American Airlines finds pilots for most December flights after glitch

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WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - American Airlines Group said it has found pilots to staff all but "a few hundred" flights during next month's holiday season, easing concerns of major disruptions a day after a scheduling-system snag raised the possibility that as many as 15,000 would lack aviators.

The union representing the carrier's pilots insisted that "thousands" of flights still don't have full crews, citing real-time data from American's scheduling system.

There was "little change in the flights that are unassigned" on Thursday, said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association (APA).

The pilots' claim may renew fears of widespread flight cancellations during one of the year's busiest travel periods. The airline said pilots had responded well to an offer of 1.5 times normal hourly pay to give up days off and take the unassigned flights. American declined to comment on the potential cost of the higher compensation.

The APA estimated on Wednesday that 15,000 flights from Dec 17 through Dec 31 lacked sufficient crew. The airline has declined to quantify the potential number of flights involved.

American, the world's largest airline has not scrubbed any scheduled flights next month, spokesman Matt Miller said in an e-mail on Thursday. A larger-than-normal number of pilots on standby during December should cover "many" of the remaining trips without assigned pilots, he said.

If the airline's count is accurate, "that's great," Tajer said. "But we're not seeing the same number."

"How many flights are unassigned today is the question. In real time, it remains an inordinate number of open trips," he said.

The glitch caused the scheduling system to show that American had ample staffing coverage for some planned flights when it actually didn't. The system let pilots drop some trips they had been assigned next month because it incorrectly showed that there were sufficient crew members willing to pick up the flights. American will operate 200,000 flights in December.

A job posting at American for a director of crew scheduling was filed earlier in the month, and reposted after Thanksgiving, Miller said. It is "entirely unrelated" to the pilot scheduling problem, he said. The posting was reported earlier by the Associated Press.

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