American Airlines’ Pilot Scheduling Glitch Fiasco

American Airlines’ Pilot Scheduling Glitch Fiasco

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Airlines’ operations are being pushed to the limits this summer, as airlines are struggling to sufficiently staff flights and keep schedules running reliably. A glitch with American Airlines’ crew scheduling technology is causing quite the kerfuffle between management and the union representing pilots, and it could have implications for American’s reliability.

Glitch allows American pilots to drop trips

Airline crew scheduling is a complicated process, as pilots bid on trips every month (based on their seniority), can trade trips, can pick up trips for overtime, etc. Long story short, over the weekend American’s pilot scheduling system accidentally allowed all pilots to drop as many trips in July as they wanted.

This wasn’t the intent. Rather American was actually trying to prevent pilots from being able to trade trips (to ensure a reliable operation), but instead did exactly the opposite. It’s believed that over 2,000 flight sequences and 37,000 hours of flying time were dropped. For context, a pilot usually flies up to ~80 hours per month, so think of this as the equivalent of 450+ pilots dropping all of their flying for July.

Presumably some pilots dropped trips because they just didn’t want to fly them, while others may have dropped trips because they wanted an open schedule so they could pick up trips with extra pay instead.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened at American, as a similar thing occurred in late 2017. This almost seems like the pilot equivalent of an airline mistake fare. I would have to imagine pilots probably knew something wasn’t right, and I also imagine there was lots of talk between pilots about this error, which caused so many trips to be dropped.

Following this incident, American stated it has restored a vast majority of the schedules to what they were before the glitch, and the airline doesn’t anticipate any operational impact because of this issue. But not so fast…

American made a major error with crew scheduling

Pilot union says American has to honor mistake

The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines pilots, has a different take than management. As noted by @xJonNYC, the airline is telling pilots that management can’t unilaterally add trips to schedules, and is telling pilots to enjoy their time off:

“Management has no contractual mechanism to just add flying to your schedules. APA has the data to determine who was able to drop trips and who has trips added back to their HI1’s. If you are one of these pilots, enjoy your time off. You dropped your trip legally.”

This is going to be tricky:

  • American management is highly unlikely to punish pilots who don’t take these trips, especially given that the union is telling members that they don’t have to
  • The union is technically correct based on the contract, which is to say that management can’t unilaterally add back trips, and there’s no exception for mistakes; given the lack of goodwill between management and the union, it’s not surprising they’re playing hardball
  • It’s going to be interesting to see how well both sides negotiate here, and I imagine this is just a case where American management will have to throw money at the situation, and it could be costly

Talk about terrible timing, as this is happening during the period where we’re seeing the highest demand for air travel in well over two years, and airlines have little room for error.

American’s pilot union is fighting back

Bottom line

An error in American’s crew scheduling system allowed pilots to drop their trips for the month of July, and allegedly 37,000 flying hours were dropped while this was possible. This of course poses a major issue, as airlines are short staffed.

American tried to undo this and add flights back to schedules, but the union is now saying that this can’t be done. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

What do you make of this pilot scheduling mess? Which side do you think is right?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

Conversations (17)
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  1. Martin Guest

    AA signed a contract they routinely violate. There are numerous grievances about contract violations and implementation.

    The trips were dropped as per the contract, they will not be allowed to ‘put them back.’

    Time for AA to negotiate in good faith. This contract has been under Luke-warm negotiations for 3.5 years! Time to put up or shut up.

  2. Josh Guest

    Seem interesting that this happened a few years ago and now its happening again? Inside job? Pilots are going to drive this once great company into bankruptcy! I guess that 17% raise I heard a few days ago may come back in bankruptcy court as this is where AA is headed!

  3. AHB Guest

    The airlines and all of its employees gladly accept taxpayer bailouts, and in return screw the flying public/taxpayers as soon as possible.

  4. Tim Dunn Diamond

    Given that American has the lowest number of cancellations today of the big 3 - and none are over 50 cancelled mainline flights as close to noon central time - it appears that the line pilots are more committed to supporting the company than the union. It is certain that there were many pilots that had today in as a day to drop flights and then had them reinstated.
    Maybe the post holiday outcome...

    Given that American has the lowest number of cancellations today of the big 3 - and none are over 50 cancelled mainline flights as close to noon central time - it appears that the line pilots are more committed to supporting the company than the union. It is certain that there were many pilots that had today in as a day to drop flights and then had them reinstated.
    Maybe the post holiday outcome will be different but I would bet that the union's advice is something that individual pilots aren't willing to do.

  5. Anonymous Guest

    If technical glitches are non negotiable, AA can introduce a new glitch reducing pilot pay to $1

    1. Sosong Guest

      Well that’s an idiotic comment!

