According to aviation data company masFlight, American Airlines led the US aviation industry in overall cancellations for the month of June. For that month, 4% of flights were canceled. With the American Airlines Group being the largest airline in the world in terms of fleet size, revenue and passengers carried, this is a significant percentage.
The data, gathered by USA TODAY, shows that the month of June had 3,900 flight cancellations. Over the same period in 2018, there were only about 1,600.
Furthermore, it seems likely that American will take the top spot in July as well, canceling over 3% of July flights through July 10. This is nearly three times as many cancellations as in 2018. The article also states that airlines generally aim to keep the cancellation rate at 1% or below. So what’s going on?
737 MAX crisis
Firstly there is the issue of the 737 MAX grounding. Since the ban took place in March, 24 aircraft in the American fleet are not flying passengers or making money. The result is thousands of flight cancellations and a more significant knock-on effect (in the case of maintenance issues and other delays) as there are less aircraft to help expedite recovery from problems. According to Flight Global, the Oneworld alliance member had to cancel 7,800 flights in Q2.
As just one example, CNN reports that American had to cancel its daily Dallas to Oakland service due to the 737 MAX crisis. The report says that the plane flying the route needs to go to other flights with greater demand:
“Our goal is to minimize the impact to the smallest number of customers,” – American Airlines spokesperson.
We also just received news via Reuters that American Airlines is extending Boeing 737 MAX cancellations for the fourth time – until early November.
Disputes with mechanics unions
Secondly, American attributes the cancellations to a lengthy work dispute resulting in a slowdown by its mechanics unions. The claim is that these are deliberate slowdowns meant to gain leverage in contract negotiations. The airline says that its workers are taking an “inordinately long time to repair aircraft.” Furthermore, these mechanics are refusing to work overtime.
The unions insist that there is no organized slowdown and puts the blame on American’s management for the operational problems. The airline’s pilot union also blames management for not having enough pilots to fill in when problems arise.
In May, American Airlines filed a lawsuit against two mechanics’ unions in an effort to halt the alleged work slowdown. According to Flight Global, in June a temporary restraining order was granted by a federal court to end the slowdown. However, as we are well into July, the maintenance cancellations continue.
Apparently, the airline is automatically rebooking passengers on other flights. Furthermore, it is seeking out volunteers to give up their booking in advance on busier flights, in order to free up space for potential rebookings. According to the USA TODAY report, travelers who volunteer get a voucher.
Furthermore, American is also empowering its employees to put passengers on other airlines as necessary in order to make an important event.
High stakes and heavy competition
With three major carriers in the United States and a handful of smaller airlines, most travelers have options – especially if they are willing to make at least one connection through a hub.
In this highly competitive market, Delta is currently coming out on top as it is the one major US carrier with no 737 MAX aircraft in its fleet. In fact, the airline has been doing so well that this past Thursday it raised its 2019 profit forecast.
For the thousands booked on American Airlines for the rest of July and August, this should serve as a warning. Passengers with bookings should research actions that they can take if they are left stranded due to a cancellation.
Have you been affected by an American Airlines cancellation in the last two months? Share your experience (good and bad) and let us know how the airline handled your situation by leaving a comment.