In the Philadelphia Inquirer I try to put the recent sensational headlines about American Airlines in a bit of perspective.
Gary Leff, author of the ViewFromTheWing.com blog, said he planned to fly to Chicago on Thursday on American and was largely unconcerned about the problems.
“It’s beat-up-on-American week,” Leff said. “There are a variety of minor inconveniences – that’s what we’re facing at the moment. No doubt this will pass. They’re still operating 95 percent of their flights every day.”
Leff praised American’s response to delays and cancellations, especially its willingness to go beyond requirements and put passengers on competing carriers for delays of two hours or more, or one hour for elite-status fliers. “They’re bending over backward,” he said.
Leff and others said one side-effect of the dispute was that airline workers were overzealously delaying flights by reporting problems, such as broken coffeemakers or burned-out lights, that would usually be dealt with at the end of a day.
All carriers have operational challenges, American has struggled over the past few weeks but less than they did in 1998 with pilot issues and certainly less than United did in the summer of 2000 with their pilot problems (“The Summer from Hell”). And problems happen all the time in aviation, 10 weeks back a United flight from Shanghai to Newark took three days to get there. The amazing thing is that problems don’t happen more often.
None of which makes it less frustrating when your flight is delayed or cancelled, or you’re watching your connection time shrink by the minute while your pilot decides to taxi around the full length of the airport while being outrun by a tug.
Still, on the whole I think the reaction to the operational challenges has been pretty good.
And there may even be a glimmer of hope that things will improve and improve quickly. The indispensable Dallas Morning News aviation blog reports that American is holding off on implementing some of the planned changes to the pilots’ contract.
Among the items being deferred for October were plans to eliminate night pay, and to pay pilots for actual time flown on international flights rather than scheduled time if the actual time was shorter than scheduled time.
This can be seen as a peace offering in light of the pilots union’s decision to return to the bargaining table with the airline.
It remains to be seen whether the pilots have become more realistic in their demands, or what the airline will offer relative to their last contract which the pilots voted down prior to having the bankruptcy court approve American’s imposition of unilateral changes. And any new contract ultimately agreed to will take awhile to ratify. But if the tenor of conversations with the pilots can be improved, their job action may well be put on hiatus.
Unquestionably the current operational challenges are hurting the airline, at the point where they become fodder for Jay Leno.
“American Airlines has a new slogan: ‘Your seat is free to move about the cabin.’
“You hear about this? For the second time, the second time this week, on American Airlines, a row of seats that wasn’t bolted down went sliding around the cabin. I think it’s deliberate. This is the airline trying to shake all the loose change out of your pocket.”
As customers we can only hope that the acrimony will be put to rest quickly.