American, pilots reach deal to fly holiday flights after scheduling glitch

After a snafu in its pilot scheduling system last week causing many fliers to worry about their holiday travel itineraries, American Airlines (NYSE:AAL) and its pilots’ union reached a deal to avoid cancelling thousands of flights.

“American and the Allied Pilots Association [APA] have put that worry to rest to make sure our flights will operate as scheduled. By working together, we can assure customers that among the many stresses of the season, worrying about a canceled flight won’t be one of them,” the airline said in a statement on Friday.


The issue began on Wednesday, when a computer glitch allowed all pilots to take vacation time off between Dec. 17 and Dec. 31—one of the busiest travel times of the year for airlines—leaving more than 15,000 flights without a full complement of pilots.

By the middle of each month, American’s pilots put in their schedules—including their bids for time off. The requests then go into a large matrix, which then doles out vacation days according to seniority level. However, the computer system allowed pilots to swap their scheduled flights for time off, despite there not being any pilots available to fly the routes. Pilots, who can input their requests via computer or through an app would see the flights as green—meaning the slot was open—and not red, meaning the flight could not be swapped for time off. Typically, pilots would not be granted these desires, as it comes during the peak holiday travel season.

The glitch took “several hours” for the airline to catch, and was eventually shut down for about 48 hours before a fix was made, according to pilot and APA spokesman Dennis Tajer, who spoke to FOX Business.

In an effort to fix the error, which took several hours before American caught it, the airline offered pilots up to 150% of their hourly rate. However, the union said it couldn’t accept the deal, as the language of the contract wouldn’t allow it. Thus, the airline and the union struggled to come to an agreement, with the APA filing a grievance, leaving pilots—and passengers—wondering what would happen come the last two weeks of December.

After reaching the deal Friday, the union withdrew the grievance and said it anticipates the airline “will be able to maintain a full December schedule as planned.”


Tajer, who has been with the airline for years, said he never previously witnessed a glitch of this magnitude with the pilot bidding system, though similar issues occurred on a much smaller scale.

“There was anomaly last year where there was some misbidding for the holiday time. And that was admittance that it was an error … It was a very narrow band of pilots … That’s a micro example. It had no effect on the system. It was more of a culture thing,” he explained.

The airline captain and union spokesman said flight attendants for U.S. Airways (which merged with American) had a scheduling issue “two Christmases ago,” where juniors were given the holiday off, instead of the most senior members.