify. But if the tenor of conversations with the pilots can be improved, their job action may well be put on hiatus.

Unquestionably the current operational challenges are hurting the airline, at the point where they become fodder for Jay Leno.

“American Airlines has a new slogan: ‘Your seat is free to move about the cabin.’

“You hear about this? For the second time, the second time this week, on American Airlines, a row of seats that wasn’t bolted down went sliding around the cabin. I think it’s deliberate. This is the airline trying to shake all the loose change out of your pocket.”

As customers we can only hope that the acrimony will be put to rest quickly.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. I rescheduled a long weekend in Belize, based on the continuing problems American is having out of MIA. Think I’ll go to Belize in January and give all sides time to settle some of their major issues. Come on American, I’m pulling for you to make it out of bankruptcy without a merger with USAir!

  2. I booked my Thanksgiving travel on United. Just cant take any more chances with this foolishness. The delays are one thing, but the loose seats are criminal. I hope this gets resolved as American is a great airline and one I hope to fly more in the future.

  3. Flew LAX-DCA this past Sunday and of course we had :55 minute delay (which turned into 1:20 delay withe slow taxi, lack of reported tail wind AND associated delays impacting us because of our delay!), but what annoyed me was the captain providing periodic updates to us as we sat and using the word “legal” repeatedly. As in “we’re looking at a legal work-around for…..” and “…tidy up some of the legal paperwork….” – to me, an AA lifer, it seemed that he was making the wrong point with the passengers and I had no good will left for this guy at the end of it all. Very disappointed.

  4. I recently booked American SFO to ORD. They cancelled the initial leg of the trip 15 hours before takeoff. While as a gold member they put me on a United flight it caused major disruption with our planned schedule and even as a United premier member put us at the back of the line on seating. I know that changes are part of the travel routine but adding unnecessary additional risk is not worth it.
    In addition having just flown both airlines on this same segment the American plane, seating, av system, equipment seemed in the stone ages compared to the United product. Don’t get me wrong I am not a big fan of United but the American plane seemed much older, dirtier, uncomfortable, noisier than the United plane.
    One last comment both planes were completely full.

  5. When 54% of flights through-out the system are arriving on time, it is not a “minor inconvenience”.

  6. I have to say that I agree with Michael. The real problem with American Airlines is not a result of a labor dispute affecting on-time departures; it is of a once-good airline that has declined to a shadow of its former self. Most of the readers of this blog may be upgraded to the more pleasant end of the plane, but for the rest of us – loyal fliers in many cases – the back is as close to horrid as it gets. Any carrier – literally – is better in Economy than American.

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