“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’re engaged in a slowdown.
Fortunately, a combination of regulations, contracts 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 might generate.
For Ludt, there’s good news and bad news. American probably will get him to London. But it might not be when he expected to fly, and the airline won’t compensate him for missed vacation days or 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 upset at the lack of progress on a new contract. And earlier this year, Air Canada endured numerous cancellations because 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 that it’s doing its best to minimize the effect on 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 1 to 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.
Yet American’s assurances can’t answer every passenger concern. Take Susan Schwartz Jones, chief executive of a biotechnology firm in Seattle. She and her husband saved 3.5 million American Airlines miles for the vacation of a lifetime, and she’s concerned that American’s days as an independent carrier might be numbered as it reportedly mulls a merger with US Airways. Should she cash in the miles now or wait to take the perfect getaway?