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.

For the record, Mr. Hotard expressed regrets on behalf of the airline.

"Obviously, American Airlines apologizes to its customers for what we put them through during this holiday period," Mr. Hotard said.

Usual storms

American must deal regularly with thunderstorms that roll through North Texas. But those storms usually travel from west to east and their duration can often be predicted.

On Friday, however, the storm trundled up from the south and kept bringing fresh bouts of rain, lightning and tornado alerts.

At one point in the late afternoon, American prepared to evacuate the nerve center for the airline, its system operations control center near D/FW Airport, as warning sirens were blowing.

Mr. Hotard said Friday's storms hit earlier in the day than the 3 to 5 p.m. period when most thunderstorms arrive, forcing diversions to a ring of cities around D/FW, including Shreveport, La., Little Rock, Ark., San Antonio, Longview, Texas, Tulsa, Okla., and others.

Electrical storms

American officials thought they would be able to soon resume flights and allowed other flights to take off for D/FW.

But the storms kept coming, including electrical storms that forced it to close its D/FW terminal ramps several times.

"Complicating the Austin situation was the fact that it too had thunderstorms and lightning which closed its ramp," Mr. Hotard said.

Employees on the ground can be killed if lightning strikes an airplane they're touching, he said.

"That also hinders you in taking passengers off an aircraft, putting them on a bus and getting into a terminal, which was a problem we faced in Austin," he said.

One flight from Zurich, Switzerland, was diverted to Tulsa, which has no international customs facility. As a result, American had to keep the passengers on the airplane and fly a fresh crew to Tulsa to pilot the plane.

The aircraft finally arrived at D/FW early Saturday morning, about 10 hours after it landed in Tulsa and 22 hours after it departed Zurich.

Mr. Hotard said that in retrospect, it was a mistake to take that plane to Tulsa, although at the time it was the nearest airport.

"That's one of the issues we're looking at - where they diverted to and why," he said.

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