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Hundreds of American Flights Cancelled Due to Reported Pilot Shortage
American Airlines canceled over a hundred flights on Saturday and canceled hundreds of others in advance after a shortage of crew left the airline unable to operate some of its summer route network.
Originally reported by View From the Wing, American’s cancelations come as U.S. airlines continue to ramp up flights in preparation of a travel demand resurgence throughout the busy summer travel season. Throughput at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints totaled almost 2.1 million on Friday, over 75% of 2019 totals and nearly four times the number that entered U.S. airports the same day in 2020.
At the time of writing, American has canceled 119 flights on Saturday and has delayed nearly 450, representing 4% and 9% of the airline’s daily schedule, respectively, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. The day before, the airline canceled 83 flights on Friday and was set to cancel over 150 on Sunday before numbers dipped slightly to 82 scheduled cancelations on Monday.
“The first few weeks of June have brought unprecedented weather to our largest hubs, heavily impacting our operation and causing delays, canceled flights and disruptions to crew member schedules and our customers’ plans,” the airline said in a statement to AirlineGeeks on Sunday. “That, combined with the labor shortages some of our vendors are contending with and the incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand, has led us to build in additional resilience and certainty to our operation by adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flying through mid-July. We made targeted changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation.”
The cancelations have largely come on flights operated by Boeing 737 aircraft, leading to speculation that the crew shortage is being driven primarily, if not entirely, by pilots.
As of late evening on Sunday, over 30% of flights operated by 737 were canceled over the course of the day. That compared with under 10% of the airline’s flights operated by other aircraft types.
According to View From the Wing, the airline is still working through the process of retraining pilots who have not flown for months owing to lower travel demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of flights and simulator time prevented many of them from staying current on their respective aircraft types, and the airline has been unable to train them fast enough to keep pace with skyrocketing travel demand throughout the country.
Whether the airline will be able to make it through the remainder of the summer without further issues remains to be seen, but the airline is likely to struggle going forward given the slow pace of pilot recertification, which requires a total of five days of training, and American’s limited simulator capacity.
“Our focus this summer — and always — is on delivering for our customers no matter the circumstance,” the airline said. “We never want to disappoint, and feel these schedule adjustments will help ensure we can take good care of our customers and team members and minimize surprises at the airport.”
The difficulties for the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier come the same week hometown rival Southwest Airlines was forced to cancel its own batches of flights after technical difficulties effectively halted the airline’s entire network. Issues with a weather data supplier sidelined hundreds of flights Monday before internal issues led to problems that echoed throughout the rest of the week.
Nor is American the only airline to struggle with pilot shortages since travelers began to take to the skies again in recent months. Fellow legacy carrier Delta Airlines canceled flights in April owing to a pilot shortage in its own network, a fiasco that came just months after the airline canceled hundreds of flights over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, one of the first moments of resurgence for travel in the U.S.
Editors note: This story was updated June 20 at 5:40 p.m. ET with a comment from American Airlines.
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