Flight delays to continue in fall, winter: Pilots’ union

(NewsNation) — The flight cancellations and delays caused by increased travel demand and short staffing that plagued summer travelers aren’t likely to go away soon, the head of a pilots union says.

Dennis Tajer, of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines pilots, says management hasn’t changed the way they scheduled the airline.

“Our CEO in April said we’re ready for the summer, we’ve sized the airline for the resources that we have. A couple weeks ago, he used the same sentence. Nothing has changed in how they try to run the airline,” Tajer said. “So there’s again another round of fall and holiday winter travel season that has been injected with uncertainty. Why would we think there would be any different results when they continue to run the airline the way they do?”

American Airlines has already announced it is scheduling 31,000 fewer flights in November, Travel and Leisure reported. The publication pointed out that these are only the latest fall cuts to hit the struggling airline industry — American had already announced the cancellation of 2% of its September schedule and 4.6% of its October schedule.

A spokesperson told Travel and Leisure that the adjustments made are in line with American’s approach to its network and schedule planning throughout the year.

“Preliminary schedules are published 331 days in advance and then adjustments are made closer in based on the schedule we intend to operate,” the spokesperson said. “We are now loading schedule adjustments approximately 100 days in advance, which is in line with how we adjusted our schedule in 2019 prior to the pandemic.”

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United Airlines also cut some fall flights from Flagstaff, Ariz., and to Texarkana, Ark., in September and October, and it has plans to end its Los Angeles to San Diego route on Oct. 30.

The problem at American, and some other carriers, Tajer said, is they cannot connect the pilot to the airplane when the system is under stress.

“When the chips are down, does management have our passengers’ back? Because we’re out there with our passengers scrambling to get home and watching all the stress injected into a travel proposition that just shouldn’t happen,” Tajer said.

What Tajer, and others at the union, want is for airline management to stop “recklessly utilizing” them.

“When you build our schedules out to the FAA maximums, you are setting up a scenario for failure,” he said. The FAA has limitations on the hours a pilot can fly in a row, or during a week, month or year time period.

“If you run to the maximums, consistently, you’re going to have pilots fatiguing out,” Tajer explained. “That squeezes down the margin of safety.”

Although the airlines and FAA have responded by saying they have “strict maximums,” they are cutting it too close, Tajer said.

“When you run along a barbed wire fence, run to the maximums, eventually you’re going to get cut,” he said. “We’re not going to stop bringing our case to the public until management changes the way it does business.”

Along with this, management failed to retrain pilots to replace ones who retired early because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tajer added.

“They consistently tell us we’ve got this. They tell the public ‘It’s all good, we’re ready for the next season,’” Tajer said. “And they aren’t and it doesn’t happen. So we’ve had enough.”

Commercial carriers, through industry group Airlines for America, told Fox Business they are “adjusting to employment realities and re-evaluating pre-pandemic staffing models.”

“Travelers have returned to the skies at a rapid pace — quicker than most industry experts and analysts predicted — and carriers have been aggressively hiring, adjusting schedules, updating travel policies and expediting new technologies,” an Airlines for America spokesperson said to Fox.