American Airlines pilots are warning that as many as 15,000 holiday flights face staffing issues because of a scheduling snafu, which the carrier said has been fixed.
“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 Allied Pilots Association (APA) that represents American’s pilots said in a message to members via its website.
The glitch affected the system in which pilots modify their flight assignments, inadvertently allowing them to drop flights that needed to be staffed during the busy holiday period.
"The system went from responsibly scheduling everybody to becoming Santa Claus to everyone," APA spokesman Dennis Tajer said to CNBC. "The computer said, 'Hey ya'll. You want the days off? You got it.'"
American has said the problem has been fixed and that the company does not expect continued issues.
“We are working diligently to address the issue and expect to avoid cancellations this holiday season," American spokesman Matt Miller said to USA TODAY's Today in the Sky blog. "We have reserve pilots to help cover flying in December, and we are paying pilots who pick up certain open trips 150% of their hourly rate – as much as we are allowed to pay them per the contract."
However, the APA has already filed a grievance about that idea, saying the company’s proposed solution violates its contract because American “unilaterally invoked a solution for crewing affected flights.” The union added: "By not including APA in developing collaborative solutions to this critical holiday scheduling failure, management’s actions contrast with their handling of previous scheduling failures involving other work groups."
The pilots’ union estimated that when the problem was discovered late last week, about 19,000 cockpit seats were left empty.
“This is a potential crisis that we see well in advance,” Capt. Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the union, said to The Associated Press. “This is very unusual.”
As a result of the glitch, the pilots’ union says about 15,000 flights were scheduled without a captain, a co-pilot or both.
The airline was seeking late-December pilot staffing at a number of its hubs, according to a scheduling memo sent by American to its pilots in the wake of the glitch. Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte, New York LaGuardia, Chicago O’Hare and Philadelphia were all among the airports where American was offering extra pay in the latter part of the month, according to a copy of the memo obtained by Today in the Sky.
American declined to confirm the number of flights initially affected, but spokesman Miller said the company was doing everything it could to get the staffing situation resolved.
"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," he said to Today in the Sky.