It's been a real mess this week at PDX for those flying American Airlines. The Airline has cancelled more than two-dozen Portland flights since Wednesday, and it's planning to cancel more through Saturday, at least.
The problem with the way the wiring is installed on American's Boeing MD80s (really built by McDonnel Douglas, which was purchased by Boeing, which subsequently gets its name on the plane) has been a tough one for the Airline to re-inspect and fix. Even now - Thursay night - NBC reports American has just 100 of its 300 MD80s back in service.
Portland was hit worse than any other major west coast city. The reason: American only flies MD80s here - unlike cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego, where it also flies Boeing 757s. While the vast majority of Portland flights were cancelled, American's 757 flights in other west coast cities were zipping in and out on time.
Today I sat down with a travel agent I often work with, Don Francis, of Barbur Travel/Uptown Landing Travel in John's Landing. He's a good guy, who always tells it like it is. He's been swamped by people wanting help with their cancelled American flights. "A lot of people are just flat-out worried about their flights," he told me. "It doesn't matter if they're on American. They're so skittish now about leaving town at all, it's like, 'are we impacted, are we going to make our flight?'"
Don's been helping the best he can. His advice to those who have tickets on American through the weekend: check with the airline often, from the day before your flight, until the time you leave for the airport. If your flight is cancelled, ask to be confirmed on a new flight - don't go standby. If your flight might be cancelled, you can ask to be protected on another flight. That won't change your reservation, but it will reserve a confirmed seat for you should you flight eventually be cancelled. Don explains it better: "You basically have a dupicate reservation, which is usually frowned upon. But, given the circumstances, you need to have it if there's a high percentage chance your flight is going to be cancelled."
American has been willing to put travelers on other airlines, instead of forcing them to wait for the next AA flight. You just have to ask. As Don says, "They know that they've got to get you home. And they don't want to put you up in a hotel and waste a lot of per diem. They want to get the situation resolved."
The big question everyone's been asking me for the last couple days: what's next? Everyone wants to know which airline or which aircraft type will be next to be called out by the FAA, with its new emphasis on following directives to the letter. I wish I could answer that question. Don tells me these MD80 inspections, "Could be the tip of the iceberg." Certainly, the FAA could require similar inspections on any other aircraft. But it could, just as easily, be satisfied with how other airliners have been inspected. It's impossible to say.
If you're flying in the next few months, stay on top of the news surrounding your airline. KGW.com is a great place to do that. And I'll do my best to keep updates here - when I get them.
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