American Airlines cancels some flights as tension grows with pilots union



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Posted on September 20, 2012 at 8:12 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 21 at 1:30 PM

DALLAS -- A rash of flight delays and cancellations is hurting American Airlines.

The airline is in a long-running dispute with its pilots as part of its bankruptcy. American blames the pilots for the delays and cancellations. The pilots say it's not their fault.

So who's to blame?

American said delays and cancellations are due to a higher than normal percentage of pilots calling in sick, and in the way pilots who are reporting for duty are doing their jobs.

Bruce Hicks American Airlines told News 8 Allied Pilots Association pilots are discovering an inordinate number of  maintenance issues, "...particularly when the door closes -- just as the door closes at departure time and we're seeing a lot of those write-ups."

The Allied Pilots Association said the number of pilots calling in sick is no higher than for the same period last year, although statistics released by the union do not appear to verify that claim.

On the union hotline, pilots are being told, "On Friday, just show up and do your job."

Pilots can slow down or paralyze an airline in several ways, by slowing taxi speeds on runways or being extremely conservative in calling for repairs.

Aviation writer Terry Maxon of The Dallas Morning News said the current situation is definitely an intentional slowdown, otherwise known as a job action. Maxon said what's happening now is similar to slowdowns the union took in 1991 and 1999.

"Like this action, the union never admitted supporting the slowdown or condoning the action," Maxon said.

To cope with the situation, American is shrinking its schedule by two percent in October, thereby expanding the number of pilots available to cover sick outs.

"To our customers, we are sincerely sorry for the disruptions they've been feeling," said American spokesman Bruce Hicks. "We know [our customers] don't like it. We know they're irritated."

Those irritated customers just take on their anger on someone else, according to Maxon.

"You take it out on the flight attendants," Maxon said. "If you're delayed boarding, you take it out on the gate agents."

The pilots can't strike the airline until it completes bankruptcy proceedings. The airline could take the union to court, as it did in 1999, where AA won a $45-million judgment against the union.

That kind of action now is unlikely, as it would muddy an already contentious bankruptcy.