Business

American Airlines gave too many pilots Christmas vacation. That means your holiday flight may be canceled

A computer glitch in American Airlines’ computer system has allowed too many pilots to take time off in December, putting more than 15,000 flights in jeopardy of cancellation over the busy holiday travel season.
A computer glitch in American Airlines’ computer system has allowed too many pilots to take time off in December, putting more than 15,000 flights in jeopardy of cancellation over the busy holiday travel season. AP

American Airlines is scrambling to correct a computer glitch that could throw the holidays of thousands of passengers into disarray.

The flaw, which gave too many pilots time off in December, has left more than 15,000 flights — including flights from American’s major hub in Miami — without sufficient crew, putting them at risk for cancellation, according to Fort Worth, Texas-based union the Allied Pilots Association. The affected flights run from Dec. 17 to Dec. 31.

The glitch affected more than 15,000 flights from Dec. 17 to Dec. 31, according to the Allied Pilots Association.

The union, which represents 15,000 American Airlines pilots, said that the failure occurred Friday within the pilot schedule bidding system. The magnitude of the issue didn’t come to light until today, said Gregg Overman, a spokesman for the union.

“I’ve worked here almost 25 years. I cannot recall anything of this magnitude,” Overman said. “Pilots thought, ‘I got lucky’ and didn’t realize that something could be amiss. This kind of schedule disruption has serious consequences for our passengers and our pilots and fellow employees.”

American Airlines spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello said the airline itself doesn’t have an estimate of how many flights are affected, despite the union’s estimate, but added that it’s “working diligently to address the issue and expects to avoid cancellations this holiday season.”

I’ve worked here almost 25 years, I cannot recall anything of this magnitude.

Gregg Overman, Allied Pilots Association spokesman

The airline is tapping into its reserve pilots to help cover December flights and paying pilots who pick up certain open trips 1.5 times their hourly rate, “as much as we are allowed to pay them per the contract.”

When planning your travel, don't wing it! Check out the airlines that ranked the highest on WalletHub's 2017 report of the best airlines in the industry.

“We’re three weeks away and have lots of time to get it back to normal,” Aran Coello said. “We don’t anticipate there to be disruption and we’re working hard to ensure that we get our customers to where they’re going.”

But the union said the higher rate American is offering volunteers comes with conditions that violate its contract with the airline. The group is filing a grievance to address the issue.

We are working diligently to address the issue and expect to avoid cancellations this holiday season.

Alexis Aran Coello, American Airlines spokeswoman

“We will work with the [union] to take care of our pilots and ensure we get our customers to where they need to go over the holidays,” Aran Coello said in a statement.

While a glitch of this size is “unusual,” it’s not unprecedented, said Seth Kaplan, managing partner at trade publication Airline Weekly.

In September and October, 2,100 flights on European budget airline Ryanair were canceled after too many pilots took vacation time.

In Ryanair’s case, it was a scheduling mistake. In American’s, it seems to be just a glitch, Kaplan said.

According to a poll of 1,300 travelers by airline deals website Airfarewatchdog, 46 percent said they plan to fly this holiday season — the highest figure since 2013.

Still, the timing is less than ideal. Airlines have a tougher job ameliorating cancellations during the holidays when planes are already flying near full, making it more difficult to accommodate passengers in other flights, he said.

“[During the holidays,] there is not a lot of margin for error,” Kaplan said.

This holiday season is already expected to be busier than usual, thanks to a strong economy, low fares and added capacity from many airlines.

According to a poll of 1,300 travelers by airline deals website Airfarewatchdog, 46 percent said they plan to fly this holiday season — the highest figure since 2013.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments