American Airlines Says Trust Us We’re Solving The Pilotless Christmas Flight Problem

An IT glitch gave too many American Airlines pilots Christmas off so the airline has been offering time and a half to anyone with an accidental vacation who’ll pick up a shift.

That’s gotten huge media play over the last 24 hours, with concern that plenty of Christmas flights would be cancelled.

American just put out a release saying the problem is mostly taken care of already.

  • “Out of the 200,000 flights American will operate in December, only a few hundred are currently unassigned to pilots.” 500 would be one quarter of one percent of flights, a number the airline will wind up cancelling anyway. But this is a bit disingenuous because it’s not the entire month that’s a concern, it’s the Christmas holiday. The percentage of flights involved would be higher using a more accurate denominator.

  • “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.” They expect the number of pilotless flights to shrink. Pilots themselves are the audience for the sentence as much as customers. If other pilots are picking up flights, there’s no reason not to do it. Anyone hoping to embarrass American or hold out for even more pay needn’t bother, they’ll just miss out.

  • “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 will have enough pilots, but maybe we won’t, but still don’t worry.

  • “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.” ‘Yet.’ We never plan that far in advance, but if you’re stuck thanks to us remember that your credit card company may cover your trip delay costs such as hotel.

American Airlines gave employees unilateral raises. Now they’re paying pilots more to come to work. And since American Airlines will never lose money again and they’re currently at the bottom end of the $3 to $7 billion annual profit range they’re promising investors, they will need to make up the cost somewhere. You are somewhere.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. If I had Christmas off there is no way I would go back to work even for triple time. Family is too important. Life is too short.

  2. What exactly is a “reserve” pilot that AA refers to? Is it a retired pilot they can bring back to help out in an emergency like this or a Regional plane pilot that gets called up to the big time? I was wondering that…

  3. AA continues to spiral. Business they’ve already lost will only add holiday losses. AA is a mess, not up to revenue numbers and now causing its own issues.

  4. @Stan D I believe “reserve” pilot refers to what most carriers have going at their hubs. On any given day there are ‘reserve’ crews on standby in case for whatever reason a person who was suppose to work that day cant eg happened to me the Capt on his way to JFK was called and told his father passed away. So they wont work and AA calls someone on reserve to get to the airport ASAP to work the flight/s that the Capt was suppose to.

    In this case AA can simply tell all those that were gonna be on Standby that you now officially working. Problem will be there wont be any ‘reserve” members then so if something hits the fan lookout

  5. Yeah, another day, another example of how crappy AA has already become, and I guess will continue becoming even more crappier than it already is now..

    One would have to be crazy stupid to waste time and money flying this crappy airline…

    …we figured this out by the end of 2015 after Dougie P & his team took over AA and began “US Airways-ing” it…

    …so much so, that AA is on the same “No Fly” list as Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit in our home, and for family and friends when they ask whom they should fly and/or ask me to book their flights (something I’m often asked to do!)

    I mean, seriously, if you’re willing to casually throw away something as beautiful, legendary, and iconic as AA’s gorgeous trademarks and dignfied logos, and the great paint schemes/liveries that they used have in favor of something better resembling the look and feel of an ugly, Greyhound bus, is it really all that surprising that the “geniuses” who thought the dowty Greyhound bus “look” were stylish and cool, are the same ones who are utterly clueless about how great the American Airlines brand was for more than a decade, and nearly two decades, after Bob Crandall took over and reshaped an airline once beset with problems of its time (which while much different than the issues of today, certainly had problems that needed to be solved or it, too, would’ve probably fallen down as Pan Am or Eastern did after they failed to adapt to the airline industry’s deregulation began in 1978), and instead of seeking to capture, transform, or modernize the best of that formerly great airline’s brand equity, they immediately began seeking to transform it in favor of the “Greyhound bus” like product that US Airways long was (people my age will likely recall US Airways’ when it was called Allegheny Airlines, but was so horrible even then, everyone simply referred to it as “Agony Airlines”…and would ask with a tone in their voice conveying their sense of sympathies before even waiting to hear the answer when they derisively asked “…did you suffer on ‘AGONY AIRLINES’”?) we now have???

    Oh, well…such is life…

    Of course, but for the lack of competition that now afflicts/plagues our nation’s oligopolist airline industry, airlines like Pan Am, Eastern, TWA and many others with products as bad as American’s (and several others) is (are) would probably go out of business just as those companies, whose products, btw, as bad as they were in their time STILL WERE BETTER THAN AMERICAN’S or UNITED’s NOW ARE…go figure!!!

