An American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER plane takes off from Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, October 28, 2020.
Loren Elliott | Reuters
American Airlines has canceled more than 1,700 flights since Friday, blaming staffing problems and high winds at its busiest hub several days earlier. It’s the latest mass flight disruption to face travelers as some carriers struggle to handle a rebound in travel demand.
The cancellations increased at the end of the weekend. On Sunday, American canceled about 820 mainline flights, 30% of its mainline schedule, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines cut 190 flights, or 5% of its Sunday operation.
American canceled some 340 flights on Friday and 543 flights, or 20% of its schedule, on Saturday.
American’s COO David Seymour said in a staff note on Saturday that the problems started with high wind gusts on Thursday that cut capacity at its Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hub and that crew members ended up out of position for their next flights.
Pilot and flight attendant availability were listed as reasons for most of the cancellations on Saturday and Sunday, according to internal tallies, which were seen by CNBC.
“With additional weather throughout the system, our staffing begins to run tight as crew members end up out of their regular flight sequences,” Seymour wrote. He said that most customers were rebooked the same day and that he expects the operation to stabilize in November.
About 1% of American’s Monday schedule, or 37 flights, were canceled, according to FlightAware.
Airlines have struggled with staffing shortfalls that have sparked hundreds of flight cancellations and other disruptions since travel demand rebounded sharply in late spring. Carriers had convinced thousands of staff members to accept voluntary buyouts or leaves of absence to cut their payroll expenses during the depths of the pandemic.
Now they are trying to staff up again, hiring pilots, flight attendants, ramp and customer service workers, and others. Leaner staffing makes it harder for airlines to recover from disruptions like bad weather or technology problems.
American Airlines’ Seymour said that 1,800 flight attendants would be returning from leave starting Nov. 1 and that the rest would be back by December. It said it also is in the process of hiring pilots, mechanics, airport workers and reservations agents “so more team members will be in place for the holiday season.”
Other airlines have also posted mass flight cancellations. Southwest earlier this month said that a meltdown in October, in which it canceled more than 2,000 flights, cost it $75 million. It also said it would further trim its remaining 2021 schedule after earlier cuts to avoid more disruptions.
Spirit Airlines canceled some 2,000 flights in August, stranding thousands of passengers, blaming scheduling as a major factor in the disruptions. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based airline trimmed its schedule after that and said the cancellations and delays cost it $50 million. American had also canceled hundreds of flights during that period due to a mix of bad weather and insufficient staffing.