American Airlines Reconsiders its Stormy Weather Plan

The airline diverted 85 Dallas-bound flights on Dec. 29, compared with the 40 to 50 that usually are diverted during a thunderstorm. American canceled 435 flights that day, 426 of them because of bad weather.

American Airlines Inc. is re-examining how it operates during thunderstorms to avoid stranding passengers on grounded airplanes for hours, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Last Friday, a string of storms kept rolling over Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport for much of the day and into the evening.

The Fort Worth-based carrier diverted aircraft to other cities and canceled hundreds of flights.

But decisions about whether to cancel flights were delayed because of uncertainty about when the storms would pass.

That put more aircraft at other airports, including Austin and Oklahoma City, than local employees could handle along with scheduled flights from those airports to other cities.

American spokesman John Hotard said the carrier is still reviewing what went wrong that day - and how it should handle future disruptions to its schedule.

The airline diverted 85 flights on Friday, compared with the 40 to 50 that usually are diverted during a thunderstorm.

"One facet in particular is how we divert aircraft - what cities do we divert them to and how do you ensure that one city doesn't get overloaded?" Mr. Hotard said.

"That said, Friday was so overwhelming, with double the number of normal diversions, that we almost didn't have anywhere else to put airplanes."

American canceled 435 flights that day, 426 of them because of bad weather.

With many of its airplanes and crews out of place, American also canceled 158 flights on Saturday, 130 attributed to weather.

"Our intent throughout the evening [Friday] was to return these diverted flights back to D/FW, connect them to get them to their original destinations - until we reached a point that was going to be impossible," Mr. Hotard said.

The weather-related problems left many passengers unable to get home until Saturday or later.

Mr. Hotard said Tuesday may have been the first normal day of operations since the Friday storms, with only 39 of 2,263 scheduled flights canceled.

On aircraft

The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday about a flight from San Francisco that kept passengers on board in Austin for about eight hours before they were allowed to get off the aircraft.

Other flights, in Austin and elsewhere, stranded passengers for long periods as well.

In a number of cases, American loaded passengers, pulled away from the gate and waited for weather at D/FW to improve - only to cancel the flight hours later.

Glenn W. Scott, an assistant professor of journalism at Elon University in North Carolina, was returning home from Fresno, Calif., to Raleigh-Durham, N.C., when his American flight was diverted to Austin.

He, his wife and their 7-year-old son found themselves among many other passengers trapped on airplanes near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport gates.

"We were a little fortunate that our flight crew was superb in trying to make life bearable," Mr. Scott said. "The restrooms remained moderately usable, and the flight attendants never quit working."

Mr. Scott didn't criticize the cockpit crew. One of the pilots "told us once that his requests to get a gate were simply being ignored. So the frustration was in the cockpit as well as in the passenger cabin," he said.

Passengers on his flight, which had departed Fresno around 9:30 a.m. Central Standard Time, finally were allowed to get off the airplane in Austin around 7 p.m.

"Even after that, AA had no plan for us that anyone communicated until hours later," he said.

"You'd think some supervisor, some exec, might have the guts to come out to apologize and to hold a mike and explain what AA had in store for us. But we just stood there waiting, passing around a lot of inaccurate speculation."

After passengers waited in lines for at least two hours, American announced that it would give them hotel vouchers and fly them to Dallas the next morning, he said.

The family finally arrived back in North Carolina around midnight Saturday, after American booked them seats on United Airlines Inc. flights through Washington.

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