American Airlines indicated it is well on its way to resolving the pilot-staffing situation related to holiday season flights, saying it is down to just “a few hundred” unassigned flights and expects the number of uncovered flights to keep decreasing.

However, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents 14,500 American pilots, disputed this claim. “All I can say is we’re looking at Sabre [American’s reservations system] and we can clearly see where flights are assigned to pilots,” APA spokesperson Gregg Overman told ATW. “We’re still seeing thousands of flights being unassigned for the month of December.”

APA revealed this week that the Dallas/Fort Worth-based carrier had “significant holes” in its December flying schedule because of a technical failure in its pilot scheduling system. As of Nov. 29, APA said American had approximately 15,000 flights that were not staffed during the Dec. 17-31 period because the scheduling system allowed too many flight deck crew to take vacation at the same time.

American said in a Nov. 30 statement that is has “not canceled any scheduled flights in December,” noting, “Out of the 200,000 flights American will operate in December, only a few hundred are currently unassigned to pilots. That number of open flights continues to decrease thanks to our pilots who are stepping up to the plate and picking up trips to ensure customers are taken care of … In addition, we have more reserve pilots on hand in December than normal months and they provide us with the ability to fly many of the trips that are currently uncovered.”

American is paying pilots who pick up the uncovered flights 150% of their hourly pay, which management said is allowed under the pilots’ labor contract.

While individual pilots are free to accept uncovered flights under American management’s terms, APA maintains that the terms do not comply with the labor contract. The terms contain “a lot of arbitrary stuff that just isn’t in the contract,” Overman said.

In contrast to American’s suggestion that the problem is well under control, APA said in a Nov. 30 statement that it remains “seriously concerned” about “significant schedule disruption” over the holidays.

The union will not stop pilots from accepting uncovered flights under the current terms, but it will not encourage them to do so, Overman said.

“We’re definitely hopeful it will be resolved,” Overman said. “The right approach would be [for American management] to sit down [with APA] and work something out.”

[UPDATE: American, APA reach agreement to avert holiday flight cancellations]

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com