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Who wants to fly American Airlines?

By Jim Barnett and Katia Hetter, CNN
October 2, 2012 -- Updated 1944 GMT (0344 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Broken coffee pots and reading lights, torn seat pockets could be delaying flights
  • More than 1,000 American flights have been canceled and 12,000 delayed in the past month
  • Some travel agents have started directing their customers away from American Airlines

(CNN) -- American Airlines is making Karen O'Laughlin a little nervous.

O'Laughlin, a longtime fan of the airline, already bought her American plane ticket to fly from St. Louis to New York to visit her grandsons next month.

"I choose American because it's a straight flight, no stops, and it's the right time, (but) I do have some angst about my flight being canceled," she said.

Who wants to fly American?

The troubled airline has been beset by labor troubles, delays and flight cancellations and, most recently, two aircraft that couldn't keep several seats in place.

Loose seats cause airline scare
American Airlines seats come loose again

American, which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late last year, persuaded a judge to throw out its contract with the pilots union last month. Since then, the pilots have been engaging in what the airline calls a slowdown that has caused the number of flights that are delayed and canceled to skyrocket.

Broken coffee pots and reading lights, torn seat pockets and precautionary maintenance checks that lead to nothing wrong: Those are some of the complaints by pilots that are slowing American flights, according to spokesman Bruce Hicks.

American Airlines plane makes emergency landing

"Clearly, our operation is nowhere near where we want it to be, where it has historically been and the kind of quality operation American Airlines runs day in and day out," Hicks told CNN in an interview two weeks ago. "We are working as hard as we can to try and mitigate this and do all we can to resolve it. We certainly understand; we very much do apologize for any delay or cancellation that we have seen."

The solution, Hicks said, is for the pilots to stop their slowdown. The airline threatened last week to seek an injunction in court, if the pilots union doesn't "take steps to end the disruption of American's operations by some pilots," according to a letter to the union from Denise Lynn, American's senior vice president/people.

Customers are piling on

Stories of American employees making choices that upset their customers are starting to proliferate, possibly driving existing customers away.

In his "Friends Don't Let Friends Fly American Airlines" blog post on Slate, Matthew Yglesias wrote of a delayed first flight turning into a missed connection because the pilot chose to leave rather than let a group of passengers on board two minutes before his scheduled departure time.

At least that flight left on time.

Gary Shteyngart described a trans-Atlantic flight that should have taken a few hours turning into a 30-hour Kafkaesque ordeal that included a stop in a third country. Aeroflot came off looking good in his absurdly humorous New York Times tale.

Travel agents shying away

Travel agents say they can't count on American flights to depart -- or those that do depart to land on time. So they started directing their customers away from American after the troubled airline began canceling flights last month. In the past month, more than 1,000 American flights have been canceled and 12,000 delayed.

"It's just getting too risky with the threat of probable cancellations on the horizon," said Jay Johnson, president of Coastline Travel Advisors, a Virtuoso travel agency in Garden Grove, California, that temporarily halted sales of American tickets until "we have confidence that there will not be widespread cancellations."

"It's an unfortunate situation, as we really don't have a lot of other options, especially to the Caribbean, where they dominate the market," he said. "To be proactive, we are in the process of looking for alternative flights for those passengers who have booked refundable tickets."

Why did aircraft seats get loose?

Passengers already feeling the bumpy impact of that labor dispute had another concern over the weekend when a row of seats dislodged during a flight and prompted an emergency landing, the airline said Monday.

A Boeing 757 from Boston to Miami carrying 175 passengers diverted to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport on Saturday when three seats in row 12 came loose shortly after takeoff. A second American Boeing 757 returned to JFK on Monday morning after a similar seats issue was discovered.

"An initial internal investigation into why a row of seats became loose on two American Airlines Boeing 757s has indicated that there could be a possible issue with a certain model of seats and how they fit into the tracking used to secure the seats," the airline said in a statement. "Out of an abundance of caution, American has decided to proactively reinspect eight 757s today that could possibly have this same issue. The seats were installed by American maintenance and contract maintenance. The issue does not seem to be tied to any one maintenance facility or one work group.

"This afternoon, the company flew engineers, tech crew chiefs and inspectors from its Tulsa maintenance base to New York to evaluate the aircraft and determine the next course of action to correct the problem."

The Allied Pilots Association, the largest independent pilot union and a certified collective bargaining agent for the 10,000 American pilots, said the interior overhaul of the Boston plane was performed by third-party maintenance workers, according to spokesman Gregg Overman.

'I'm not looking for headaches'

One Atlanta-based travel agent shifted one set of clients traveling to Europe this fall from an American flight to a Delta flight.

"Price was about the same. American had a slightly better schedule, but I am not looking for headaches and canceled flights are big headaches."

"In our business, it is very hard to recommend something that you know is not certain," wrote the travel agent, who didn't want to be named, in an e-mail. "Any time you have labor disputes and/or financial problems, the dependability factor goes down."

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