American Airlines is cutting thousands of flights from its schedule for the remainder of this summer and fall, to “ensure operational reliability” for the rest of the year.
Fort Worth-based American has returned faster and more aggressively than other airlines from the COVID-19 pandemic, even though challenges linger with staffing, pilots, fuel costs and supply chains.
Schedules from flight tracker Cirium show that in the last month, American has cut more than 90,000 flights between August and December – about 6% of its schedule for the year. A bulk of those cuts are in October, one of the slowest months of the year between the summer travel season and the Thanksgiving rush.
With the cuts, American will only fly about 90% of the flights on its schedule compared to 2019, down about 2 percentage points from previous estimates.
Yet American actually managed to boost the number of passengers it will be able to carry in November and December by moving to bigger aircraft to cover routes.
“We’re taking up a more conservative view of how we size in airlines and the resources we have,” said American Airlines chief commercial officer Vasu Raja in a call with investors Thursday.
American announced its slimmer flight schedule for the rest of the year Thursday as it reported a $ 476 million profit for the second quarter – its first profitable quarter without government help since 2019.
Most of those flight cuts are already in the schedule, Raja said, and the airline tried to cut flights where there would be the fewest passenger disruptions.
After a “challenging” June plagued by flight delays, cancellations and bad weather on 27 of 30 days, the carrier said it is readjusting its flying plans to focus on minimizing disruptions for travelers.
The airline industry has taken heat in recent weeks from politicians, regulators, analysts and customers as airport crowds have returned to near pre-pandemic levels, including passing pre-pandemic levels at DFW International Airport, American’s biggest hub.
American said its on-time performance numbers were slightly better for the April to June period than during the same stretch in 2019, but the summer of 2019 was full of disruptions because of contract fights with mechanics and the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.
“Travel is coming back at record numbers, which is fantastic,” said American CEO Robert Isom, who took over company leadership in March. “We have set really, really high standards for ourselves in terms of operational reliability. We start out every day doing everything we can to get every single passenger, every flight to where it needs to go on time. “
Chicago-based United Airlines, which already has a more conservative flying schedule than American compared to pre-pandemic numbers, gave a similar forecast on Wednesday when it reported earnings. CEO Scott Kirby said United is tempering growth plans into 2013.
“They had a difficult June, but reduced capacity heading into July and are seeing an improvement in operations,” said Cowen airline industry analyst Helane Becker in a note to investors. “This should continue through the fall as they work to restore consumer confidence in the business.”
American is working as fast as it can to get back to flying at the levels it did in 2019 and beyond, but it has been constrained by training issues despite hiring 20,000 employees, Isom said.
Still, it simply takes more people to run the airline than it did before, Isom said.
“Our staffing issues are really making sure that we can cover the variability that’s in the operation today,” Isom said. “We have more people per flight per hour than we have ever had in our company’s history.”
Allied Pilots Association spokesman Dennis Tajer said it’s taking nearly seven months to get some new pilots through the hiring and training pipeline before they are flying commercial flights.
“There continues to be a clog in the mainline pilot training pipeline,” Tajer said.