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Oops: Almost every American Airlines pilot will be on vacation during Christmas

November 30
04:04 2017

Will you be home for Christmas? It may depend on whether you booked a flight with American Airlines.

A union for the airline AAL, +0.06% said thousands of flights over the Christmas week have been left without pilots after a computer glitch allowed employees to schedule vacation time simultaneously. More than 15,000 flights between Dec. 17 and De. 31 could be canceled, an Allied Pilots Association union representative told Reuters. American didn’t respond to a request for comment.

It’s too soon to know how big of a problem this will be for American Airlines, which is reportedly offering pilots nearly double pay to pick up the holiday shifts, said Brian Sumers, airline expert at travel analysis site Skift.

“It is clear American goofed by allowing too many pilots to take time off for the holidays, and it sounds like its computer system is to blame,” he said. “I think we can expect American will do everything it can to fix this. Airlines take their public image seriously, and if American strands tens of thousands of passengers in December, it will not be good for the carrier’s future prospects.”

The potential delays and cancellations come after Thanksgiving travel hit a five-year high and Christmas travel is similarly expected to soar. Air traffic is expected to be the highest its been since 2013, a survey from Airfarewatchdog.com found, with 46% of people expected to fly (nearly double the number in 2015).

Travelers who haven’t yet booked holiday flights might consider another airline to be safe, Sumers said, though as it stands travel plans may not be affected at all. Mass cancellations like these can have long-term effects: Budget airline Ryanair still hasn’t fully recovered its reputation from the time it gave too many pilots vacation time and caused the cancellation of 2,100 flights in September. Still, until American announces whether any flights will be canceled, winter travelers should avoid canceling existing plans with the airline, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog said.

“I wouldn’t advise switching flights until American announces if they can resolve the issue,” he said. “I doubt it will be as bad as Ryanair’s similar pilot vacation issue, which did indeed strand thousands of passengers.”

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