DALLAS — Like many other industries, airlines are dealing with labor shortages, leading to headaches at the terminals for passengers. There’s also been a surge in travel demand, as Americans are now itching to get out and fly after the pandemic has eased.
But that quick ramp of demand has led to flight cancellations, baggage delays and long wait times at the gate. These disruptions have plagued travelers, which has caused frustration all around, for staff as well.
Until mid-July, American Airlines is adjusting about 1% of its flight schedules daily to keep up the operation, but American says it is still flying more than its competitors United and Delta.
"Our focus this summer ― and always ― is on delivering for our customers no matter the circumstance. We never want to disappoint, and feel these schedule adjustments will help ensure we can take good care of our customers and team members and minimize surprises at the airport,” a statement from the airline reads.
Greg Cosey, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 513 based near Dallas, which represents 3,800 fleet service agents at SAT, AUS, DFW and BNA, says those disruptions passengers are encountering shouldn’t be blamed on the workers. Cosey said the way the crews are staffed with American Airlines has been creating confusion since 2019 when American implemented a process dubbed DFW 900.
“That added additional mainline and envoy flights to go over 900 daily departures out of DFW. What they didn't do was add the manpower to accommodate those flights. Not only were there additional flights to the schedule, but the way we operate changed during that summer,” Cosey said.
Cosey said that summer, crews went from static manning to dynamic manning. Static is when workers are assigned to each individual gate and airplanes come to those gates. Dynamic staffing is when planes arrive at the gates and crews are moved to accommodate those flights. Cosey believes that the staffing model has caused a lot of confusion.
“In an operation is large and as fluid as DFW, it is very difficult to keep track of those crews when you're moving people around the airport. DFW airport is very unique with respect to the fact that it's four separate concourses, and we have four different baggage handling areas, which is unlike most airports around the country,” Cosey said. "You end up losing track of people."
So what is happening currently, in this new peak of travel demand in 2021 after a long season of empty airports? Cosey said American Airlines is capitalizing on the nation’s desire to travel, adding many flights without the infrastructure or the manpower to achieve what he considers a smooth operation.
"It's just not our fault, the way the operational process is set up causes these types of issues in our opinion. We'd like to see the operational changes to go back to finding an opportunity to be more statically manned, as opposed to dynamic manned. And also that the full-time work comes back, as opposed to part time,” Cosey said. “Some of the other concerns the airline is going through is in the earlier part of the year, there were a lot of furloughs. And so because of the PSP (Payroll Support Program) funding, the employees were brought back on the clock. But in the pilot and the flight attendant group, while they were brought back from furlough, there's FAA required recurrent training that they needed to go through and it's like a two month process. So that's kind of also contributing to some of the chaos that's going on at the airports."
If there’s any message President Greg Cosey could give to travelers, it’s be patient, especially during holiday weekends.
“Our employees are committed to the travelers’ experience. And, you know, if things were different then obviously you know those baggage times and everything else would be different. But it's certainly not because of any lack of effort, or enthusiasm on the part of the employees. We are totally enthusiastic about travel recovering. And so therefore, we're geared up as best we can to handle the volume of passengers and baggage and everything else. We anticipate them calling more overtime.” Cosey said. "The TSA is also having some issues with staffing, and so your travel experience is going to be a little bit more difficult as a result.”
Cosey did say he finally feels like the airline is listening to their workers.
"We've been voicing our concerns rather adamantly about the operational changes and about the headcount and the staffing situations. And I believe, for the first time in two years, that we have at least reached them to the point where they're willing to listen to our opinions, and to sit down and really have some solid discussions,” Cosey said.
Spectrum News 1 asked American Airlines for a statement regarding staffing shortages and slashed schedules, to which the airline replied the staffing model mentioned by Cosey is not causing delays. The airline blamed the disruptions on “unprecedented weather” the first few weeks of June.
"The first few weeks of June have brought unprecedented weather to our largest hubs, heavily impacting our operation and causing delays, canceled flights and disruptions to crew member schedules and our customers' plans. That, combined with the labor shortages some of our vendors are contending with and the incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand, has led us to build in additional resilience and certainty to our operation by adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flying through mid-July. We made targeted changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation.”