American Airlines passengers can tell you that the airline is flying through some unusually strong turbulence. On September 4th, a federal judge ruled that American’s management could, under the rules of Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings, tear up the contract the airline had signed with its pilots. They were also allowed to make some serious benefits and wage cuts. The Pilots union is furious and they are openly advocating that American’s passengers might be best served by merging with US Air.
Since early September, there has been a huge escalation in the number of pilots calling in sick. Maintenance claims are way up, particularly those maintenance reports that require the personal attention of a mechanic, delaying outbound flights. The result has been, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, that just over half of American’s flights have been taking off on time and 5% have been outright canceled.
Added to this is a sudden breakout of seat malfunctions on American’s aging fleet of 757′s, a workhorse aircraft critical for longer domestic and some international flights. Just why so many seat bolts in the floor seem to be coming apart at about the same time is a matter of conjecture. Amereican’s spokesperson blames it on spilled drinks that corrode the fastenings.
Some of the better reporters on this story have correctly focused on the fact that, like most of their competitors, American has been outsourcing mechanical work on its aircraft, including everything from seat bolts to engine overhauls, to save money. That is the real story and the loose seats are only symptomatic of a large and increasingly serious safety issue that plagues the nation’s carriers.
Before boarding an aircraft, and given the technology we now possess, wouldn’t it be wonderful if passengers could Google where their aircraft was last worked on and what the safety record of that facility has been over the course of the last several years. Of course, that is information no airline is willing to share voluntarily with even its most frequent flyers.