Last week I felt bad for American Airlines. Its fortress rub of Dallas got hit with an ice storm, and Texas is just not used to and set up to cope that well with such extremes. I was in DFW myself on business on Thursday as the storm arrived, and while my flight home to RDU was cancelled I managed to get on a flight out to Baltimore to avoid the chaos. I was glad I did, as for the next several days DFW descended into chaos.

One can be sympathetic with highly unusual weather, but I’ve been flying American on a regular basis since I moved to the USA in 2006, making it’s top Executive Platinum tier on many occasions sometimes through miles flown and sometimes through segments (a painful 110 segments in 2007), and through that extensive experience I have come to conclude American Airlines is way too trigger happy in canceling flights and blaming it on the “weather” (which essentially gives them a hall pass in canceling the flight).

I am supposed to be flying to New York in the morning. The forecast calls for flurries in the NYC area. This afternoon I got a notice from AA that my flight had already been canceled! Once again I suspected AA was getting trigger happy on the weather cancelations. I decided to tweet @AmericanAir to ask why my flight had been canceled and sure enough they said weather delays:

 

If the promised snow was indeed the real cause of the problem then I would have to assume that American decided to cancel all of it’s flights on this route tomorrow morning. AA has a 6am, a 7:05am and an 8:10am. I was booked on the 8:10am (I’m too old to be waking up at 4am to catch the 6am). So one would think that all three of those flights would be canceled. But lo and behold it looks like only two of them are:

AA Flights

 

So let’s given them the benefit of the doubt – maybe AA use uber sophisticated weather predictions techniques to predict that the 6am and 8:10am are just going to hit against too much snow, but in between things are going to ease off and that 7:05am will sneak through just fine.

So let’s see if what is no longer the world’s biggest airline Delta has the same sophisticated weather prediction technology??? Here are their flights for tomorrow morning:

Delta Flights

 

Wait a minute…. someone should tell Delta that there is big snow tomorrow! Or maybe, just maybe, Delta is more willing to give the flights a chance in the hope they can get all those passengers that are booked tomorrow morning to where they want to be.

You see weather delays when flying are inevitable. Weather can cause serious problems, and I am glad in this day and age airlines don’t try heroics like flying into storms that planes are not designed to handle. But on the other hand, I really, really do not like being lied to, and over the years I have come to believe that American flat out lies about weather in order to cancel flights and reduce their operational risks and problems.

I decided to tease the highly rated AA Twitter about this particular situation, pointing out that Delta was able to fly, so maybe they were flying to some other version of New York:

But then the response was quite telling:

 

They blamed the fake weather cancelation on the problems at DFW. Now to the uneducated this might seem quite plausible. AA is based in DFW so problems there affect their entire network right? Well wrong, actually. The RDU-LGA is an American Eagle route, using a bunch of Embraer and Canadair regional jets. The flights to and fro between the likes of New York, Raleigh, Charlotte, Nashville, Toronto, Montreal etc. These jets have probably never been to Dallas in their working life. DFW could have been taken over by aliens, and this network would be untouched. Sorry to say it @AmericanAir, but I caught you flat out lying.

Their final tweet was a typical PR piece – all fluff, but sadly could not be further from the truth:

I would not be writing this point if this was a one-off. But no I have found over many years of flying with them that American has a bias towards canceling too quickly and blaming weather whenever it can so it can avoid compensating or helping the resulting stranded passengers. One thing I really hope out of the new US Air leadership is that their philosophy of “bias for action” will penetrate the old AA culture and change this. And I certainly hope the @AmericanAir team learn to differentiate between trying to smooth over a bad situation and flat out lying.

Update: I decided to check again this morning to see if the predicted snow was causing any chaos in LaGuardia. Here is what the FAA airport status showed:

LaGuardia Status

 

So as you can see absolutely no problems in LGA. Delta’s flights all continue to run on time. Down the road in Charlotte the new sheriffs in the AA town, US Airways, have no cancellations. I have no doubt whatsoever this was an operational cancelation by AA and they are covering it up as “weather”. Very bad form from AA, but certainly not atypical of their behavior.

UPDATE 2: My rebooked flight got canceled too. Now here is some further evidence that Delta just does a better job of getting people moving than AA. Look at this from FlightAware.com. GoJet is Delta’s regional partner on this route. All the canceled flights are AA, Delta is getting everyone else moving with delays:

AA Cancellations Galore

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  • Let me get this straight…they are still blaming a weather event in Dallas that ended Friday morning for flight cancellations on Tuesday? I realize it stayed unseasonably cold there, but surely they can manage to find a way to melt some ice at one of the country’s biggest airports in 3-4 days!

    FYI, it is snowing here in the NYC area right now, and visibility is very low. But LGA is only showing some departure delays (including a laughable 5 hours and 29 minutes to EWR), not arrival delays. Delta’s 7:55 flight is in the air, expected to arrive about 18 minutes late. The 9:00am flight is delayed.

    Glad you made it home Thursday from Dallas. I was supposed to get home Friday night (on American), but ended up getting home Saturday… on Southwest, who was operating more or less normally out of DAL by then.

