A scheduling snafu at American Airlines let way too many pilots book time off at Christmas

Image: Reuters/Eduardo Muno
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Last Friday, members of the Allied Pilots Association contacted their union to report a problem: The vacation-scheduling system for American Airlines, the largest airline in the US, was acting glitchy.

It was behaving like a Scrooge in reverse, allowing way too many of the people who fly the company’s planes to book time off around Christmas week.

Right now, if all the pilots who booked their holidays were to take them, some 15,000 flights between Dec. 17 and Dec. 31 would not have enough crew to operate, Bloomberg reported, based on estimates from the pilot group.

To prevent that potentially dismal situation, and a PR disaster, the airline is now offering to pay pilots as much as 150% of their hourly wage to cancel their vacay plans and show up for work instead. American issued the following statement:

“We are working diligently to address the issue and expect to avoid cancellations this holiday season. We have reserve pilots to help cover flying in December, and we are paying pilots who pick up certain open trips 150 percent of their hourly rate – as much as we are allowed to pay them per the contract. We will work with the APA to take care of our pilots and ensure we get our customers to where they need to go over the holidays.”

With luck and that incentive plan, American may fair better than did RyanAir, which endured its own scheduling mishap in September and had to cancel 2,000 flights.

American declined to confirm the number of flights potentially affected by the scheduling snafu, but according to Bloomberg, the trip-up has made orphans of flights from major hubs around the country, including airports in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Chicago.

Update: On Nov. 30, American Airlines issued a new statement to the press:

“Out of the 200,000 flights American will operate in December, only a few hundred are currently unassigned to pilots. That number of open flights continues to decrease thanks to our pilots who are stepping up to the plate and picking up trips to ensure customers are taken care of. It’s another example of why we are thankful to have such an incredible team. In addition, we have more reserve pilots on hand in December than normal months and they provide us with the ability to fly many of the trips that are currently uncovered. We have not canceled any scheduled flights in December and will continue to work to ensure both our pilots and our customers are cared for.”