American Airlines cancels more than 700 flights, citing weather and staffing issues

An American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER takes off from Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, October 28, 2020.

Lauren Elliott | Reuters

American Airlines has canceled more than 1,000 flights since Friday, canceling disruptions caused by staffing problems and high winds at its busiest hub.

On Saturday, America canceled nearly 460 flights, or 17% of its prime schedule, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines cut 86 flights, or 2% of its operations, on Saturday.

American canceled another 285 flights, or 10% of its scheduled schedule for Sunday, as well as 340 cancellations on Friday.

The problems began with strong winds Thursday that reduced capacity at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hub and ended up with crew members out of position on their upcoming flights, David Seymour, America’s director of operations, said in a note to employees Saturday.

Availability of pilots and flight attendants was listed as reasons for most Saturday and Sunday cancellations, according to internal statistics, seen by CNBC.

“With additional weather throughout the system, our crew begins to shrink as crew members wind up from their usual flight sequences,” Seymour wrote. He said most clients were rebooked on the same day and that he expected the operation to stabilize in November.

Airlines have struggled with staff shortages that have led to hundreds of flight cancellations and other disruptions since travel demand rebounded sharply in late spring. Carriers have convinced thousands of employees to accept voluntary takeovers or leave of absence to cut their payroll expenses during the depths of the pandemic.

Now they are trying to re-hire again, hiring pilots, flight attendants, ramp staff and customer service, among others. Less lean staffing makes it more difficult for airlines to recover from disruptions such as bad weather or technology problems.

Southwest said earlier this month that the crash earlier this month canceled more than 2,000 flights that cost $75 million. It also said it would reduce its remaining 2021 schedule after previous cuts to avoid further disruptions.

American Airlines’ Seymour said 1,800 flight attendants will be returning from leave as of November 1 and the rest will be back by December. It also said it was hiring pilots, mechanics, airport staff and reservation agents “so more team members will be in place this holiday season.”

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