    • MilesAbound

      Yes they pulled out the DFW ice storm story four days later on a regional flight that has nothing to do with DFW. Delta and US Air always seem to do their best to get a flight out, AA and UA tend to just cancel at the first sign of trouble. I realized DFW was going to be a disaster last week so I just got on whatever flight I could (ended up in Baltimore) and then made my way back to RDU the following morning. All the direct flights between DFW and RDU were canceled for two days. Amazing out WN can operate fine but not AA? Like I say I would not call this out if I didn’t truly believe it was systemic and cultural at AA.

      Oh and the biggest irony is they rebooked me on the 2:35pm today…. which just got canceled. No doubt “weather” again. Even though Delta and US are managing their operations fine. I hope the US operational culture takes over at AA.

      • I suspect that if seriously pressed on the issue, they’d play the Safety card. “Safety is our #1 priority, and we … blah blah blah” and people would say “Oh, safety! Good!” and that would be that. People are dumb.

        I have only flown on US Air a few times in my life, but I hope they have better IT systems than AA. They put up a shiny new website and mobile app, but I think behind the scenes their systems are antiquated and inadequate. Unlike United, AA doesn’t allow (free) online re-booking when there is a weather-related event. What’s worse, when they rebooked my cancelled flight, they a) didn’t inform me of it through ANY means, and b) won’t show the updated itinerary on their website (because “changes may have been made outside of aa.com”) or in their mobile app. Furthermore, once I got my flight secured on SWA, I wasn’t able to cancel my AA itinerary on their web site; every attempt resulted in an error.

  • The snow is supposed to stop this afternoon, well before that cancelled 8:15pm arrival. Guess there is something at DFW causing a problem. (Hint: the problem IS at DFW: it’s call AA management.)

    • MilesAbound

      ROFL that one cracked me up. You are absolutely right. I do hope things get better under the new management. I am optimistic they will. Although Parker is a frugal guy, he is also about getting stuff done. Current AA management is just all about protecting themselves.

  • Elaine

    Great post and discussion. Will you make future reservations based on what you have gleaned from this experience and analysis?

    I hope this post gets lots of attention because that may be the only way anything will change. AA needs to know people are tracking this kind of thing. Hopefully the new regime will make it better eventually.

  • Not a fan

    I have found AA to cancel flights for these reason often. I had an international flight from CDG a few years ago, and it was really empty. It was canceled. The gate agent confided in me that this happens when it reaches a certain load. AA refused to entertain any compensation. Also, I have found with compensation issues if you hear about a delay look for mechanics, believe it or not AA will try to hid them from passengers so as to claim its not mechanical. AA can be really sneaky. Before they went bankrupt they would load the aircraft with half the water needed for the toilets/sinks so as to save on fuel. AA is very dirty in this way. They are also the most aggressive in stealing frequent flyer accounts for terms and conditions violations when the flyer has large account balances. They have an aggressive, i.e. freebie give away PR department with bloggers and so these things are not often discussed with these bloggers. You will rarely hear about how they are taking away space from first class domestic both in number of seats and amount of space, or increasing the coach across seating in the 777W and the old 767-200.
    I commend you for bringing some of this up here.

  • iAN

    Glad to see this post, I have felt this way as well, although I don’t have a whole lot of AA experience. Labor day Monday I was flying home JFK-ORF and they cancelled due to ‘weather’. I went to the lounge and suggested they rebook me on the Delta flight. The lounge agent tried, but as my ticket was booked with Avios, she had to check with BA first, and they said no go. I had a similar twitter conversation with them to yours. Something to the affect that the weather must have been better on Delta’s side of the airport, and of course I got a non-response out of them. In the end, the only solution they offered was to rebook us on the same flight the following day (only one JFK-ORF direct on AA each day). I took it, but then used a free rental car day and drove home in order to make it to work just a few hours late rather than missing an entire day.

  • My experience with them recently is mostly New York to Toronto or Montral via Avios and each time they have been the first airline to cancel with any hint of bad weather, which is common on those routes.

  • MilesAbound

    I was somewhat hesitant about making this post, thinking it could come off as “another blogger whining because things aren’t perfect”. But it seems to have struck a chord with even the most hardened travelers. I am glad it is just not me that has noticed this. My only hope for the future is, as I pointed out, Doug Parker’s philosophy of having a “bias for action” which suggests to me the new American should have a less conservative and more “can-do” attitude than the one that exists today

  • “In the first 10 months of 2013, American canceled 13.52 flights per 1,000, a rate that was 54 percent higher than US Airways’ 8.79 cancellations per 1,000. For the 12 months that ended Oct. 31, only 77.8 percent of American’s flights arrived on time or within 14 minutes of schedule. US Airways had 82 percent of its flights arrive within that window.”

    http://www.dallasnews.com/business/airline-industry/20131222-american-airlines-to-revamp-its-scheduling.ece

    I tried to find overall cancellation figures for a year, but they are eluding me. Hopefully in terms of cancellations the “New AA” gets more old US Air and less old AA.

  • Me again!
    According to this WSJ report, American was in fact the worst offender in cancelling flight in the 12 months ending October 2013 (so not including the DFW ice storm fiasco).

    Is it *possible* that AA got hit with a series of unfortunate events that necessitated more cancellations than other airlines? Maybe. But it’s probably not the case.

    Also the worst offenders for “2 hr tarmac delays” were American and US Air, but they did not perform as poorly in the “extreme delays” category. Perhaps because of their preference for cancelling outright?