Record-Setting Summer Schedule To Test American Airlines’ Improved Reliability

May 10, 2024
The airline is flying more seats than any other summer, with 10% more departures than last summer.

For a little over five years, airlines have been plagued by challenges from staffing to a global pandemic and even operation difficulties with delivery delays.

But American Airlines operations chief David Seymour says the Fort Worth-based air carrier has taken in the lessons learned looking ahead to this summer.

In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Seymour highlighted that during the summer season between May 17 and Sept. 3, American is expecting over 72 million travelers. The airline is flying more seats than any other summer, with 10% more departures than last summer. Seymour said the large schedule offers a lot of opportunity for North Texas travelers.

“DFW and North Texas, travelers that should have confidence flying through DFW (Airport),” Seymour said in an interview this week. “...It’s our largest operation and provides so much connectivity for our customers to be able to connect and go in just about anywhere they want.”

As Dallas-Fort Worth begins another summer of travel, it comes with some industry-wide challenges such as aircraft delivery delays, staffing shortages and even a looming Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. Most of the post-pandemic effects on air travel, like taking trips to seek “revenge” for the missed time and restrictions, have come and gone. Now, passengers are looking for experiences.

In its latest quarterly earnings, American reported it “best-ever” first-quarter completion factor, or the percentage of schedule flights that arrived: 98.7%. In 2019, that number was 97.3% for the first-quarter.

In 2019, the Fort Worth-based airline celebrated a milestone of establishing over 9,000 one-stop destinations through DFW Airport, adding 100 flights in the summer of 2019. It began operating mainline flights in terminal B’s gates 5 to 12 and expanded to include 15 new gates at the Terminal E satellite. DFW International Airport serves as a connecting point to many domestic, but also international destinations.

But a lot has changed since then.

A global pandemic shook up the industry and halted travel at the tail-end of 2019 and most of 2020. Airlines didn’t see a strong rebound until over a year later. Seymour said the pandemic introduced challenges that airlines still deal with today.

Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association said that American is more prepared this summer than previous summers. He pointed to the pilot contract that American and the union landed last year.

“We just have to make sure that human beings don’t run out of gas,” Tajer said.

Seymour attributes a lot of the change from the pandemic to American’s very full planes. It used to be the case that summer and holidays saw these sorts of numbers. Now, he said, the airline is seeing full loads pretty much every day.

“It is easy to cancel flight, but ultimately our promise is to our customer,” Seymour said. “That’s where the center of our decisions are about the customers. (American) still needs to get customers where they asked to go, where they purchased a ticket, where they wanted to go. Our best bet is to keep those planes operating and get them to the destination.”

Tajer said the union has raised concerns over safety, especially as American heads into the summer. The airline is “flying older airplanes longer and they require higher frequency and maintenance,” he said.

“It’s not the errors of the aircraft,” Tajer said. “It’s the preventative checks on the airplanes that we’re concerned about.”

American has stated previously that safety is a “shared mission” and has a safety program guided by its safety management system, including a multitude of collaborative programs — and regular touchpoints — with the FAA and unions. According to American, its maintenance team has also taken its fleet through reliability checks during the off-season to reduce delays and is focusing on the systems that keep the aircraft cool.

Part of American’s plan for peak travel seasons includes thinking about things that could happen and making plans for how to navigate those obstacles, he said. Some of those tools include tweaking the schedule to ensure reliability. One of those focuses is departure times.

“The root of what we’ve done to run a safe and reliable airline is focusing on planning (and) executing the recovery,” Seymour said. “That’s the hallmark that (American) continues to stress for the team.”

While weather is always a stressor on airlines, American uses a tool called HEAT which helps rethink major disruptions, he said, providing alternatives to passengers. Henry Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group said there’s a nickname for DFW Airport, “Doesn’t Function Wet.”

“When bad weather hits the Metroplex, DFW always seems to have problems operating as it should,” Harteveldt said in an email. “Should consumers have faith in American? Yes, but it shouldn’t be blind faith. But consumers also need to recognize that there are times when American may be capable of operating, but the FAA inhibits the airline from doing so.”

Harteveldt pointed to the shortage of air traffic controllers, but the Federal Aviation Administration is understaffed across the country.

Another part is ensuring American has the correct number of crew members in place, whether that be pilots, flight attendants, grounds crew or any of the other individuals that are needed to orchestrate the operation. Harteveldt said labor tensions with American’s flight attendants “greatly concern” him. Flight attendants at American are still in negotiations, while Southwest’s flight attendants just recently approved a deal.

Another part of the operation includes having the right number of aircraft in place to get travelers off the ground.

Seymour said, and it’s been stressed among other executives at American during quarterly earnings calls, American is not as impacted by Boeing Co.’s delivery delays like its competitors. Take the other North Texas airline, Southwest Airlineswhich lowered its expectations for aircraft deliveries from Boeing, where it now it expects 20 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft deliveries in 2024, when it previously anticipated 46. In March, a regulatory filing reported the airline had lowered its expectations to 46 from 79.

American is flying to eight destinations in summer 2024 that the airline had not served in summer 2023, including Albany, N.Y.; Appleton, Wisc.; Manhattan, Kan.; Redmond, Ore.; St. George, Utah; Tulum and Veracruz, Mexico; and Barcelona.

This year, DFW’s top five busiest days to travel will be July 8, July 25, July 29, Aug. 1 and July 7, based on the number of flights flown and the number of seats available, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium.

When it comes to competition, Seymour said he doesn’t spend a lot of time comparing American to other airlines. He said his focus has been on completion factor, on-time performance and other metrics for improving the airline.

“I don’t spend a lot of time worrying and trying to figure out what my competition is doing,” Seymour said. “I focus on what we can do to always get better.”

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