If you read the Middle Seat column over at the WSJ then you may have noticed a rather bold set of claims being laid out by author Scott McCartney in this week’s column. He starts with a quite direct call to action, "…[A]void American Airlines." A few lines later McCartney notes that "American’s operation is in shambles." Ouch. For a company currently in bankruptcy reorganization that’s not the sort of press you want to be getting from a rather well respected pundit.
McCartney has some stats to back up the claim. The past several days have seen more than one sub-50% on-time performance turned in by the carrier; today doesn’t look quite as bad yet but a 66% on-time rating going in to mid-afternoon isn’t much to be proud of either. By comparison, the other majors in the USA are running 20+ points better right now.
And the company is canceling flights – some immediately and an extra 1-2% in the coming months – to handle the staffing issues they’re dealing with. Or just to cut capacity in general as the biggest carriers seem to be doing anyways, even without staffing issues. Is that going to be enough to solve the problems?
So everyone recognizes there is a problem, but is this the fault of the unions as McCartney suggests? Certainly the pilots are unlikely to be happy about AMR being approved to vacate their contract and impose new work terms and pay rates. But they are also denying that they’ve taken organized action against the company. Then again, it is unlikely they’d admit to a sick-out or work-to-rule action which would put them in a rather difficult position with the NLRB and their pending strike vote.
And, just to keep things interesting, the company has notified 11,000 employees this week that they might be losing their jobs at the end of the year. The company expects that only about 4,400 will actually see that happen but the law requires them to notify anyone who might be fired so more notices are being sent than will likely be put into play. Still, that sort of thing isn’t going to help employee morale much.
Folks who have been around a while will remember similar actions like the so-called "Summer of Hell" at United Airlines a decade ago. O’Hare was a mess. And both the company and the pilots eventually lost in that standoff, but not before pissing off tons of customers along the way. The current situation puts American on a similar trajectory and it is hard to be too optimistic that things will get much better before they get worse. Regardless of which side you blame in this mess, it is clear that there is most definitely a mess happening and the customers are getting screwed.
As for my travel habits, I’m not booking on American but that’s mostly because I generally don’t, not because of this latest "unrest" in the operation. I think it will take a more extended disruption before passenger habits change. But I can see that happening if things don’t get better in a hurry. And from my view here in the cheap seats I’d say it is 50-50 right now on whether things get better or worse in the next couple months.
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