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A TORNADO OF TROUBLES AT AMERICAN
By Joe Brancatelli
Business travelers were blessed with an extraordinarily mild winter flying season. But spring has been much less fun. A brutal series of storms in the Dallas Metroplex has played havoc with the schedule of American Airlines and American Eagle, its commuter carrier.
Hailstorms, heavy winds and tornadoes whacked the region and have had a knock-on effect on American's nationwide schedules, which radiate from its Dallas/Fort Worth hub. Southwest Airlines, based a bit to the east at Dallas/Love Field, has been much less severely affected.
Here's how we've been covering the story. And, as always, read down, blog-style, for the full context.
4/8/12, 11:30PM ET, SUNDAY
STILL A LOT OF BUGS IN THE SYSTEM
American Airlines continues to be plagued by cancellations. Despite claims that it would be nearly back to normal over the weekend, it dumped more than 270 take-offs and departures on Sunday. That was after a relatively decent day on Saturday, when it was forced to drop only 60 flights.
Most distressing is that American continues to low ball its predictions each day. It clearly doesn't have a handle on how its schedule will go each day and that, of course, is miserable for us.
The run-up to the weekend wasn't all that good, either. It cancelled more than 300 departures and arrivals on Friday. That brings the total to well more than 2,000 since Tuesday's brutal storms in the Dallas area.
4/5/12, 10AM ET, THURSDAY
DON'T BLAME THE WEATHER FOR ALL OF AA'S WOES
It's another simply brutal day to fly American Airlines. American has cancelled at least 325 flights today, a continuing hangover from the nasty storms that whacked the Dallas Metroplex on Tuesday, April 3. If there's a silver lining, American Eagle, the carrier's commuter operation, seems to be back to near full service.
Yesterday, the combined carriers cancelled around 600 flights, about 20 percent more than the original plan. Apparently, the problem is very slow inspections of aircraft for hail damage. The Tuesday storms produced many hailstorms and large hail. You may recall similar storms last year in Dallas about this time did major hail damage to American's fleet.
American's phone lines continue to be jammed as passengers try to unravel their travel plans. It's time to realize, folks, that the major carriers have so shriveled their call-center staffing that they are totally overwhelmed whenever their is an irregularity in the system. Which would be okay IF the self-help options were good enough. But they often aren't because the airline industry has made its fare and ticketing system so convoluted that it frequently requires human intervention.
In other words, they rig the fare structure to screw business travelers, then screw us when we need help because they slashed the staffing of their call centers.
And these C-suite boobs wonder why they are in bankruptcy, lose money on a regular basis and run some of the most disliked businesses on the planet. Really, it NEVER occurs to them...
You should NEVER blame an airline for bad weather. And NEVER blame a carrier for pulling down flights if it isn't sure the aircraft are in tip-top shape. And, given the high cost of labor, you can't even blame them for understaffing call centers. But you CAN blame them for resolutely refusing to simplify the fare structure and operating in a manner that makes the available self-help measures woefully inadequate.
Frankly, it's still another reason why Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways continue to steal market share from the majors. Both offer one-way fares and they don't face quite the chaos when irregular operations force huge segments of their respective customer bases to seek reaccommodation. Simple fares equal lower costs for airlines and less chaos for us. But heaven forfend the airline industry follow the lead of its only continuously profitable carrier. I mean, THAT is apparently too much to ask.
4/4/12, 10:30AM ET, WEDNESDAY
AS PREDICTED, ANOTHER BAD DAY TO FLY AA
It's another difficult day to fly American Airlines and commuter partner, American Eagle. As I warned you yesterday, the airlines say they will end up canceling nearly 500 flights today, about a quarter of their combined schedules. It's a hangover from the brutal weather that attacked--and attacked is a good word here--the Dallas Metroplex yesterday. According to FlightStats.com, the two carriers have already dumped 420 flights.
That's about half the total of yesterday, when American cancelled service from mid-afternoon through the evening. For the day, according to FlightStats, American and American Eagle cancelled around 800 flights and delayed nearly as many. There are several dozen diversions in those figures, too.
If you need to fly American today, I urge you to check the AA.com website before heading to the airport. The AA phone lines are still jammed, but the carrier's elite lines are a little more manageable.
I would expect a higher-than-normal amount of cancellations tomorrow, too, but nothing like yesterday and today's problems. It'll probably take until the weekend for American and American Eagle to return to operational normality.
Southwest Airlines, based at Dallas Love Field, is doing substantially better. It has cancelled fewer than a dozen flights so far today. That's partially because it is less dependent on Love Field than AA is on DFW, but also because the storms were far less damaging near Love Field.
By the way, if you want to see exactly where the storms did damage yesterday--the National Weather Service reports that there were at least a dozen confirmed tornadoes--check out this graphic. And remember that DFW Airport straddles the Tarrant and Dallas County lines near Arlington. You can see that the storms headed north from Johnson County and almost seemed aimed at DFW.
4/3/12, 4:45PM ET, TUESDAY
AMERICAN DUMPS THE REST OF THE DAY
American Airlines has now cancelled all arrivals and departures at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport for the rest of the day. Needless to say, this will cascade through its schedule for the next 24-36 hours.
The airline also says that it is inspecting several dozen aircraft for hail damage. If it has to take planes out of service, there will be cancellations because AA simply doesn't have back-up planes to cover a substantial reduction in the size of its operating fleet.
Plan accordingly. And don't expect much help from American's phone lines. Obviously, they are swamped. Check with your travel agent or the AA.com website for options or be prepared for long, long (dare I say United-style) holds.
The severe thunderstorm alert is now in effect through 4:15 CT. It looks like the worst line of storms is now east of DFW Airport.
You can follow coverage of the storms ripping through North Texas on the cable-news networks or via WFAA-TV's live feed at http://www.wfaa.com/video?id=70231852&sec=553117
4/3/12, 3:45PM ET, TUESDAY
A TORNADO OF TROUBLES IN DALLAS
Bad weather is causing serious delays, cancellations and diversions at the airports in Dallas.
Traffic has been halted at both Dallas/Fort Worth, the hub of American Airlines and American Eagle, and Dallas/Love Field, home of Southwest Airlines. Delays are reaching the three-hour mark and many flight departures have been cancelled. Many inbound flights headed for DFW and DAL have been diverted.
The problem is a series of rain, wind and hail storms. The National Weather Service says a number of tornadoes have touched down in the North Texas region. Severe thunderstorm warnings are in effect until at least 3:30pm Central Time. Huge hail has been reported and power is out in large areas of the region.
Needless to say, your travel will be snarled if it involves DFW and DAL airports today. And with equipment and crews being out of position due to diversions, there will be a cascading effect on your schedule elsewhere, too.
The major cable-news networks have switched to wall-to-wall coverage. You can also stream video at WFAA-TV: http://www.wfaa.com/video?id=70231852&sec=553117
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.