CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If you plan on traveling for the holidays, experts warn there may not be the usual staff on hand for your flight. Piedmont Airlines flight attendants voted to authorize a strike last week, and pilots for several airlines are pushing back on vaccination requirements with deadlines looming next month.
This is all ahead of a season that typically sees more fliers than others.
“We are flying more in the winter according to American than we flew in the summer," Captain Dennis Tajer, a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association representing American Airlines pilots, said.
Tajer said more travelers is good for revenue, there's just one problem.
“We don’t know how many pilots are going to be out there available to fly," Tajer said.
Tajer said they don’t know because of the impending vaccine mandate for American Airlines employees.
“By the 24th of November, all the paperwork has to be in and by the 8th of December you cannot fly at American Airlines or any other federally contracted airline after that date," Tajer said, referring to pilots who do not submit proof of vaccination or exemption.
Right now, Tajer said just over 73% of their pilots are vaccinated.
“That leaves about 3,700 pilots that are in the process of either working on an exemption or attaining the vaccine, or taking on another choice," Tajer said.
According to Nancy Cutter, the owner of the Charlotte-based travel agency Court Travel, trip insurance may not help.
“Under this situation, not really," Cutter said. "This is not a strike, this doesn’t really fall under trip insurance categories because it’s a company mandate.”
Cutter said if your trip is impacted by it, all isn’t necessarily lost.
“The realistic attitude is going to be that the airline will do their best to re-accommodate you," Cutter said.
Tajer said that may not be the answer travelers want to hear, though.
“Suddenly you’re not getting to your relatives’ home until after the holiday dinner,” Tajer said.
Tajer said the Allied Pilots Association is pushing for an extension to the mandate beyond the busy holiday season, or implementing testing requirements instead.
WCNC asked American Airlines if the company is going to be able to move staff around to accommodate all flights if a large number of pilots, flight attendants, or other personnel are let go due to being unvaccinated by the deadline, if American Airlines' trip insurance would cover cancellations or delays caused by the possible shortage, and if American Airlines is scheduling fewer flights after the vaccine deadline due to the possibility of losing staff.
A spokesperson for American Airlines sent WCNC a statement saying:
"We want everyone on our team to be vaccinated, not just for their own safety and well-being, but for the safety and well-being of their colleagues and our customers. To comply with the federal vaccine mandate, we are requiring that all team members be vaccinated or apply for an accommodation by Nov. 24. By the time we get to the federal deadline, we expect the number of people who are not vaccinated or covered by an exemption will be small. We will be well-prepared to run a reliable and safe operation for our customers who are relying on us this winter and beyond, while being in full compliance with the federal mandate."