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American Airlines Is Canceling Almost 1,000 Flights In July

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

If you're trying to book a flight this summer, you might find that it's gotten a lot tougher than it was just a few months ago. And now there's news that American Airlines is canceling around 950 flights in July. That's just one example of the challenges the airline industry faces as the world opens up. Alison Sider has been reporting on American Airlines for The Wall Street Journal, and she joins us now.

Welcome.

ALISON SIDER: Hi. Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So American Airlines said that these cancellations are related to weather and staffing. Can you just walk us through how those specific two factors caused American to cancel literally, like, hundreds and hundreds of flights?

SIDER: Yeah. You know, so what American told me is that they ran into some big problems with weather earlier in June, and they are really hoping to avoid last-minute cancellations, having to cancel flights day of, having people show up at the airports and have their flight canceled, which just - people hate. It drives them crazy.

CHANG: Yes.

SIDER: So they're looking for a little more breathing room in their operation and a little bit more of a buffer when things go wrong, so that means they'll have more pilots out on reserve who can fill in and help out when things like weather happen. You know, another thing that they've said has hindered their operation in the last couple of weeks is shortages of workers who do things like help refuel planes and drive trucks to planes full of food that they load on for catering and who push...

CHANG: And what...

SIDER: Sorry.

CHANG: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt, but what exactly caused that sudden shortage of those sorts of jobs?

SIDER: Well, a lot of these companies are having trouble hiring people right now. Travel came back really quickly, maybe a little bit more quickly than a lot of folks were expecting. And bringing those workers back has been a challenge.

CHANG: When do you think things will return to normal for American Airlines at this point?

SIDER: I think that remains to be seen. You know, I think they're hoping that they've - the trims that they announced over the weekend will be enough to kind of level things out for the rest of the summer, you know, that some of these hiring constraints might be resolved in the second half of July. But it could just be a busy rest of the summer for the airline until things settle down in the fall.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, what about the airline industry overall? Like, is what American going through right now reflective of what other airlines are going through?

SIDER: To some extent, yes. I mean, these staffing issues we're seeing, at you know, companies that even - that hire people to push wheelchairs in the airport, you know, that's happening all around the country. And every traveler and every airline is impacted by it. But to some extent, you know, American was also planning to operate a bigger, more ambitious schedule than some of its rivals this summer, so that may be contributing to some of the issues.

CHANG: OK. And what about pilots and flight crews specifically? Can you explain real quick how they have been affected by the pandemic?

SIDER: Yeah, a lot of pilots, you know, last year either weren't flying because they just weren't needed. Some, in some cases, were furloughed for part of the year, and airlines have been trying to bring those folks back. But getting them all trained and ready again has been a constraint at times. And we've seen on some busy weekends airlines have trouble getting enough pilots. And, you know, that happened to American this past weekend, where they had to cancel a lot of flights due to pilot availability. And that might also be linked to some of the weather issues they had this month.

CHANG: Yeah. That is Alison Sider of The Wall Street Journal.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

SIDER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBOLD'S "VEGYN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.