Glitch Leaves American Airlines Without Pilots for Thousands of Holiday Flights

Update 11:15 a.m. — American says that only a few hundred December flights remain without pilots, as of Thursday morning. "We have not canceled any scheduled flights in December and will continue to work to ensure both out pilots and our customers are cared for," the airline said in a statement.

Thousands of American Airlines in December flights face cancellation after a scheduling glitch allowed all pilots to take take vacations over the Christmas holiday, according to the Dallas-based airline's pilot union. American acknowledged the glitch Wednesday but told the media and potential passengers that it intends to make sure all flights are covered during the holiday season, preventing potential cancellations.

In a statement, the Allied Pilots Association outlined what's happened so far.

"On Friday, management disclosed a failure within the pilot schedule bidding system. As a result, thousands of flights currently do not have pilots assigned to fly them during the upcoming critical holiday period," the union wrote. "[On Tuesday,] management issued an update detailing the 'significant holes' in the operation and unilaterally invoked a solution for crewing affected flights."

American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller says the solution described by the union is twofold: The airline plans to call up reserve pilots during the holidays and offer current pilots time-and-a-half for covering any open flights.

"We are working diligently to address the issue and expect to avoid cancellations this holiday season," Miller said in a statement to the Observer. "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."

The APA has already filed a grievance over the proposed fix, saying it wasn't negotiated with the union. Because the pilot's association hasn't signed off, it said it can't guarantee that any of the incentives will actually be paid.

"Because management unilaterally created their solution in violation of the contract, neither APA nor the contract can guarantee the promised payment of the premium being offered," according to the union. "Management’s actions ... jeopardize any collaborative effort to ensure our passengers have a pilot crew to take them to their important holiday events."

According to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg News , holiday flights from D/FW International Airport, as well as airports in Miami, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, don't have assigned captains, first officers or both.

Throughout the day Wednesday, concerned future flyers tweeted at the airline, asking if their holiday flights faced cancellation and whether compensation would be offered. The airline repeatedly replied that it doesn't expect any cancellations but that refunds will be available for any canceled flights. American doesn't have a timeline for announcing potential cancellations, the airline tweeted, because it is currently "in normal operations."

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