American Airlines has agreed to pay its pilots triple their normal rate after a computer scheduling glitch left thousands of flights with understaffed cockpits.
The dysfunction in the scheduling program took place early Saturday morning and allowed pilots to drop flights the airline was counting on them to fly for the rest of that month in order to take some time off. The number of flights left without one or both required pilots quickly topped the 12,000 mark, according to the Allied Pilots Association, American’s pilots’ union, which employs about 13,000 APA members.
While triple pay is a one-time boon for US pilots, the airline has also agreed to permanent double pay for pilots who fly on peak days, which often fall during holiday periods.
“We are delighted to have reached an agreement with the APA and appreciate their partnership in quickly reaching a resolution to care for our pilots, our team and our customers,” the airline said in a statement.
The issue comes as carriers in the United States and other United States struggle to deal with an increase in flight cancellations due to a lack of staff.
So far this summer, the entire airline industry has had to cancel thousands of US flights due to a shortage of crew members. Often these cancellations have increased during holiday weekends including Memorial Day, Father’s Day and June 16 weekend and Independence Day. There was also a spike in cancellations over the Christmas and New Year holiday period last year.
The computer problem has caused its own set of problems for the country’s largest airline. The FlightAware tracking service showed that nearly 200 US flights, or about 6% of its schedule, were canceled on Wednesday, and more than 800 flights, or about 26% of those scheduled, were delayed.
U.S. spokesman Matt Miller said he did not know the cause of Wednesday’s canceled and delayed flights or how many were caused by the scheduling glitch. But Dennis Tajer, an American pilot and spokesman for the union, said it was clear the problems stemmed primarily from scheduling issues.
Tajer added that negotiations between new American CEO Robert Isom and the leadership of the pilots’ union got things back to normal fairly quickly.
“You already had a system under duress without enough drivers,” Tajer said. “This computer failure would have caused problems for the month of July if nothing had been done. We are cautiously optimistic that Mr. Isom sees value in working with us.
Ed Sicher, president of the APA, said in a message to members that he hopes this agreement can be a stepping stone to reaching a new labor agreement for pilots at American.
The union and the airline had been negotiating a new contract since 2019, but efforts to reach a long-term agreement have been derailed by the pandemic. The pilots continue to work under a 2015 contract that was due to be renegotiated in 2020.