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Worst may have passed for American Airlines— for now

As the week's number of cancelled American Airlines' flights topped 3,000 Friday, it appeared the worst of the delays had passed. At Tampa International Airport, for example, the number of canceled American flights dropped off sharply.

But the damage, clearly, was already done.

Beyond the toll in poor public relations, American's chairman and chief executive Gerard Arpey said the cost — including vouchers to appease unhappy customers, overtime for maintenance crews and lost revenue — would run into the tens of millions of dollars. An analyst with Standard & Poor's estimated it could easily top $30-million.

The carrier could have gotten off a lot cheaper.

The grounded airplanes — all MD-80 models — were the subject of a federal safety inspection examining whether wires in the backup power system for the fuel pump were properly bundled. Had American and other carriers using affected aircrafts complied with the 2006 Federal Aviation Administration directive on the inspection and made proper fixes, it would have cost less than $1-million total, or about $1,304 per airplane, according to the initial FAA directive. It was unclear if that estimate of the cost was all-inclusive.

American canceled 595 flights on Friday, bringing the running total to about 3,080, and said 200 more flights would be cut today.

While American Airlines passengers continued to suffer at Tampa International Airport, the number of flights canceled Friday was less than half of what they were the day before.

As of Friday afternoon, American Airlines had scrubbed five departures and five arrivals, TIA spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan said. Midwest Airlines, which canceled two flights serving Tampa on Thursday, was back in the air on Friday.

"That's probably it for today," Geoghagan said of Friday's cancellations. "But we'll probably have a few cancellations on Saturday."

Passengers weren't the only ones exasperated by the turmoil. Some of the loudest complaints came from the airline's employees.

The pilots union took out full-page newspaper ads that asked, "Why is American Airlines Failing Its Customers?"

Flight attendants have renewed a campaign against stock bonuses for top executives.

There's nothing new about rocky management-labor relations at American, but this week's events have driven an even deeper wedge between executives and front-line workers.

The cancellations started Tuesday, when American yanked 300 planes out of service to bring them up to federal safety standards on wrapping electrical wires to prevent fires.

The airline's mechanics and FAA inspectors cleared more of the planes to return to service Friday. American said 226 of its MD-80s were back in service by Friday morning, and it expected the rest to be ready by Saturday night.

The airline thought it had done the repair work two weeks ago, when it scrubbed more than 400 flights, but the FAA said the wiring still wasn't properly secured and stowed in wheel wells.

Arpey said he took responsibility and that neither American's mechanics nor the FAA were to blame.

Beyond costs to the airline, the cancellations also threatened pilots' pay since they only get compensated for the hours they fly. But on Thursday, the company and the Allied Pilots Association cut a deal that lets pilots get paid for their lost shifts.

Times staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report.

Frontier Airlines files for bankruptcy

DENVER — Frontier Airlines sought bankruptcy protection Friday, the fourth carrier to do so over the past several weeks as exorbitant fuel prices eat into earnings and a weak U.S. economy keeps more people grounded. Frontier, which offers flights to and from Tampa International Airport, says it will continue operations as it reorganizes. Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc., the low-fare carrier's parent, said it was forced into bankruptcy after its principal credit card processor, First Data Corp., said it would begin withholding a greater share of proceeds from ticket sales.

American, Southwest add fuel surcharge

Two major U.S. air carriers joined United Airlines in boosting fares of up to $30 per round trip to cover rising jet fuel costs.

Those raising fares Friday were American Airlines and Southwest Airlines Co.

United announced its increase on Thursday. Continental Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Northwest Airlines Corp. and US Airways followed suit later that day.

Worst may have passed for American Airlines— for now 04/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:32am]
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