Yikes: American Airlines Didn’t Schedule Pilots For 15,000+ Holiday Flights

Filed Under: American, Unions

Well, this is a pretty major glitch. The Allied Pilots Association (APA) is the union representing American’s pilots, and they’ve just revealed a major issue that management reported to them. Apparently due to a computer glitch, virtually all pilots got the holidays off, meaning that 15,000+ flights don’t have pilots scheduled yet.

Apparently this impacts flights between December 17 and 31, 2017. Per Reuters, here’s what representatives for the union and American had to say:

“Basically there’s a crisis at American for manning the cockpits,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association.

“We are working through this to make sure we take care of our pilots and get our customers where they need to go over the holiday,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said on Wednesday.

“I‘m watching a ‘Grinch that stole Christmas’ thing happening. And we don’t want to see that happening for our passengers,” Tajer said.

American is trying to solve this issue by offering 150% pay for holiday flights that don’t presently have pilots rostered, though the union isn’t happy about that, as this has been done without consulting them. Per the APA, management has “unilaterally invoked a solution for crewing affected flights,” which the union claims is in direct violation of the pilot contract.

Because management’s actions are unilateral, the union claims that “the APA nor the contract can guarantee the promised payment of the premium being offered.” Then the union adds this note:

By not including APA in developing collaborative solutions to this critical holiday scheduling failure, management’s actions contrast with their handling of previous scheduling failures involving other work groups. This stands in direct opposition to the company mantra of “Validating the Trust” and the stated goal of making culture a competitive advantage. Management’s actions likewise jeopardize any collaborative effort to ensure our passengers have a pilot crew to take them to their important holiday events.

On the plus side, at least they’re realizing this more than a couple of weeks in advance, so presumably they’ll be able to come up with a solution at some cost. However, what a major oversight…

(Tip of the hat to @aheeger)

  1. is there anything we can do to be proactive with AA to protect ourselves with flights? would they know (or tell us) if our flights have pilots scheduled or not yet?

  2. If people don’t show, terminate them.

    Given the chronic shortage of pilots, that’s quite the plan you’ve come up with.

  3. Conor: I suggest you read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair. It explains better than anything else I’ve ever read why unions are important.

    As for AA… hopefully they (and the union) get their act together, as I have an AA flight during that period…

  4. @John:

    I’m sure that Conor chas thought of a way to come up with thousands of qualified replacements for terminated pilots in such a way that the airline doesn’t melt down due to cancelled flights, because “unions suck”. The problem is trivial, amirite?


    My guess is Conor probably also believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny too, along with being clearly qualified to do C-level work in airline operations…

  5. Scheduling employees two and a half weeks before at normal pay is not an acceptable solution, it’s an unfair system that violates the contract that AA signed

  6. I would be the poor schmuck that didn’t ask for the time off and is now flying at the regular rate while every else is getting 150%.

  7. Conner asserts:

    Just schedule them at 100% pay. If people don’t show, terminate them.

    Sorry Connor that’s apparently exactly what AA did; only they didn’t schedule them correctly.

  8. Let’s bring this comments section back to what matters most: Me

    The Sig. O and I are scheduled to fly over Christmas, and I really hope they have this resolved by then. It’s a little too late (and expensive) to buy replacement tickets at this point.

  9. @TravelinWilly

    Always book with a credit card that has trip insurance and you will never have to worry again.

  10. Nothing booked during this process. Glad to see that but I imagine they will hammer out an agreement to get the flights operated.

  11. Yes, unions do ‘suck’. As I read it, the union is upset that AA had a computer glitch, and instead of saying “sorry folks, but this is a company that depends on having dependable flights to stay in business, so you are going to have to reschedule your vacation time”…which would be the reasonable thing to do. No, instead AA is going to pay pilots a 50% premium to volunteer to keep the company that pays their wages in business. And the union is upset about it because there is no emergency clause in the union contract to handle a crisis like this.

    Just ask yourself why pilots would even expect to take their vacation time during the busiest 2 weeks of the year in the first place.

  12. Although this is certainly out of the ordinary, it seems like it is something that should be covered by the contract. Labor contracts typically include provisions that specify how much of a premium employees get when they are required to work on holidays, and when schedule changes occur that are not communicated as far in advance as required by the contract. Since this is a combination of events, there is no doubt dispute about how to interpret the agreement. The union is probably delighted to point out this major management screw up. But I expect the pilots are just as concerned as management about not messing up travelers holiday schedules. I would guess pilots will work, and then argue later about how much extra they need to be paid. Some arbitration panel will figure it out.

