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American Airlines scheduling glitch allows pilots to drop thousands of July flights

Andre 0 Jul 3
An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner approaches for a landing at the Miami International Airport on December 10, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

A glitch in a scheduling platform allowed American Airlines pilots to drop thousands of trips in July last night, their union said Saturday, a headache for the airline as it tries to minimize flight disruptions during a booming travel season.

American confirmed the issue and said it didn't expect the problem to affect its operation, including during the July Fourth holiday weekend.

"As a result of this technical glitch, certain trip trading transactions were able to be processed when it shouldn’t have been permitted," the airline said in a statement. "We already have restored the vast majority of the affected trips and do not anticipate any operational impact because of this issue.”

More than 12,000 July flights lacked either a captain, first officer or both, after pilots dropped assignments, the Allied Pilots Association said earlier.

Pilots can routinely drop or pick up trips, but time off in the summer or holidays is hard to come by for airline employees as schedules peak to cater to strong demand.

On Saturday alone, American had more than 3,000 mainline flights scheduled and they were 93% full, according to an internal tally. Flights left unstaffed, however, are an additional strain on any airline.

The glitch occurred during a rocky start to the Fourth of July weekend when thunderstorms and staffing issues caused thousands of U.S. flight delays and hundreds of cancellations.

American and its pilots' union, whose relationship has been fraught, are in the middle of contract negotiations and the airline most recently offered nearly 17% raises through 2024. The union's new president, Capt. Ed Sicher, began a three-year term on Friday.

American's pilots have picketed recently against grueling schedules, something they want to be addressed in a new contract. Pilots at Delta and Southwest have picketed in recent weeks for similar reasons.

American said it has suspended a platform that allows pilots to change their schedules while it investigates the issue.

"We understand these are important tools for our pilots and are working as quickly as possible. We will provide updates throughout the day as we learn more," American told pilots in an email Saturday.

Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines captain and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, said the company failed to keep the IT system working properly and creating "uncertainty for passengers and pilots."

A similar issue occurred in 2017, when a technology problem let American's pilots take vacation during the busy December holiday period. The carrier offered pilots 150% pay for pilots that picked up assignments.