    Alas, in an era where competition is not just sorely, but DESPERATELY lacking, barriers to entry are practically insurmountable, and well…the inmates/patients are running the asylum in Washigton, DC, we’ll just have to wait until our nation’s “moment” of complete bat-guano crazy insanity finally passes (as it surely will…EVENTUALLY…) until we can expect to see the upside down world where racing to the bottom is how ”competition” is defined instead of the good old fashioned way of attempting to be better to capture the hearts, minds, bums in seats, and cash, of flyers that in times when sanity and rational adults is how things usually should be…

    …and something is either down culturally to stop the acceptance of extreme form of greed run amok that for some strange reason seems to be “normalized” right now, or through a more forceful threat of government and/or regularatory intervention, already long over due elimination of the most flagrant abuses by our airlines will be eliminated as they most certainly will be…

    …it’s NOT a matter of “IF”, but rather only “WHEN” the greed and arrogance that’s the root cause of the “Race to the Bottom” at our airlines, and the insanity where “competition” is defined by seeing who can be the “best at being worst” will rightly, and necessarily, be forced to end…

    It’s NOT rocket science…and I’m certainly NOT in possession of a crystal ball allowing me to peer into the future…

    …It’s just the ebbs and flows of life and culture…

    …for some reason, our country has lost its moorings, and for now seems intent on veering off into a deep, dark place where anything commonly defined as responsible, rational and acceptable attitudes, behaviors, social and/or economic policies that history has proven are the essential ingredients for the advancement ofmcivilized, modern societies aspiring to create better futures for their children, grandchildren and future generations beyond, will find the currently “fashionable” climate of fear, hate, exceptional greed, and the rapidly expanding chasm between a very small group of “haves” and the remaining explosion of “have nots” will lead to changes in consumer behaviors, attitudes and more where paying a more modest, affordable airfare is no longer cause for the types of punishments, humiliations, and shaming that our priviedged classes right now seem to find acceptable…

    We can all define the “Race to the Bottom” seen in the past few years as merely “product degradations”…yet the fact remains, these sadistic, intentionally created degradations are as much a reflection of the seats that get smaller, or harder, in rows with next to nothing, or who knows? probably soon will offer nothing in terms of creature comforts and legroom/personal space, that these intentionally degraded conditions are very much a reflection of the values and attitudes of the larger society, and just as there’s high tides and low tide, or the changing of seasons, so too, shall tastes and sensibilities regarding right and wrong, moral and immoral, change…and with it, so too, will the current greed, arrogance and hostility directed towards those less affluent than the invincable ones know who tell themselves they’re better and more deserving than anyone else…when they’re really not…

    Mark my words, the current Marie Antoinette philosophy of “Let ‘Em Eat Cake” that at heart is the very essence of the “Race to the Bottom” and the relentless efforts of our present airline managers to become the “first, and best, at being worst” by competing over who can be more callous and sadistic towards its fare paying customers (a pathetic commentary of who we are if ever there was one…) while falling over themselves to coddle a precious few who need half the width, and half the length of entire fuselages, when they fly will in time become seen for what it is, an out of control, unfair, irrational, and wholly unacceptable over indulgence by a bunch of overentitled jerks who think their precious bums justify pushing aside and stepping all over everyone elses…

    This insanity will surely stop…the Dr. Dao incident was hardly the first of its kind, and while it captured in very dramatic fashion the many things wrong with our airlines that a nip here, and a nip there to seat widths or row pitch doesn’t do nearly as well, the more people fly planes like American’s newest 737s, the more they’ll see things have gotten out of control, WAAAAYYYY OUT OF CONTROL…

    You’ll see…

  6. Not sure what your problem is “Doug,” but do you want to bet me on whether AA ACTUALLY has a real flight cancellation problem at Christmas? If you know anything about Parker (and I’m not sure you do), he will get this problem fixed. And you and all the other complainers will give him no credit for fixing the problem and will just find something else to whine about. That’s guaranteed, too.

  7. @IAHPHX
    no need to put my name in brackets, it’s my real name
    Bet is on…don’t know about the scope of the problem, but I will bet it will not be a smooth christmas…
    I know he has a drinking problem, and I know he is ruining the airline, that’s all I need to know
    Say hi to him pls

  8. @Doug — OK, Union and AA already announced resolution of the pilot staffing problem today. That was quick.

    I see a lot of nonsense posted on message boards, but very few apologies. One would seem to be in order here.

  9. @IAHPHX
    I have no problem apologizing, but it’s not over until the fat AA stewardess sings, so let’s wait until christmas
    regardless, my opinion of Drunk Parker does not change, the airline is on a race to the bottom, in good position to win…and as to you….once in a blue moon you make sense, most of the time you just come here to contradict gary for fun

  10. I would not bet the farm that AA has this covered and if I was a pilot and had the holidays off I would not even think about helping them out.
    Just another reason why I do not fly AA any longer they may be the biggest airline but they have the worst customer relation or care in the airline business

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *