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As American Airlines pilots formed picket lines at airports across the country last week and the nation’s third-largest air carrier canceled hundreds of flights, David Ludt made the difficult decision to redeem all of his AAdvantage miles for a flight to Europe next year.
Now he’s worried that there might not be a next year. Like others with plans to fly on American, Ludt fears for the airline’s future, which could include downsizing or a merger with another carrier.
“What guarantee do I have that my departure and return dates will be the same as the dates of my originally booked flights?” asks Ludt, a high school teacher from Shrewsbury, Mass. “This is important to know before I book any nonrefundable hotel accommodations in London and Venice.”
American, which has been flying under bankruptcy protection since November, is the latest carrier to deal with labor trouble: in this case, pilots calling in sick or slowing operations by filing additional maintenance reports, allegedly in retaliation against the carrier’s cost-cutting measures.
The pilots deny that they are engaged in a slowdown.
Fortunately, a combination of contracts, federal regulations and airline policies offer some protection for passengers in the event of an operational delay. But they can’t cover every kind of loss that a late or canceled flight can generate.
For Ludt, there’s good news and bad news. American probably will get him to London. However, it might not be when he expected to fly, and the airline won’t compensate him for missed vacation days or losses due to nonrefundable hotel reservations.
American’s problems are hardly unique. This month, Lufthansa canceled about half of its scheduled 1,800 flights because of a one-day work stoppage. In August, United Airlines narrowly averted a work stoppage by pilots who were upset at the lack of progress on negotiating a new contract. And earlier this year, Air Canada endured numerous cancellations as a result of labor trouble.
If your upcoming American flight is canceled, it might be difficult to tell whether the cause was a work stoppage or a planned reduction. The airline was on track to operate thousands of fewer flights this month than in August, but that was also true for last year’s flight totals.
American says it is doing its best to minimize the impact to passengers. During the first week of the delays, the carrier canceled 300 flights, which allowed the company to reschedule passengers in advance. Through October, American thinned its flight schedule by between 1 and 2 percent.
“We have increased staffing in other areas to assist in re-accommodating customers and are reaching out to customers proactively to notify them of the options available and the ability to stand by for earlier flights at no charge,” says American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Sanderson.