American Airlines announced they need to cancel flights due to “unprecedented weather” among other reasons in recent days and in the coming weeks ahead. However, no American Airline hub has experienced any unprecedented weather nor is any forecast.
“The first few weeks of June have brought unprecedented weather to our largest hubs, heavily impacting our operation and causing delays, canceled flights and disruptions to crew member schedules and our customers’ plans,” Shannon Gilson, a spokesperson for the airline, told reporters.
Last Saturday, American Airlines canceled 120 flights. Moving forward, the airline says it expects to cancel 50-80 flights every day throughout July.
However, it may be more accurate to say staffing issues and not the weather is responsible for the service cuts. During the 2020 pandemic, American Airlines shed 23,500 employees that voluntarily took exit packages from the carrier. In addition, when federal paycheck protections expired for the airlines in October, they let go or furloughed an additional 19,000 employees. American Airlines had threatened to let another 13,000 employees go earlier this year, but additional bail-out money from the federal government prevented that.
When weather is blamed for irregular operations, the airline gets off the hook by declaring the situation an “Act of God.” When an Act of God is declared, the airline doesn’t need to provide any type of compensation, food credit, or sleeping accommodations if flight schedules are impacted for something outside of their control.
While there is no federal compensation requirement for airlines when passengers are delayed due to mechanical reasons or staffing shortages, the airline’s individual contract of carriage can provide other benefits. In the case of American Airlines, “if the delay is our fault or you’re diverted to another city, and we don’t board before 11:59 p.m. local time on your scheduled arrival day, we’ll arrange an overnight stay or cover the cost of an approved hotel, if available.” While American won’t provide anything for a weather-related issue, they will “make every reasonable effort to ensure you have food (such as crackers or biscuits), water, access to the restroom and basic medical assistance if needed” in the event of a schedule change in their control, such as a staffing shortage.
If passengers find that their flight delays or cancellations are due to staffing shortage and not weather, but weather is used as an excuse, passengers can file a complaint against their airline with the Department of Transportation. After confirming weather is fine at your city of departure and arrival and along the planned route on a weather website, passengers can complain to the Department of Transportation if the airline doesn’t provide appropriate level of support, such as basic food, water, or overnight accomodations, if needed. DOT requires airlines to acknowledge consumer complaints within 30 days of receiving them and to send consumers written responses addressing these complaints within 60 days of receiving them. A DOT complaint can be made on their website here.