DALLAS – More than 2,000 flight attendants have opted to leave American Airlines, meaning the company won’t have to furlough or fire any others as it continues to recover from bankruptcy.
American Airlines spokesman Bruce Hicks said 2,205 flight attendants took the company’s ‘Early Out’ incentive, which offered $40,000 to anyone who voluntarily left the company. The buyout option was a major benefit the Association of Professional Flight Attendants fought for during recent contract negotiations with American.
Hicks said the company would stagger the departures “based on seniority and operational needs" and will hire more flight attendants before the end of the year.
“Providing this voluntary Early Out incentive for our flight attendants is another positive step forward in our restructuring,” Hicks said in the prepared statement.
The announcement is a bright spot during a tough week for the airline. Yesterday, it had to apologize for an increase in flight delays and cancellations.
American blamed the pilots, saying a higher-than-normal percentage is calling in sick and discovering what News 8 reporter Byron Harris called an “inordinate number of maintenance issues.”
On Friday, American said 32 flights were canceled at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Systemwide, there were 90 cancellations. Some travelers were concerned about rumors that pilots were planning a protest that would disrupt flights.
“Everybody has something to do, have work, have personal commitments and they canceled it. I depend on these guys. You already paid, you know?," said Francisco Castillo, who was flying to Cancun. The airline's 8:50 a.m. flight was canceled Friday.
American Airlines said Thursday that there was evidence members of the Allied Pilots Association were participating in a slowdown.
As Harris reported on Thursday, the pilots union has denied that an organized protest exists.
Below is a portion of Harris' report on the slowdown:
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."
Planned or not, this is an issue that has customers caught in the middle.
"It's pretty frustrating," said traveler Chris Cochran. "I don't think we'll look at American anymore."
Still, there are some on the outside looking in who believe there's a message to be heard on both sides.
"It might inconvenience a few people, but ultimately it's these folks' liveliehood and it's how they support their families," said Melanie Buckley. "We need to hear what they have to say."