American Airline cuts to impact local flights

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@nwaonline.com

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is among the airports to be impacted by flight cancellations in recent days by American Airlines as the carrier failed to reach an agreement with the pilots’ union.

FlightTracker.com indicates three flights were canceled Wednesday (Sept. 19), one day after the bankrupt airline announced plans to trim its flight schedule by 2% through October. The flights canceled at XNA were direct to New York, Chicago and Dallas. The connector flights on the New York and Chicago flights were also canceled.

American Airline spokeswoman Andrea Huguely confirmed Wednesday, “It won't effect XNA everyday. Just a one here and there. We have proactively reached out to our customers and have notified our customers if their flight was affected.”

Huguely said XNA and Fort Smith Regional primarily use Eagle flights that are operating with no issues. Two of three flights canned Wednesday out of XNA were on American Eagle, according to FlightTracker.com.

“XNA has a few American flights, but the impact is very minimal,” she added.“

John Parker, director at Fort Smith Regional Airport, said he has not been notified of any cancellations or schedule changes on the four daily American Eagle flights from Fort Smith to Dallas.

XNA Airport Director Kelly Johnson said Wednesday, “We are an important market to American Airlines and American Eagle. We may be affected at some point, but I have been told of no immediate changes.”

A local banker said he was notified this week by the airline his outbound flight Friday, Sept. 21, had been canceled out of XNA. He said the airline would not refund his ticket but he was able schedule an alternate flight.

American has canceled 300 flights this week through Sunday, Sept. 23, on top of 250 dropped flights between Sept. 14-17.

Huguely said the cancellations in recent days and those planned through October are a result of several factors, including pilots taking sick days and increased levels of plane maintenance by flight crews.

“To put it in some sort of context, for the week of Sept. 17, the company has proactively canceled approximately 300 flights out of the nearly 24,000 departures planned across our network. This accounts for both American and American Eagle flights, and represents about 1.25% of our flights this week,” she said.

Tuesday, American said it would slim down its workforce by as many of 4,400 through the end of this year. A total 11,000 jobs will be eliminated, and most will be voluntary, according to a statement from American earlier this week.

The recent cutbacks are part of a bankruptcy restructuring the carrier’s parent AMR Corp. is undergoing. The carrier has asked the pilots’ union to scale back demands but the parties have not reached an agreement.

The pilots are the only work group that didn’t agree to concessions as American worked to cut labor spending by $1 billion a year. The carrier subsequently won court permission to void the pilots’ contract, according to a Bloomberg News report.

Allied Pilots spokesman Tom Hoban told Bloomberg News that pilots are being careful to note any maintenance or mechanical issues as they inspect aircraft before flights and those reports must be investigated and addressed before a plane can take off.

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“When you’ve lost your operating handbook for the airline that governs, in part, how we perform our duties, that uncertainty is going to cause pilots to take a more prudent approach to their operational duties,” Hoban said. “You’re going to dot your I’s, cross your T’s and fly by the book in that regard.”

Plans to freeze and terminate pilot pensions probably contributed to the capacity reduction because it will lead to accelerated retirements and the need to train replacements, further compromising flight crew availability, he said.

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