American Cancels 1,000 Flights

American Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights Wednesday, more than one-third of its schedule, as it spent a second straight day inspecting the wiring on some of its jets. Video by AP
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2008

American Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights yesterday, stranding tens of thousands of passengers as the carrier's mechanics scrambled to reinspect wire bundles on jets grounded as recently as two weeks ago for similar checks.

The inspections came in response to Federal Aviation Administration concerns about how bundles of wires were installed in the wheel wells of American's 300 Boeing MD-80 jets, the 140-seat workhorses of the carrier's fleet.

Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines also canceled more than 30 total departures yesterday to conduct inspections of similar jets. American slated another 900 cancellations for today, and airline representatives said the carrier's operations would not be back to normal until Saturday.

The groundings were the latest in a series of cancellations by several carriers after problems were discovered with how airlines comply with federal safety mandates. Members of Congress from both parties have accused the FAA of lax oversight of the airlines.

The cancellations stranded thousands of American's passengers at Washington's three major airports, where the carrier scrubbed 29 of 49 departures, a spokeswoman said.

At Reagan National Airport, dozens of passengers lined up at American's ticket counter in the early afternoon to rework travel plans.

"I'm quite angry," said Brad Weiss, a lawyer whose flight had been canceled and who was worried about making it home to Chicago to watch his 9-year-old daughter present a school science fair project. Weiss said he was particularly annoyed that American had inspected the same planes two weeks ago and deemed them safe to fly. "They should be following the rules," he said. "You don't try to follow the rules, you follow them. This isn't golf or horseshoes."

Travelers' migraines extended beyond flights scrubbed at Washington's airports. Most planes departing from the area were headed to American's hubs in Dallas-Fort Worth or Chicago, where the airline canceled 504 of 725 departures.

Rebekah Matter, 26, a District lawyer, was trying to visit family in New Mexico. But her morning flight to Chicago was canceled. The airline rebooked her through St. Louis and Dallas-Fort Worth but canceled her last leg, to Albuquerque.

"I'm perturbed," Matter said as she inched through a line. "I could have been at work today. I feel like I'm in limbo. I'm not traveling, and I'm not at work. It was just a wasted day."

Faced with an influx of stranded passengers, airport officials at American's Dallas-Fort Worth hub kept restaurants open Tuesday night and handed out baby formula and diapers to families who ran out of such essentials, spokesmen said. American representatives said they were doing everything they could for their passengers, including helping them rebook flights on other carriers and giving them hotel and food vouchers.

Airline maintenance and the FAA's oversight of carriers' compliance with safety directives have become major issues since problems with lax safety checks at Southwest Airlines became public last month. FAA inspectors have accused a supervisor of improperly allowing 47 Southwest planes to keep flying last year after the carrier reported that the jets were late for inspections of potential cracking in their skins.

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