TAMPA — American Airlines hasn’t "cancelled a single flight and doesn’t expect to cancel a single flight" as the result of a scheduling glitch that allowed an unusually large number of pilots to take time off during the Christmas holiday, company CEO Doug Parker said Friday.
"The company had a clerical mistake that has resulted in us not having enough of our pilots scheduled for flights that are coming in later December," Parker said at Tampa International Airport, where he was awarded the 2017 Tony Jannus Award for excellence in commercial aviation. "But our pilots have been stepping up. We offered them a premium. They’re stepping up and picking up trips.
"We’re confident that we’re going to be perfectly fine, and our customers will be perfectly fine with the flights," he said. "We expect that by the time we get done with this, we’re going to be flying our full schedule through the holidays."
The New York Times reported Wednesday that the pilots union had raised the possibility that up to 15,000 American flights after Dec. 17 could be in danger of being cancelled because an error in the company’s internal scheduling system gave too many pilots time off.
The airline said Thursday that out of 200,000 flights American will fly in December, only a "few hundred" lacked assigned pilots. Along with offering pilots 1½ times their normal pay, the company said it has more reserve pilots on hand in December than during normal months, and those will enable the airline to staff many of the trips that were uncovered.
"We’ll get through it," Parker said. "It’s a mistake we wish we hadn’t made. It’s not anybody’s fault, per se, an individual. What we know is we shouldn’t have systems this important be subject to people making mistakes. We’ll work through that. We’ll figure out to make sure it doesn’t happen again to us."
American Airlines carried 3 million passengers to and from Tampa last year and will average 34 departures per day during December.
"Tampa’s a really important market to us," Parker said. "I don’t know that we have plans to expand the number of flights. But certainly in markets like Tampa what we generally see is putting larger airplanes in as demand continues to grow. So we’ll grow as demand to fly in and out of Tampa grows."
American’s CEO since 2013, Parker was chosen for the Tony Jannus Award because American Airlines hit financial and operational high notes this year, including its integration of U.S. Airways into its business following a merger between the two carriers in 2015.
"American Airlines is a big part of our community," Tampa International Airport chief executive officer Joe Lopano said during a ceremony where Parker was recognized. "The reason that we are so prosperous in our community is because of the commitment of people like Doug to us."
The Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society has presented the award for 54 years to individuals who show excellence in commercial aviation. The award is named after the pilot credited with the first scheduled airline flight, on New Year’s Day in 1914 between St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Lopano noted that Jannus took one passenger on that inaugural flight, flew 16 miles and charged $400 — adjusted for inflation, more than $8,400 in 2017 dollars — making him not only a visionary but a good businessman.
Parker said the honor was only possible because of American’s team, then took a broader view.
"What Tony Jannus started back in 1914 is now, I would argue, the most important business in the world," he said. "What is we do is connect people. ... We fly over walls. We fly over borders. We fly over divisiveness and stereotypes. We connect people. We make commerce work. We allow people to see the world."
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times