By Kyle Arnold
American Airlines canceled more than 900 flights on Friday and Saturday after strong winds in North Texas and weather in other parts of the country forced it to sideline planes at key airports.
And the carrier proactively canceled nearly 298 flights for Sunday, more than a tenth of its flights, to try to catch up.
Despite idyllic weather on Saturday in North Texas on Saturday, the Fort Worth-based carrier still had to cancel about 17% of its schedule as of mid-afternoon, some 461 flights, and delay another 11% of flights, according to airline tracker Flightaware.com.
“With additional weather throughout the system, our staffing begins to run tight as crew members end up out of their regular flight sequences,” said a memo to American Airlines employees from Chief Operating Officer David Seymour. “To make sure we are taking care of our customers and providing scheduling certainty for our crews, we have adjusted our operation for the last few days this month by proactively canceling some flights.”
By mid-afternoon, American had canceled 10% of its flight at its largest hub DFW International Airport, 95 flights in total.
It’s a problem that has been repeated all too frequently since airlines started ramping up service in spring to cater to eager travelers. Since then, airlines including American, Southwest and Spirit have encountered several challenging weekend, usually a mix of heavy demand, ambitious schedules and isolated weather.
“We are taking this measure to minimize any inconvenience as much as possible,” American’s memo said. “Most of the customers impacted by these changes are being rebooked the same day, and we apologize for having to make these changes.”
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines also faced a large number of delays on Friday because of rains, winds and low cloud ceilings in the Eastern United States. The airline had 1,150 delays on Friday, but had only 21 cancellations, less than 1% of its flight schedule, according to FlightAware. Southwest still had about 493 delays Saturday.
American said that heavy winds on Thursday forced air traffic controllers to periodically close some runways at DFW International Airport where heavy crosswinds were affecting flights.
“This week saw two days of severe winds in DFW, with gusts of up to 50 mph on Thursday, creating crosswind limitations that sharply reduced arrival capacity by more than half,” the memo said. This weather drove a large number of cancellations at DFW, as we could only use two runways instead of the usual five that handle.”
Cancellations on Friday and Saturday were largely caused by a shortage of pilots and flight attendants, said spokesman Dennis Tajer of the Allied Pilots Association, the union for American’s 13,400 pilots.
Airlines such as American frequently face pilot shortages in the days following a weather event or other backup because crew members max out their hours or need to get more rest to comply with federal rules. Pilots and flight attendants, along with planes, are also often frequently at the wrong airport to continue their multi-flight trips that were previously scheduled, causing a cascade of schedules changes.
American said it is trying to resolve the problem by hiring about 4,000 employees by the end of the year.
“The good news moving forward is that we continue to staff up across our entire operation and we will see more of our team returning in the coming months,” Seymour’s memo said. “Specifically, for flight attendants we have nearly 1,800 returning from leave starting Nov. 1 — and the remainder coming back by Dec. 1 — and will have 600+ new hire flight attendants on property by end of December.”