Travel: A nightmare summer for American Airlines - PressFrom - US
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TravelA nightmare summer for American Airlines

17:35  10 july  2019
17:35  10 july  2019 Source:   online.wsj.com

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A federal judge ordered lawyers for American Airlines and its mechanics union to meet in person over an alleged work slowdown, but American’s top two attorneys didn’t show.

Their flights got canceled.

It’s been that kind of summer for many American Airlines passengers. Cancellations have skyrocketed. In June, American canceled about 4% of its schedule, or more than 7,500 domestic and international flights, according to masFlight, the flight-data analytics unit of Global Eagle.

That June cancellation rate was 18 times higher than Delta’s.

When the world’s largest airline becomes unreliable, travelers get punished. Canceled and delayed flights mean missed connections and families stuck, sometimes for several days until the airline has empty seats for rebooking. Vacations get clipped; sleep gets lost, meetings and events get missed, patience wears thin.

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On Monday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio fell victim. “When @AmericanAir cancels your flight, cancels your rebooked flight & then informs you every flight between Miami & DC is overbooked for the next 24 hours, you know it just isn’t your day,” he said on Twitter.

Travelers often end up paying a hefty financial penalty. If the airline blames bad weather for the flight problems, as has often been the case, it won’t pay for hotels and meals.

Weather has been a major factor, in addition to the contract feud with mechanics. The Dallas area, where American has its largest hub, was hit hard by severe thunderstorms and a few tornadoes on three consecutive Sundays in June. It isn’t just Dallas—storms have been more severe this year in many parts of the country, airlines say.

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American Airlines requires passengers to purchase an additional seat or upgrade if they do not meet one of the following criteria: Unable to fit into a single seat in their ticketed cabin and/or. American Airlines notes passengers to address their seating needs at the time of booking the original reservation.

Summer is a super popular time for Americans to travel. Unfortunately, the busy summer air travel season can mean more problems for travelers – lost luggage, overbooked flights and seat “problems” can all take the fun out of your summer vacation.

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On-time arrival rates at United and JetBlue were just as bad as at American in June, all around 70%, according to a data analysis by Cirium, an aviation-data firm. Storms and congestion hit hard in New York. A United spokesman says June had the highest number of weather and air-traffic control delays United has ever seen.

Still, United and JetBlue canceled less than 1% of their flights compared with American’s 4%.

American acknowledges the poor performance and says what has made this summer particularly miserable is its inability to quickly recover from bad weather because so many planes are out of service with maintenance issues.

In the past, the airline could swap planes more easily to cover trips, and spares would go into service. Now, it just cancels more flights.

Julie Rath, American’s vice president of customer experience, innovation and delivery, says American has been sending people out from headquarters and sales offices to airports to pitch in. The airline has told reservation agents to rebook customers on other airlines if seats are available and they have pressing needs, like a wedding or funeral to get to. American has increased the number of hotels where it offers vouchers for stranded travelers.

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“None of us are happy and we completely understand what our customers are going through,” she says. “We can’t run an operation where we have 55 to 60 aircraft out of service. Every single day when you have that, it’s not normal.”

American’s frequent-flier program recently began calling top customers who have been most impacted to apologize, offer compensation, and, if necessary, adjust qualification levels if flights have been missed or switched to other airlines.

Adam Rodriguez, an immigration attorney from the Washington, D.C., area and top-tier frequent flier on American, is one who could probably use a call. He says American’s clumsy handling of problems has caused him to miss hearings and interviews for clients.

One flight to Dallas had a maintenance delay, forcing a switch to a different airplane. Then bad weather rolled in and the flight was canceled. American refused to pay for a hotel, saying the cause was the weather, not the mechanical delay that prevented the flight from leaving before the bad weather.

Last week he was delayed five hours trying to get from Miami back to Washington, pushing his arrival back to 1 a.m.

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On Sunday, his 5 p.m. flight home from a weekend anniversary trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, was canceled just over half a day before departure. American blamed bad weather. The plane was coming from Miami, but it was the previous flight to Miami where weather delayed the airplane. American told him it would be Tuesday before the carrier could get him out of Mexico.

Pleading with customer-service representatives assigned to top-tier fliers got him a trip home landing at 12:13 a.m. Tuesday. American wasn’t willing to pay for an extra night in a hotel, arguing weather the day before caused the cancellation.