  13. Somehow I see the flights cancelled due to a crew shortage will be tagged as cancelled due to “weather”. I’m really starting to question the “AAdvantage” of giving American my loyalty…

  14. Has AA been hiring executives or buying software from Ryanair ? Or just stealing their “rostering failure” idea ? 🙂

  15. @Robert Hanson
    Why might pilots expect to take their vacation time during the busiest two weeks of the year? I don’t know, maybe because they were given schedules by their employer that told them they could? I don’t know how far out American schedules vacation time, but I imagine you wouldn’t be happy if 3 weeks before a vacation that you’d had scheduled for months (and presumably made plans for, some of which probably have cost you or your family members non-refundable money, involved coordination with your spouse’s vacation time, etc), your employer told you that you couldn’t have it any more because they’d screwed up their scheduling. Obviously American needs to find a way to schedule pilots for these flights, but the idea that they could decide unilaterally how they’re going to cancel the vacation time that they promised a whole bunch of their employees is pretty clearly ridiculous. It’s perfectly possible to come up with a fair way to handle the problem, but it needs to be done in consultation with the people affected, which, since you can’t deal with thousands of people all at once, means working with their representatives – the pilots union.

  16. @david…robert hanson is a Trump loving tea bagger who wants the increased taxes he’s going to get with the new “tax overhaul” wealth transfer to the rich. do not bother trying to explain.

  17. I really have trouble believing there are truly people like Conor and Robert Hanson out there. I mean either you people are yourself titans of industry protecting your own wallet (lol), delusional “temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” or have some intense submission/humiliation fetish and want to lick corporate America’s feet. American has a contract with their pilots that explicitly lays out how vacation time is allocated. American chooses to invest a certain amount of money in the systems that manage this. They failed to implement a robust auditing system to prevent errors like this. We are talking about a company making over a billion dollars in profit a quarter. They make the sensible decision and use some of that impressive, perhaps obscene, profit to pay their employees to compensate for that error. But you think instead the employee should pay for the airline’s error simply because they should be happy to have a job? The mental gymnastics you use to stick with your anti-union politics is just pathetic. Again and again you argue that airlines shouldn’t have to stick to their contracts with employees simply because they pay their salary. As if you would seriously tell a contractor remodeling your kitchen or lawyer representing you in your divorce they should be happy with a pay cut after the fact because you are employing them and the contract you agreed to was too generous.

  18. Wow, several people really missing the point here. They were granted their vacation days, so they get to take them, barring some agreement where they’ll forego their already granted days off. There is no situation here of “schedule them, make them show up, or terminate them.” Also why would they “expect” to get days off over the holidays? Well, gee, when they bid their schedule they went ahead and requested the days off, I’m sure, “just in case” they came through (based on seniority or whatever else). Are they supposed to just assume they can’t use the days, so “why bother” requesting them off?

  19. @Ian, You’re right, that’s not how it works…because Unions.

    Without the ridiculousness of Unions, AA could easily rectify the situation. Every Pilot has a rate at which they would bite and re-schedule their vacations, and I’m guessing a lot of them would at 150% (especially if they didn’t have to pay their Union dues). Negotiating directly with the Pilots would result in the fairest system.

    Unions also make things fair, I guess, though. They exist to make sure EVERYONE gets screwed.

  20. I think a lot of comments here are missing the point…AA screwed up, whether it was a human or IT error is irrelevant, a mistake was made and AA tried to come up with a plan to fix it by offering pilots 150% of their base pay (aka time and a half) for working these non-scheduled days. Some guys will jump at the chance to make some extra coin, others will say no thanks because they planned vacations. Hopefully they have enough to staff flights. The union however (APA) is trying to justify their existence by saying how upset they were because they weren’t part of the decision to pay these extra wages and they claim that without the help of the APA, that AA could just say they’re going to offer these extra wages and then turn around and say ‘psych, gotcha suckers, we’re not paying’…because that would go over well… The ironic thing is that if the APA was involved there’s a good chance (50/50 or better I’m guessing) that the final figure the pilots got would’ve been less than 150% with the APA in the room than without. But they don’t want their members to think that AA would ever give them a fair offer without their strong union leadership in the room fighting for every penny (sarcasm). I give AA credit for trying to fix this, but man this is a pretty major mistake at the absolute worst possible time.

  21. Whoa. Read all the comments so far the word RYANAIR appears only once?


    Btw today is November 29 kthxbye

  22. @Bob

    Despite my first comment (which I’ll dial back), I agree AA screwed up and morally and ethically should make sure every pilot that flies over the period of the screw up doesn’t feel slighted. More pay, additional time off, whatever.

    Hopefully everyone agrees with THAT.

    Off topic from that, sure, unions are the furthest thing from the answer, IMO.

  23. @Conor

    If unions were not necessary they’d have never been invented. Get over yourself for your lack of understanding of why unions exist and how they are still necessary now – possibly more than ever before with our current administration. I’m not saying they area always run they best way but seriously there’s a reason they still exist.

