Thousands Of Holiday Flights On American Airlines Have No Pilots Due To Computer Glitch: Union

Photo credit: AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
Photo credit: AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

A glitch in American Airlines’ online scheduling system has left thousands of flights during December without pilots and with the potential of cancelation, according to a union representing the pilots. Reuters reports that possibly more than 15,000 flights are affected, all falling in major holiday travel times.

The Allied Pilots Association, a Texas-based union that says it represents the 15,000 pilots who fly for American Airlines, released a statement Tuesday that said the airline had “a failure within the pilot schedule bidding system” that’s left thousands of flights during the “critical holiday period” without pilots. The statement said the company disclosed the error on Friday.

ABC7 reporter Sam Sweeney tweeted Wednesday that American Airlines said the glitch allowed all pilots to take vacation over Christmas week, while the Dallas Morning News reports that the glitch showed that flights had ample coverage and “gave time off to too many pilots in December.”


Because of the error, Reuters reports that more than 15,000 flights from Dec. 17 through Dec. 31 are currently without pilots. From Reuters:

“Basically there’s a crisis at American for manning the cockpits,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association.

The system error was disclosed to pilots on Friday, the union said.

“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.

Jalopnik reached out to both the union and American Airlines to confirm these numbers, and will update if we hear back from the union. American Airlines responded to request for comment with the below statement, emphasis ours:

We are working diligently to address the issue and expect to avoid cancellations this holiday season. We have reserve pilots to help cover flying in December, and we are paying pilots who pick up certain open trips 150 percent of their hourly rate – as much as we are allowed to pay them per the contract. We will work with the APA to take care of our pilots and ensure we get our customers to where they need to go over the holidays.


American Airlines’ response did not include comment on the exact dates and number of flights affected by the current situation. Jalopnik has asked about this, as well as the reference to “certain” open trips. While American Airlines is offering 1.5 times regular pay for pilots who pick up those trips, the company’s jobs website does not appear to say what regular holiday pay is on the airline. Jalopnik has also asked the company that.

The Allied Pilots Association, however, said in a public statement that American Airlines’ solution for crewing the flights is in violation of its contract.


The union did not specify the offer that violated the contract, or what the actual violation was. A grievance filed by the union requires union login credentials, preventing Jalopnik from accessing it. Jalopnik has reached out to the union in regards to this, as well as how the union has advised pilots to approach offers from American Airlines in the meantime, and has yet to hear back. Jalopnik has also asked American Airlines for comment on the grievance’s claims of it being in violation of the contract.

Reuters reports that as of early Wednesday, the union said American Airlines management had not reached out to talk about how to approach the pilot shortage. From Reuters:

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


American Airlines published statistics Monday saying that during the recent Thanksgiving holiday, which it regarded as Nov. 17 through Nov. 26, the airline flew 5.5 million customers on 55,463 flights and checked 4 million bags. The reported holiday period of flights without pilots next month is five days longer.

Update, Nov. 30 at 12:11 p.m. American Airlines sent the following statement to Jalopnik, saying only a few hundred of the 200,000 flights American will have in December are now without pilots:

“That number of open flights continues to decrease thanks to our pilots who are stepping up to the plate and picking up trips to ensure customers are taken care of. It’s another example of why we are thankful to have such an incredible team. In addition, we have more reserve pilots on hand in December than normal months and they provide us with the ability to fly many of the trips that are currently uncovered.”


American Airlines said it has not canceled any scheduled flights in December and “will continue to work to ensure both [its] pilots and [its] customers are cared for.”

Staff writer, Jalopnik

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I wouldn’t trust anything AA tells you. I was a 100k customer of these snakes and have seen a litany of poor practices, bad attitudes and lies.

Real world example:

Me: (to gate agent) “Is our flight going to be on time?”
Gate agent: “Yes, the incoming flight is 20 minutes from landing.”
Me: “But two different tracking apps show that the plane has not even taken off yet and their flight time 90 minutes.”
Gate agent: “I can assure you, the plane is in the air.”
Me: (45 minutes later) “Where is our plane?”
Gate agent: “It’s a mechanical issue. The plane hasn’t left yet.”
Me: “Are we getting another plane sometime today, or do I need to find an alternate flight (I had a business meeting to get to)?”
Gate agent: “Yes, definitely, we have a plane and we’re rounding up a crew now.”

45 minutes later the flight was cancelled.


The time I got to the airport early and asked if I could get on the earlier flight, which was half-full. I held a full-fare, first class ticket but said I’d take any seat, including coach.

I was told no. My ticket “code” was wrong. I argued that this made no sense, as there were plenty of seats and you could sell my first class ticket, or upgrade someone on my later booked flight. The agent was unimpressed and said no I tried the information desk next. Same result.

Next, I called the priority phone number and told them my situation. They booked me on the earlier flight I wanted (in a first class seat) in about 2 minutes.