If you recently have a scheduled flight on American Airlines, it is possible that the largest airline in the United States is about to relocate you, as the American Airlines Group has been forced to cut the number of flights it offers to avoid delays in its operation.
American Airlines clarified that the number of flights it has cut is relatively small, no more than 1% of the total number of flights planned for 2021. Even so, the one-month cutback of approximately 950 flights gives some perspective on the difficulties airlines have had in meeting demand following the lifting of pandemic travel restrictions.
According to airline executives, most customers will arrive at their destination the same day, will have their early flight moved to a later time, and those who are unable to find a replacement for their trip will receive a full refund.
With the arrival of the summer season, demand for leisure flights has steadily increased and U.S. airports have seen an influx of more than 1.7 million people transiting through terminals in a single day. Last Friday more than 2.1 million people passed through airport security checkpoints across the U.S., nearly 75% of June 2019.
American Airlines was among the most ambitious commercial airlines to expand its operations during the summer season. Nearly 150 new routes were opened for the season and the airline expected to operate up to 90% of its pre-pandemic capacity.
American Airlines despite its new offerings, had to cut the number of flights, mainly on highly traveled routes where another flight can be easily relocated. American Airlines relocated 120 of its flights on Saturday and 176 on Sunday, about 6% of its weekend operation.
Despite the surge in demand, the problem facing American Airlines is a lack of pilots. While the company has canceled up to 100 flights a day, in contrast, other airlines such as United have only canceled 8 flights, and Delta only 2 a day.
Pilot shortage: the reason why American Airlines is canceling flights
The problem is concentrated in American Airlines’ fleet of Boeing 737s, the demand for American travel seems to have outstripped the crew capacity of the giant airplanes and the company has not been effective in bringing enough people back to work.
Although canceled flights accounted for less than 6 percent of American Airlines’ weekend flights, this figure represented as much as 30 percent of the flights on the airline’s Boeing fleet.
American Airlines was prohibited from laying off pilots due to the government’s pandemic subsidies, but they were also inactive due to the low demand caused by the pandemic. The underlying problem is that the airline cannot immediately reinstate the inactive pilots, because in order to rejoin the aircraft fleet they must take a 5-day course (two in a classroom and three in a flight simulator) to prove that they are fit to fly a plane of the proportions of a Boeing 737.
The strange thing is that American Airlines, despite not having a dedicated budget to retrain pilots in time, did so to expand the capacity of its Boeing 737, adding more seats, in the so-called OASIS project.
Two months ago American Airlines announced that it did not need new pilots for the fall, however, it did not prioritize training its inactive pilots either. That is why the airline could find itself under investigation, as it received more than $10 billion in federal subsidies to keep its operating capacity afloat, yet it was not ready to return to normal operations in the middle of summer.