August 12, 2022

Airlines’ operations are being pushed to the limits this summer, as airlines are struggling to sufficiently staff flights and keep schedules running reliably. A glitch with American Airlines’ crew scheduling technology is causing quite the kerfuffle between management and the union representing pilots, and it could have implications for American’s reliability.

Glitch allows American pilots to drop trips

Airline crew scheduling is a complicated process, as pilots bid on trips every month (based on their seniority), can trade trips, can pick up trips for overtime, etc. Long story short, over the weekend American’s pilot scheduling system accidentally allowed all pilots to drop as many trips in July as they wanted.

This wasn’t the intent. Rather American was actually trying to prevent pilots from being able to trade trips (to ensure a reliable operation), but instead did exactly the opposite. It’s believed that over 2,000 flight sequences and 37,000 hours of flying time were dropped. For context, a pilot usually flies up to ~80 hours per month, so think of this as the equivalent of 450+ pilots dropping all of their flying for July.

Presumably some pilots dropped trips because they just didn’t want to fly them, while others may have dropped trips because they wanted an open schedule so they could pick up trips with extra pay instead.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened at American, as a similar thing occurred in late 2017. This almost seems like the pilot equivalent of an airline mistake fare. I would have to imagine pilots probably knew something wasn’t right, and I also imagine there was lots of talk between pilots about this error, which caused so many trips to be dropped.

Following this incident, American stated it has restored a vast majority of the schedules to what they were before the glitch, and the airline doesn’t anticipate any operational impact because of this issue. But not so fast…

American made a major error with crew scheduling

Pilot union says American has to honor mistake

The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines pilots, has a different take than management. As noted by @xJonNYC, the airline is telling pilots that management can’t unilaterally add trips to schedules, and is telling pilots to enjoy their time off:

“Management has no contractual mechanism to just add flying to your schedules. APA has the data to determine who was able to drop trips and who has trips added back to their HI1’s. If you are one of these pilots, enjoy your time off. You dropped your trip legally.”

This is going to be tricky:

  • American management is highly unlikely to punish pilots who don’t take these trips, especially given that the union is telling members that they don’t have to
  • The union is technically correct based on the contract, which is to say that management can’t unilaterally add back trips, and there’s no exception for mistakes; given the lack of goodwill between management and the union, it’s not surprising they’re playing hardball
  • It’s going to be interesting to see how well both sides negotiate here, and I imagine this is just a case where American management will have to throw money at the situation, and it could be costly

Talk about terrible timing, as this is happening during the period where we’re seeing the highest demand for air travel in well over two years, and airlines have little room for error.

American’s pilot union is fighting back

Bottom line

An error in American’s crew scheduling system allowed pilots to drop their trips for the month of July, and allegedly 37,000 flying hours were dropped while this was possible. This of course poses a major issue, as airlines are short staffed.

American tried to undo this and add flights back to schedules, but the union is now saying that this can’t be done. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

What do you make of this pilot scheduling mess? Which side do you think is right?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

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