  24. I never thought I would be thankful that I booked an economy basic fare on United, rather than the AA flight I had my eye on!

  25. Not to worry. I’m not typed in any of those aircraft, but as long as they can get it started, I’m confident I can fly it and land safely.
    AA, get my email from Lucky.
    Now I dopn’t have to waste 12,500 miles doe an hour in the Royal Thai simulator.

  26. I have reward flights booked from Florida to Grand rapids.
    When and how will AA notify me of any problems where is these flights?

  27. @Jade “If unions were not necessary they’d have never been invented.”

    What a ridiculous statement, as is the rest of your diatribe. People like you love to preach diversity until you’re presented with intellectual diversity. Then it gets nasty.

  28. @Bob Lablob sums it up very well.

    Having been in a situation working with a teacher’s union, I was amazed that the union diatribe to teachers was to never talk with the principal directly.
    And people wonder why the high school graduation rate is 60% and college success 25%.

  29. Bob Lablob’s comment about offering the pilots enough of an incentive to bring them back to work made me think of a parallel with the offers made to entice passengers on an overbooked flight to give up their seats. None of us have any issues with that; the airline made a conscious or even maybe an inadvertent decision to sell that seat twice and now has to resolve it somehow. None of us would be happy to see a system in which the airline at the last moment arbitrarily cancels our ticket.
    I’m sure if AA offers a high enough bonus they would get as many pilots as they need.
    @Conor and any other screw-the-unions types — why are you not in favor of this free market solution.

  30. @ Conner:
    I think you have be beaten up pretty good over your uniformed statements and rightly so. Having a union is merely having a contract of mutual understanding. Most Executives / Management positions (including those at AA) have a contract. Most police and fire departments have them. Sports teams have them. The individuals that built your car and the plane you ride in have unions. Maybe you should try walking and living on a farm in the country. Grow your own crops and hack your own tree’s to build your home. Maybe you’ll then understand more about unions and the services they provide for the work force and you as a user of those services.

  31. It’s a reasonable offer by management to amend a mistake and they probably won’t have any problem staffing those flights. I’d be happy to work over the holidays for a 50% pay hike.

  32. @Donna – would you be happy to work Christmas with as a 50% raise when your contract specifies a 100% raise?

  33. So I have a first class ticket Dec 25 from CLT to MSP

    I HAVE to get back that day. (I cannot take Dec 26 off)

    If my flight were canceled, do first class passengers get priority for rebooking?

    I wonder if I should buy a refundable Delta ticket?
    Or would Chase Sapphire cover it if I bought a last minute flight?


  34. Any idea if this affects Republic operated AA Flights (or PSA EAGLE)? Thought i heard that this affects just AA Legacy pilots.

  35. @Bryan T

    Trip insurance covers the costs incurred, nothing more. Sure, perhaps my credit card will cover my buying a last minute ticket with a connection on a competing airline (vs AA non-stop), which would be minimally acceptable assuming one is even available for same day travel. Holiday travel is a time when people are less concerned with cost and more concerned with getting where they need to be, when they need to be there.

    If AA has to cancel flights, they better do it plenty in advance. Holiday flying is bad enough.

  36. They are offering extra pay to people who should not have been allowed to take off anyway yet somehow the union has a problem with that and is throwing mud. What a shock.

  37. Conor,

    AA screwed up, not the pilots. You can’t just order people in randomly to perform labor, especially when you are at fault. Perhaps in your fantasy world you can, but not in the reality that the rest of us inhabit. Unless the contract says that one can be called in to work, and both parties signed it, you just normally can’t do it. Now, toss in state and federal labor law protections, plus the contract itself, and AA shot itself in the foot. I’m sure the union wants more money for its pilots to come in over this period. Heck, who wouldn’t? If a pilot legitimately scheduled a vacation, spent his or her personal money, booked his own tickets and hotels, shouldn’t he be allowed to enjoy it? And, if AA wants him to break that vacation, losing money in the process, shouldn’t AA consult with the union on a fair way to do so? Of course, it should.

    This really isn’t a pure management versus union fight per se. It’s about AA finding the correct procedure to remedy it’s massive screw up within the labor contract that it willingly signed. It was AA that essentially involved the APA by ignoring the contract that AA signed with the APA.

  38. I would bet quite a bit of money that if Conor’s boss required him to work when he had taken time off, planned a trip, and paid non-refundable money for that trip, with the threat of termination if he doesn’t show up to work, he’d throw a fit. He’s entitled to that time off, you see! The pilots flying him to his destination and the people cleaning his hotel room, though? Nope. They need to be there to serve HIM, or they get fired.

    what entitlement. I am so gratified to see that most of the commenters here do, in fact, see the value of unions. I guess we like our laws against child labor and for safety protocols when working dangerous jobs.

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