The apparent slowdown of American Airlines' pilots is the latest instance of labor unrest in the airline business. Depending on which source you read, American has canceled somewhere between 2 percent and 5 percent of flights in recent days, with more of the same to come. The airline blamed a surge in pilot sick days and maintenance write-ups by pilots.
But the turmoil isn't over yet: American's pilot union has called for a strike vote. That doesn't mean that the pilots will actually go out on strike anytime soon—airline workers can't strike without going through several governmental procedures—but these pilots are certainly unhappy with the carrier's latest unilateral contract cancellation. And although slowdowns and pilot sick days don't violate laws, they can certainly disrupt an airline's schedules and operations.
American isn't the only airline facing labor problems, either. Lufthansa flight attendants have already conducted a 24-hour strike, and their issues remain unresolved. Pilots at India's Kingfisher Airlines have stopped flying at least twice; ground workers at Cairo, Istanbul, and Tel Aviv airports have recently staged slowdowns, and labor at many other airlines is restive. Given the airlines' fuel price cost crunch and employees' resistance to benefit cuts and increased workloads, the situation isn't going to get better any time soon.
For travelers, the obvious question is whether to book away from American. And, as usual, there isn't a pat answer. American is cancelling only a very small percentage of its flights, and it seems to be doing a reasonable job of informing and re-accommodating canceled passengers.But the threat of any cancellations is worse than no cancellations.
The net result is the same, as is so often the case with uncertainties: If American provides a superior schedule or lower fares, the odds say customers will be OK with the unrest. But if you want to eliminate those last few percentage points of risk, book with another airline. This conclusion applies to all carriers.
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