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Check on your travel plans: American Airlines has too many flights, not enough pilots

·3 min read

You waited, you anticipated and finally, the moment arrived: You booked a flight to see Grandma, go to the beach or escape the Texas heat into the mountains.

Uh, you might want to double check on that. Especially if you’re flying American Airlines.

The airline, the dominant choice at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, is canceling thousands of flights through July. It has blamed bad spring weather, including here, but also is pre-emptively scratching scheduled trips due to ongoing worker shortages.

Fort Worth-based American, like all airlines, suffered greatly through the pandemic. One of the difficult steps it took was to furlough pilots. And as many aviation experts and pilots’ labor representatives have noted, pilots can’t just leap back into the cockpit after a year of inactivity. New training is required.

Plus, about a thousand other pilots took early retirement, a union spokesman told NPR. It’ll take time to replace them.

American must have known that would be the case, and yet, it aimed to come out of the pandemic more aggressively than its competitors. Customers went along; pent-up demand to travel and flush savings accounts made for a rush to travel. Now, through no fault of their own, some are seeing their plans dashed and having to scramble to find spots on other planes.

And of course, it’s not just flights. Once the air travel changes, hotels, pet-sitters, other transportation and booked activities have to be altered, too. It’s a pain.

Some analysts suggest that American’s eagerness to get back to a full schedule could be driven by high levels of debt incurred before the pandemic. Moreover, the airlines were some of the largest recipients of federal help to survive the shutdowns.

It was justified, because of their hundreds of thousands of employees and crucial role in the economy (especially in North Texas). They simply couldn’t make money under the circumstances, and even when conditions began to improve, business travel has slowed, thanks to the newly discovered wonders of Zoom. In early 2020, American alone accepted $4.1 billion in grants and another $1.7 billion in low-interest loans.

So, airlines need to do as much as they can to make the situation better for their customer-taxpayers. American, like so many institutions, deserves some breathing room as it tries to ramp up at the end of the pandemic and adjust to new travel patterns that have yet to be revealed. The company seems to be getting a better handle on the situation, with fewer cancellations at DFW in recent days.

And none of this is license for a customer to be a jerk to the customer service representatives and flight attendants who did not cause the problem and can’t on their own fix it.

Airlines are reporting a disturbing number of unruly passenger incidents, mostly in confrontations about mask wearing. Those rules, whether you like them or not, come from the federal government. There’s no sense taking your frustration out on an innocent airline employee — and possibly getting kicked off your flight or worse.

With planes suddenly full and the difficulties of the airport experience back in full swing, passengers are no doubt stressed, especially if they’ve scrambled to change long-delayed vacation plans. All involved must treat one another with grace and patience.

And hopefully, American and other airlines will learn from their mistakes and minimize the disruptions in their customers’ lives.

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