DALLAS, DEC. 27 -- American Airlines Inc. said today it will reduce its schedule by about 4 percent and lay off an unspecified number of employees because it can't count on pilots showing up for work.

Fort Worth-based American, the nation's second largest airline, contends that pilots have been staging sickouts, taxiing slowly to waste fuel and filing frivolous requests for equipment maintenance. American's labor contract with its pilots expired almost a year ago.

The airline won a temporary restraining order late Wednesday ordering the pilots to stop actions designed to influence contract negotiations, which have grown increasingly tense.

By late today, 24 flights had been canceled, 13 because of crew shortages, Smith said. Since Sunday, 352 flights have been canceled, including 78 caused by crew shortages.

The airline handles about 2,300 flights per day.

"Some people have not gotten where they wanted to go," Smith said, although he could not give exact numbers. He said American tried to place travelers on its own or competitors' flights, or to put them up in hotels.

In a letter to cockpit crews sent Dec. 26 and released today, Robert W. Baker, American's executive vice president for operations, said the job action will force the carrier to reduce its schedule.

"Unhappily, that will cause us to issue layoff notices to a number of employees in various categories and to increase the number and percentage of pilots on reserve," Baker said.

Placing a pilot on reserve effectively reduces pay to a guaranteed minimum number of hours.

A Jan. 3 hearing date has been set by U.S. District Judge John McBryde to determine whether the temporary injunction should be made permanent.

The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American's 8,700 pilots, called the temporary restraining order a "rush to judgment," and said it would challenge the ruling later.

American spokesman Marty Heires said about 60 pilots called in sick shortly after the injunction was announced, but other pilots apparently decided to obey the court order.

Under the Railway Labor Act, airline employees cannot strike unless a federal judge declares talks to be at an impasse and sets a 30-day "cooling off" period.

American's complaint alleged that work slowdowns and 'sickouts' also are prohibited under the act.

Since last April, American Airlines officials said, there has been a marked increase in pilots' sick leave. Pilot sick hours peaked at 28,082 for November, compared with 19,319 pilot sick hours in November 1989.

American said daily flight delays attributable to pilot actions have run as high as 215 on Dec. 19. In 1989, American averaged 89 delays per day.

The chief issue in the talks is money. The pilots say they want to eliminate the so-called B-scale salary schedule, or narrow the differences. Under the scale, pilots hired after 1983 are paid less and advance at a slower rate than pilots hired before 1983.