With vaccination rates for covid-19 on the rise, U.S. airlines are seeing a surge in demand. Yet American Airlines has already or will soon be canceling hundreds of flights. The airline is blaming recent “unprecedented weather” that has led to hundreds of flight cancelations through mid-July. The reality, though, is a little murkier.
It’s true that storms did blast Chicago, one of American’s hubs, yesterday, including one that spun up a damaging tornado. Charlotte, another American hub, was clipped by Tropical Storm Claudette over the weekend, though the storm delivered a fairly marginal amount of rain and its winds didn’t pack that much of a punch. While it’s still early in hurricane season, it’s by no means out of the ordinary for a storm of Claudette’s magnitude to make landfall. American’s third hub, Dallas, also received one day of relatively heavy rain in early June, though the total was less than an inch.
Unpleasant weather? I’d say so. Rough weather? Perhaps a stretch, but I’ll allow it. Unprecedented, though? Hardly.
But that’s the American party line. The airline canceled 120 flights on Saturday and 176 on Sunday, with 50 to 80 canceled each day through mid-July. All told, the airline announced that it will cancel almost 950 scheduled flights. That’s just 1% of their total planned flights over that time, and Andrea Koos, a spokesperson for the company, wrote in an email the changes were made “with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers” by trying to cut flights when others are available slightly earlier or later. But people are still mad as hell about their screwed-up trips and lengthy response times to their inquiries.
Blaming “unprecedented” seems to be more of a way to deflect blame rather than focusing on the real cause of the woes. Koos noted that “the labor shortages some of our vendors are contending with” was a factor in the flight cancellations (or, as she called them, “additional resilience and certainty”). She also noted “the incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand” was an issue, so apparently flyers are to blame, too.
What about those employees, though? Turns out American let go or furloughed 19,000 of them when federal paycheck protections ended in October, on top of losing a combined 23,500 employees to voluntary exoduses. It almost furloughed another 13,000 employees earlier this year, though it rescinded the order at the last minute once more bailout money came through. While the company said storms made it hard to position the more limited staff it has in time, that it could take until mid-July to sort it out points to a deeper issue. Labor “reserves,” as it calls them, are running low.
Maybe American should have, I don’t know, planned better. The story companies have told about labor shortages has often turned out to mostly be a myth. Perhaps American Airlines should also consider paying better to hire more workers. After all, didn’t it get that bailout from 2020's economic stimulus bill? Flight attendants are also dealing with increasingly surly passengers who don’t want to wear masks. Surely that’s worth some hazard pay at least. And it appears American’s president is good for it.