The airline experienced a tech glitch that left 15,000 flights without pilots the week of Christmas. Now, its pilots are filling many of the gaps

By Mackenzie Schmidt
November 30, 2017 12:47 PM
Los Angeles, CA, USA - Mar 29, 2014: American Airlines Boeing 777-200ER take off at LAX International Airport. The registration No. of this aircraft is N799AN.

American Airlines is hoping for a show of good will from its pilots this Christmas.

After a technical malfunction in a crew booking system allowed too many pilots to schedule vacation time the week of December 17 -31, it was reported yesterday that American had 15,000 flights scheduled without pilots to fly them — potentially wreaking havoc on its passengers’ holiday travel plans and causing chaos at airports.

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On Wednesday, American released a statement reassuring customers that it was “working diligently to address the issue” and that it expects to avoid cancellations.

“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,” said American Airlines spokesperson Ross Feinstein.

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Now, the airline says, it’s already managed to fill the majority of the pilot-less flights. “Out of the 200,000 flights American will operate in December, only a few hundred are currently unassigned to pilots,” Feinstein told PEOPLE Thursday. “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.”

They hope that reserve pilots — more of whom are on hand in the busy travel month of December — will pick up the remaining trips.

American has so far not canceled any scheduled flights. “We will continue to work to ensure both our pilots and our customers are cared for,” says Feinstein. 

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Long-distance travel (and air travel in particular) typically jumps by about 23% during the holiday period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Last year, the Economist reported, United States airlines were cumulatively projected to serve 42.5 million customers during the holiday season.