Christmas Crisis: 15,000 American Air Flights Without Pilots Over Holidays Due To "Glitch"

A computer error means millions of Americans may be stranded over the coming holidays as some 15,000 American Air flights in the second half of December have no pilots assigned, Reuters reported with the Allied Pilots Association labor union explaining that a "glitch" in the system that bids for pilots’ time off based on seniority is behind the shortage . In total the group estimated that more than 15,000 flights from Dec. 17-31 - a critical holiday travel period - will be affected.

Flights that are scheduled without a captain, first officer or both originate from Dallas-Fort Worth International, American's largest hub, and airports in Boston, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, North Carolina, Bloomberg revealed citing a union memo.

As a result, the largest airline company in America is rushing to resolve the scheduling fault that has given time off to too many pilots in December. "Basically there’s a crisis at American for manning the cockpits,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. The union explained that the system error was disclosed to pilots on Friday.

“We are working through this to make sure we take care of our pilots and get our customers where they need to go over the holiday,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said on Wednesday, although as of this moment it is not looking good.

The "glitch"caused the scheduling system to show that American had ample staffing coverage for some planned flights when it actually didn't, Miller said. The carrier has made adjustments to the system and expects it to operate smoothly from now on. American, the world's largest airline, operates about 6,700 flights a day.

The computer error will force American to rebuild its staffing schedule, similar to what airlines must do after major weather disruptions, said John Cox, chief executive officer of consultant Safety Operating Systems and a former commercial airline pilot. Revenue will take a hit if American has to scrub many flights. At a minimum, the carrier is likely to face higher labor costs just as investors are stepping up scrutiny of airline expenses.

It also appears that if indeed there is a "Christmas Crisis" at American, it will be largely due to union procedures: In an email sent to employees, American had offered pilots extra pay to work certain flights in the busy holiday period. According to Bloomberg, the Fort Worth, TX-based carrier is offering pilots as much as 150% of their normal hourly wage to pick up some of the flights. But a grievance filed by the APA union against management said that the restrictions on overtime pay were a violation of the group’s contract.

As of early on Wednesday, the union said management had still not reached out to discuss how best to resolve the shortage.

“I‘m watching a ‘Grinch that stole Christmas’ thing happening. And we don’t want to see that happening for our passengers,” Tajer said.

Surely the market at least punished the airlines for this gross neglicence? Well, almost. American did pare gains on the news and still closed green. American advanced 5% this year through Tuesday, compared with a decline of less than 1 percent for the index.