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American Airlines' bad week: Cancellations, layoffs, absentee pilots

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With thousands of impending layoffs, absentee pilots calling in sick, contentious labor issues, schedule cutbacks, an increase in cancelled flights, a decrease in on-time arrivals and a Wall Street Journal suggestion to "avoid" the airline, things have sort of come crashing down around American Airlines this week.

American Airlines announced Tuesday that 11,000 mechanics and ground workers would be issued layoff warnings but that fewer than 40 percent would actually lose their jobs. Anyone whose position could be changed, eliminated or outsourced amid the company's bankruptcy restructuring was required to be notified under federal law, said airline spokesman Bruce Hicks.

Approximate number of layoff notices issued:

  • 3,000 workers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (where a maintenance facility will close)
  • 3,000 workers at a base in Tulsa, Okla.
  • 1,200 workers in Miami
  • 1,100 in New York and Newark, N.J.
  • 900 in Chicago
  • Smaller numbers elsewhere

Transport Workers Union spokeperson, Jamie Horwitz, said, "As bad as this is — and we knew this day was coming — we've been able to lessen the pain." In February, the airline said it planned to cut 14,000 jobs, including 13,000 held by union workers.

Separately, the leader of the pilots' union (APA), is accusing American of "paying lip service" to their contract negotiations and asked federal officials to approve steps that could eventually lead to a strike. Permission has not been granted. 

DallasNews reports that "American Airlines negotiated a consensual agreement with APA which unfortunately failed ratification by the APA pilot membership," according to American spokesman Hicks on Wednesday. "We remain committed to reaching a consensual deal with the APA and stand ready to begin negotiations as soon as APA is prepared to do so."

Meanwhile, the airline's flight schedule for September and October is getting the ax by up to 2 percent — a consequence, in part, of pilots more frequently calling in sick, says AA.

The Wall Street Journal posted a story on Tuesday advising travelers to "avoid American Airlines," calling its operation "unreliable" and "in shambles," noting more cancelled flights than any other airline on Sunday and Monday and a high percentage of delayed flights.

  • Monday — 39 percent of American's flights arrived on time and 108 flights were cancelled.
  • Sunday — 48 percent of American's flights arrived on time and 92 flights were cancelled. 

American Airlines and American Eagle say they will cancel a total of 300 flights this week to cope with the missing pilots and increased maintenance reports. However, according to a flight-tracking service, the two airlines already canceled 249 flights by Wednesday afternoon, suggesting that the week's total might significantly exceed American's estimate, says the AP.

In other news, the airline will be beefing up its in-flight electronic tablet program, so that's something. AA announced on Wednesday the rollout of about 17,000 Samsung Galaxy Note mini-tablets that flight attendants will use to record customer food and beverage preferences, access passenger information and provide travel assistance.  

ZDNet tallies their technology:

"The 17,000 Notes are in addition to the 6,000 Samsung Galaxy Tabs that the airline said in June 2011 that it would roll out as weight-saving in-flight entertainment devices. ... These 23,000 Samsung tablets would make American Airlines the biggest enterprise user of Android devices publicly known, ... all in addition to the iPads that AA says will be used by pilots in cockpits to replace heavy paper charts and manuals."