An American Airlines pilot just said the quiet part out loud (it's not pretty)

Airlines are blaming so many things, beyond themselves, for continued disruption to flights. Their own employees make strong accusations.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Strong accusations.

(A screenshot from an American Airlines ad)

A screenshot from an American Airlines ad

Dare I ask if you've flown lately?

Dare I ask how it went?

Dare I ask why you're sitting there with gritted teeth, mouthing curses toward high-flying brand names? 

Another week of airline disruption is supposedly becalmed. Before another week of airline disruption staggers into the air.

To recap: airlines say they have staff shortages, the weather has been terrible and air traffic control is an understaffed mess.

Yet listen to their employees and they might murmur a different dirge. 

I couldn't help but be rendered insensate by an interview given by Capt. Dennis Tajer. He's an American Airlines pilot. He's also the communications committee chairman of the pilots' union, the Allied Pilots Association.

Appearing on CNBC, Tajer offered many musings, uttered with the practiced mien of a detective who believes he's finally nailed the killer.

Even though American Airlines have offered its pilots a hearty raise -- some 17% -- Tajer insisted no negotiation had yet taken place. He then described how much the pilots currently adore their management.

He said: "What we're all fighting for is to have a more reliable airline and one that actually lives up to our passengers' deep investment with their tickets to get them from A to B."

Yes, but you're also fighting for more money that comes from those tickets, surely.

Tajer, however, had only just begun. He described a recent day when his own airline was responsible for 44% of the nation's flight cancellations.

"90% of them was because management couldn't connect the pilot to the airplane," he insisted. This, he added, shows "a failure of the operation."

Oddly, quite a few pilots from various airlines are accusing their employers of grotesque incompetence.

Tajer, though, made an accusation that will surely hurt any passenger whose flight has been canceled or seriously disrupted.

"The problem is that they've sold tickets that they don't have the ability to fly," he said.

Was he accusing Americans of deliberately selling tickets that it knows will only get passengers from A to A, rather than A to B? But airlines promised, not so long ago, to never, ever oversell flights again.

Surely no airline would do such a thing. Surely no airline could have anticipated that human beings, after years of being cooped up because of a pandemic, would want to stretch their wings a little.

Well, Tajer insisted that American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said in a recent quarterly call: "We're perfectly staffed for the summer."

Oddly, Delta's CEO Ed Bastian said something similar.

Could it be, then, that Tajer's accusation may harbor a lurking truth? He says American "built an untenable schedule."

For passengers who booked in good faith -- many of them flying for the first time since the pandemic -- such dark notions are uncomfortable.

Passengers might even wonder if some airlines knew that many flights would be canceled.

Some airline executives may have also wondered whether palming travel vouchers onto disappointed passengers could result in, well, some of those vouchers never being used. 

It's slightly harder, of course, to sympathize with airline pilots -- who tend to be quite well paid -- than with, say, flight attendants.

But when an airline cancels your flight due to "operational difficulties," it's fair to wonder just how many of those difficulties were created by the airline itself.

Perhaps I could leave you with an official statement.

After the airlines complained about the alleged deficiencies in air traffic control operations, the Federal Aviation Administration offered this view: "After receiving $54 billion in pandemic relief to help save the airlines from mass layoffs and bankruptcy, the American people deserve to have their expectations met."

I fear one or two passengers may echo this sentiment.

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