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Tech Glitch Leaves 12,000 American Airlines Flights Without Pilots


The perfect storm of post-pandemic conditions has created a summer travel hellscape, just as seemingly everyone is determined to get away after two years of lockdowns. And, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, technology tosses in another money wrench.

On Saturday night, a glitch in American Airlines‘ (AA) scheduling system improperly granted pilots time off en masse between July 3 and 31, leaving a total of 12,000 flights without a pilot or first officer.

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The pilots’ union, Allied Pilots Association (APA), told the Daily Mail that over 12,000 AA flights were scheduled with no one assigned to fly them, due to an operational error in the carrier’s computer system.

An American Airlines spokesperson told the outlet that the airline does not anticipate the glitch will ultimately affect operations. American said that most of the departures affected by the system hiccup have now been properly staffed. APA told CNBC that about 80 percent of the trips have had staffing restored.

American Airlines’ statement to the Daily Mail read: “Our pilot trip trading system experienced a technical issue. As a result of this technical glitch, certain trip trading transactions were able to be processed when it shouldn’t have been permitted. We already have restored the vast majority of the affected trips and do not anticipate any operational impact because of this issue.”

In a leaked message, sent from the APA to Los Angeles-based crew members, union officials told AA pilots that the airline was reinstating their original schedules after management spotted the error.

The union did note, “Management has no contractual mechanism to just add flying to your schedules.” APA said that it retains data on which aviators were contractually permitted to drop flights and will ensure that the airline honors those schedule changes.


Commercial passenger aircraft pilots in the cockpit.
Commercial passenger aircraft pilots in the cockpit. (photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/AlexeyPetrov)

AA staff members are able to request time off and other alterations to their schedules through an internal platform, though time off requests are rarely approved during the busy summer or the holiday periods. An internal tally revealed that AA had over 3,000 mainline flights scheduled on Saturday, July 2 alone, which were 93 percent full.

A similar tech-related kerfuffle occurred back in 2017, when a system granted AA aviators time off around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays—one of the busiest times for air travel—leaving some 15,000 flights without anyone to pilot them.

“The airline is a 24/7 op,” Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines captain and a spokesman for the pilot’s union, told CNBC at the time. “The system went from responsibly scheduling everybody to becoming Santa Claus to everyone. The computer said, ‘Hey ya’ll. You want the days off? You got it.’”

To remedy the 2017 situation, American Airlines offered pilots 150 percent of their hourly rate to pick up those dropped assignments. It’s unclear whether any such compensation will be offered this time around, but, just this week, the carrier promised its pilots a 17-percent pay raise.


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