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A scheduling error that allowed American Airlines pilots to take days off at the same time has left hundreds of flights without pilots during the busiest time of year; the holiday season.
American is now offering pilots 150 percent of hourly pay to work those dates, an airline spokesman said.
The scheduling problem will affect some of the largest travel hubs in the country, including New York’s JFK, Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, and New York's LaGuardia Airport, according to a memo from the airline to pilots.
Pilots loaded up their schedules with flights towards the beginning of December but took off around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, because the system allowed them to. Specifically, days starting after December 17th were affected.
"The airline is a 24/7 op," Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines captain, told CNBC. "The system went from responsibly scheduling everybody to becoming Santa Claus to everyone. The computer said, 'Hey ya'll. You want the days off? You got it.'"
American Airlines spokesman, Matt Miller, said the airline's employees are "working diligently to address the issue and expect to avoid cancellations this holiday season.”
"We have reserve pilots to help cover flying in December, and we are paying pilots who pick up certain open trips 150 percent of their hourly rate — as much as we are allowed to pay them per the contract," he said. "We will work with the APA to take care of our pilots and ensure we get our customers to where they need to go over the holidays."
The American Pilots' Association (APA) is representing 15,000 American pilots, and has filed a grievance, saying the proposed solution violates its labor pact. The union wants to discuss possible solutions that will motivate pilots to give up the vacation time. Instead of making pilots work time-and-a-half, the APA wants employees to return their vacation time.
The computer-system problem will also force American to rebuild its staffing schedule, which is what airlines have to do after major weather events.
As the world’s largest airline, American operates about 6,700 flights per day, Bloomberg reports.