“It’s a pretty absurd excuse. You’re the world’s largest airlines. What do you mean you can’t find an aircraft within 14 hours?” Mr. Rodriguez says. “It’s just been one mess after another.”

The airline has been negotiating with mechanics since December 2015. Talks stalled and a federal mediator was called in, but there hasn’t been a negotiating session since April 25.

In court filings, American says mechanics are refusing overtime and “field trips” to other airports to fix grounded planes. The airline says it has never had a problem finding takers for overtime or field trips because of the premium pay involved. (Those filings are also where the anecdote of the delayed American attorneys surfaced.) Mechanics have been taking longer to complete routine work as well, the airline says.

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American Airlines is having its own nightmare before Christmas. More than 15,000 American flights between December 17-31 do not yet have pilots because the airline accidentally gave all of its pilots that time off, according to the Allied Pilots Association.

Travelers say they’ve had flights delayed when captains announce that mechanics were coming onboard after passengers were seated to read logbooks, or taking hours to taxi an aircraft to a gate for departure.

From June 4 to June 13, American says it averaged 61 aircraft unscheduled out of service each day at 7 a.m. In the same period in both the previous two years it averaged around 42, American said in its suit against the union.

Problems have been escalating in recent days. An average of 31 flights were canceled each day by the maintenance slowdown in early June. By mid-June, American averaged almost 80 maintenance-related cancellations or prolonged delays daily.

The mechanics union, a collaboration of the Transport Workers Union, which represented American mechanics, and the International Association of Machinists, which represented US Airways mechanics before the two airlines merged, says it hasn’t authorized or urged any slowdown. It blames American’s operational problems on American and calls the lawsuit frivolous.

This isn’t the first time the airline has struggled with on-time arrivals and cancellations compared with competitors. In the annual Middle Seat scorecard of airline operational performance, American has ranked last or next-to-last in 10 of the past 11 years.

Work slowdowns in the airline business have hit travelers hard in the past. Southwest Airlines had unusually large numbers of airplanes out of service earlier this year until it settled on a new contract for its mechanics.

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American alleges its mechanics union targeted the busy summer travel season—when the airline is most vulnerable. In a February bulletin to its members, the union tied the summer to “the fight of our careers” and said, “this is shaping up to be a very long, hot summer and not just because of the weather,” according to a court filing.

Federal Judge John McBryde issued a temporary restraining order on June 14 blocking the union from instigating, encouraging or approving any interference with the airline’s operations. But that hasn’t slowed delays and cancellations.

American Airlines is battling its mechanics while the entire industry fights Mother Nature this summer. Here are some steps to take to protect your disrupted travels.

* Fly early in the day. Thunderstorms are the big threat to summer travel, and they fire up with afternoon heat.

* Give yourself extra time. Can’t miss a meeting on Monday? Fly in Saturday. Cruise sailing, wedding—whatever the occasion, give yourself extra time.

* If making a connection, be prepared to get stuck. Have phone numbers for airport-area hotels. It’s better to call the hotel directly when scrambling for accommodations.

* Don’t book a connection unless you absolutely have to.

* Even if the airline blames weather and won’t pay, ask about hotel vouchers. Airlines book blocks of rooms at nearby hotels and sometimes offer customers discount coupons.

* Keep medicine, phone chargers, other necessities and a change of clothes in a carry-on bag. If you get stranded or rerouted, you may not see your checked luggage for days.

* Don’t send unaccompanied children on connecting itineraries. With so much disruption, it’s best to avoid placing responsibility for children on airline staff.

* Use your points. Using them for unexpected hotel stays is often good value. And if you have to get there, you might find using miles on rival airlines for a last-minute ticket is better than spending cash. Remember, if the airline cancels your flight for any reason, you are entitled to a refund for that flight.

* Know when to fold ’em. Sometimes it’s best to avoid a nerve-racking, extended wait. Get the airline to rebook you for early the next day instead, if possible. Get a room, have a nice dinner, call your mother, find a yoga class, relax. That’s better than six hours of futility at the airport only to have the flight ultimately canceled anyway.

* Be kind to your fellow travelers and to front-line airline employees. We’re all in this together.

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