  6. MarkK Guest

    Honestly, I have a lot of compassion for FAs when they demand better pay and working conditions. Merely the fact that they are largely unpaid until the cabin door closes seems egregious, to say nothing of coping with mounting bouts of flight rage and pax noncompliance and hostility, and even the risk of assault. But when AA mainline pilots are making $350,000 - $450,000 for about 80 hours of work per month, safely ensconced behind...

    Honestly, I have a lot of compassion for FAs when they demand better pay and working conditions. Merely the fact that they are largely unpaid until the cabin door closes seems egregious, to say nothing of coping with mounting bouts of flight rage and pax noncompliance and hostility, and even the risk of assault. But when AA mainline pilots are making $350,000 - $450,000 for about 80 hours of work per month, safely ensconced behind locked cockpit doors, and much of that work consists of paying only moderate attention to the controls while at cruising altitude, and of taking extensive breaks in the pilot rest areas on long-haul, I can muster absolutely no sympathy for their causes. AA is a mess but the pilots’ union are just greedy and taking advantage of the mess.

    1. Tini Guest

      The only folks making that are widebody captains….less than 5% of the workforce at American. Everyone else makes less but I suspect you know that.

      Secondly, I agree about flight attendants! My sister is one and it’s not an easy job.

    2. Sarah Guest

      They aren’t getting paid well to turn on the autopilot. They are paid well to know how to keep everyone alive when the autopilot goes bonkers, an engine falls off, a sensor malfunctions, there is suddenly severe windshear on short final, etc.

      Yes, they are glorified bus drivers most of the time. But in the instances when expertise and skill matter, they REALLY matter.

      As for the breaks and 80 hr months …...

      They aren’t getting paid well to turn on the autopilot. They are paid well to know how to keep everyone alive when the autopilot goes bonkers, an engine falls off, a sensor malfunctions, there is suddenly severe windshear on short final, etc.

      Yes, they are glorified bus drivers most of the time. But in the instances when expertise and skill matter, they REALLY matter.

      As for the breaks and 80 hr months … fatigue at most jobs is a relatively minor thing that doesn’t have severe consequences. A fatigued airline captain is how you kill people.

      I’ll take the highly paid, well rested airline pilot because I want to live, thanks.

  7. Tim Dunn Diamond

    First, it is hard to believe that American has not fixed the automation that allowed this to happen before. AA used to be a leader in aviation automation but apparently that has been lost.
    Second, this incident as well as the discussion yesterday about Delta pilots shows the reason why the Railway Labor Act governs air transportation and not normal labor-mgmt rules. When a union has the power and uses it to try to...

    First, it is hard to believe that American has not fixed the automation that allowed this to happen before. AA used to be a leader in aviation automation but apparently that has been lost.
    Second, this incident as well as the discussion yesterday about Delta pilots shows the reason why the Railway Labor Act governs air transportation and not normal labor-mgmt rules. When a union has the power and uses it to try to stop an airline as large as American, the rules cannot be the same as for other types of business.
    Third, there are clearly a small handful of pilots that think the world should revolve around them and their unions all act like it; the arrogance that pilots have must be checked about their own self-importance.
    Fourth, everyone wants a massive raise because of the decades high inflation that is going on right now but given that most airlines did a fraction of the usual workload while benefitting from billions of dollars in public aid, the public is not impressed by pilot union demands about how much they should be compensated now.

  8. Chris Ferguson Guest

    Give the pilots what they want. They have our safety in their hands.

    1. Stuart Guest

      I thought they were exhausted and thus compromising safety? Which is it?

  9. z o Guest

    The APA seems intent on snuffing-out any goodwill that remains with the flying public towards pilots

    1. Cc Guest

      I’m thinking you mean the goodwill towards AA management. This is their mistake and problem to fix. I’m sure if a pilot accidentally messed up their own schedule to the benefit of the airline, AA would bend over backwards to fix the mistake.

    2. Max Guest

      Pilots and the union have no responsibility to clean up AA management's mess

      They made the mistake, now they gotta own the consequences, if it was the other way around we'd see the exact same thing.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

z o Guest

The APA seems intent on snuffing-out any goodwill that remains with the flying public towards pilots

6
Credit Guest

How long have you been a pilot?

3
Sarah Guest

They aren’t getting paid well to turn on the autopilot. They are paid well to know how to keep everyone alive when the autopilot goes bonkers, an engine falls off, a sensor malfunctions, there is suddenly severe windshear on short final, etc. Yes, they are glorified bus drivers most of the time. But in the instances when expertise and skill matter, they REALLY matter. As for the breaks and 80 hr months … fatigue at most jobs is a relatively minor thing that doesn’t have severe consequences. A fatigued airline captain is how you kill people. I’ll take the highly paid, well rested airline pilot because I want to live, thanks.

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