American cancels flights as pilots call in sick

American's plan to get out of bankruptcy
American's plan to get out of bankruptcy

American Airlines has canceled more than 300 flights since Sunday and will cut back on the number of flights through the end of October, because pilots, unhappy with their labor contract, have started to call in sick, the airline said Wednesday.

The pilot's union had new rules imposed on it by the bankruptcy court after 7,500 pilots last month overwhelmingly rejected the tentative deal that their union, the Allied Pilots Association, had reached with management.

The new contract imposes more flying hours on pilots and allows American to have more flights flown by partner airlines instead of American flight crews. It also doesn't give them the equity stake in the airline or the profit sharing plan that were part of the tentative agreement the union rejected in August. American has also stopped making contributions to the pilots' pension plan and is considering freezing or terminating it.

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Members of other unions at American, representing flight attendants and ground workers, approved their own concession deals with the airline in August.

Airline spokesman Bruce Hicks said the airline is not aware of any organized job action by the pilots, but that there's been an increase in the number of pilots calling in sick. Hicks said there has also been an increase in flight crews filing maintenance reports on their aircraft, which is causing flights to be canceled.

He said the airline will reduce the seats it sells by up to 2% through the end of next month.

Tom Hoban, an American pilot and chairman of the union's communications team, denied that there is any increase in the number of pilots calling in sick compared to historical norms for the airline. He said any pilots calling in sick or filing maintenance reports are doing so on their own.

"This isn't being organized, supported or sanctioned by the union, period," he said.

He claimed management has declared war on the pilots. "When you have the type of scrutiny we have right now, you're going to dot your i's and cross your t's," he said.

The airline normally flies about 1,700 flights a day. Statistics from show American canceled 296 flights from Sunday through Tuesday, about 4% of its total, and that another 25% of flights were delayed 45 minutes or more. Another 21 had been canceled by midday Wednesday. Hicks could not confirm those numbers, but said that airline has already canceled about 250 flights from Tuesday through this coming weekend.

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A message to pilots from union President Keith Wilson on the union's Web site Tuesday stated, "The pilots of American Airlines are angry. While AMR management continues paying lip service to needing a consensual agreement with us, their punitive approach of extracting far more value than they need is hardly conducive to reaching a consensual agreement."

The union's site also advised pilots that " If you are unfit to come to work, protect yourself with a doctor's visit or some other kind of supporting documentation."

Industry experts have said that if the service disruptions get worse, American could lose revenue and key business customers. That could make a merger more likely, which the unions favor. American's management has said it is in discussions on a possible merger with US Airways (LCC), which has expressed interest in a deal.

The airline this week started sending notices to 11,000 of the unionized ground workers, letting them know they are at risk of losing their jobs by the end of the year. Hicks said only about 4,400 ground worker jobs will be cut. Labor law requires the letter be sent to any employee who could lose their job if a more senior employee were to transfer and take their position.

The airline is not planning involuntary layoffs of any pilots or flight attendants, Hicks said.

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American Airlines parent AMR (AAMRQ) filed for bankruptcy in November, 2011, citing the need to cut labor costs in order to be competitive with other carriers that have already gone through bankruptcy, including United Continental (UAL), Delta Air Lines (DAL) and US Airways.

CNN's Aaron Cooper contributed to this report.

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