Grounded 737 Max jets, tensions with mechanics and bad weather have taken the blame for mounting delays and cancellations at American Airlines. But the union that represents pilots at the company says American Airlines' inefficient scheduling is also at fault.
Eric Ferguson, president of the Allied Pilots Association representing American Airlines pilots, said he's seen the frustration from passengers during recent months over late planes and disrupted travel plans.
The company's own scheduling systems and policies aren't helping, he said.
"I think it's the company's scheduling ability as much as anything else at this point," said Ferguson, who flies Airbus planes out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. "Our scheduling system is far too tight to begin with."
American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said the company is working with pilot and flight attendant unions on scheduling concerns.
"The systems that we have at American never compromise the safety of our team members and customers," said a statement from Feinstein. "Now that we are through the integration process, our team is focused on working with the APA and APFA on improving our crew scheduling systems."
American is facing one of its most challenging years since it emerged from bankruptcy five years ago.
In May, the on-time rate for American Airlines flights dropped to 74.2%, ahead of only Frontier among the country's largest carriers, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics' latest data. During the month, American also canceled 3.3% of flights.
Delta Air Lines, by comparison, had more than 85% of its planes arrive on time and canceled only 0.3% of flights.
American's fleet is stretched thin because the Federal Aviation Administration grounded 24 Boeing 737 Max jets in March after a deadly software flaw led to two crashes.
American Airlines also sued its two mechanics unions in May, saying that maintenance workers conspired to delay and cancel flights by slowing down work, turning down overtime and refusing off-site assignments. Despite a court order to force the unions to get back to work, American has said that the problems continue.
Weather has played a role too, delaying more than 1% of American flights. That was the second-highest rate of the big airlines.
Of course, scheduling nearly 1,000 planes a day at hundreds of airports across the world isn't easy. But Ferguson said the systems in place to coordinate thousands of pilots, flight attendants and planes are inefficient.
Ferguson, for example, said he recently had to turn down a flight because he had hit his federally mandated flying time limit. But he still got a call a few hours later offering another flight because the scheduling crew didn't know he had reached his maximum.
And too often, he said, pilots wait on the phone for hours to get reassigned after a canceled flight.
"Our pilots are just like the passengers, and we want nothing more than to get our passengers to their destination," Ferguson said. "We share the frustration when things fall apart."
The union, which represents about 15,000 pilots at American, is bargaining for a new contract with the company. The deal it signed five years ago as the company was emerging from bankruptcy is set to expire at the end of this year.
Ferguson said scheduling will be a top issue as it works on a new deal.
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