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American Airlines Faces Holiday Pilot Shortage

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American Airlines scheduled a few too many pilots to be home for the holidays and now the airline is rushing to save holiday travel plans for thousands of passengers. 

Flights booked between Dec. 17  and Dec. 31 were affected by a scheduling system error that left over 15,000 flights without a pilot, according to Reuters. 

"The system went from responsibly scheduling everybody to becoming Santa Claus to everyone," Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines captain, said to CNBC. 

According to Reuters, the system was supposed to use seniority to decide who could take time off during the busiest time of the year for airlines, but failed to deny any time-off requests.

American Airlines spokesperson Matt Miller said the airline's employees are "working diligently to address the issue and expect to avoid cancellations this holiday season," reported CNBC.

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"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," Matt Miller told CNBC, according to NPR. "We will work with the [Allied Pilots Association union] to take care of our pilots and ensure we get our customers to where they need to go over the holidays."

However, NPR reports that the APA is warning pilots to be wary of the offer, saying in a statement that because "management unilaterally created their solution in violation of the contract, neither APA nor the contract can guarantee the promised payment of the premium being offered."

"We have reached out [to the union]. We've made contact through several different channels and look forward to the opportunity to work on this issue together," Miller told NPR. 

Shares for American Airlines fell after the airline announced earlier this year that it would raise pay for pilots and flight attendants. It is unclear how much the increases the airline promised for the holiday season would cost the company and how investors will react to the additional increase, if any. The airline's shares were flat following news of the scheduling glitch, ending the day up less than 0.1 percent.

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American Airlines isn't the first carrier to encounter this scheduling error. In September, similar pilot-scheduling problems forced budget airline Ryanair to cancel nearly 2,000 flights, stranding thousands of travelers, reports CNBC. According to NPR, Bloomberg reported that the airline's mistake was likely to cost it $30 million. 

Sources: Reuters, CNBC, NPR / Featured Image: LoadedAaron/Flickr / Embedded Images: Tom Ballard/Flickr, Nan Palmero/Flickr

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