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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Loose Seats Just The Latest Snafu For American Airlines

Seats from an American Airlines 757 are carried before receiving “Main Cabin Extra Refurbishment” at Logan International Airport in Boston in October. (AP/WBZ-TV)

Seats that came loose during three separate American Airlines flights in the last week are drawing attention to problems at the country’s third largest airline. American says that improperly installed clamps caused the seats to come loose and two planes had to make emergency landings, though no one was hurt.

Adding More Seats

The seats were installed by an outside contractor, and TIME Magazine’s Bill Saporito says that American was trying to fit more seats into the plane.

“American, like other airlines, is trying to restructure its seating so you get more of those premium coach seats so they were moving seats around and when they re-installed them this one clamp was not put on correctly,” he told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

Delays And Cancellations

In addition to the issue with the seats, American’s on-time arrivals, flights that land within 15 minutes of schedule, have dropped to under 60 percent. American has also reduced its capacity by as much as 2 percent through October to try to cut down on delays and cancellations.

Meanwhile, an American flight from Chicago to London was diverted to Ireland after reports of smoke in the cabin, which American attributed to a faulty fan in an entertainment system. The airline is also planning thousands of layoffs.

Bankruptcy and Labor Disputes

American Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection last November to reduce labor costs, and two out of the airline’s three unions were forced to accept concessions. The flight attendants no longer have pensions, and they have agreed to work more and pay more for their health care.

The pilots union has held out in labor talks, which started back up after a recent deadlock with management. Management has blamed the pilots’ union for some of the delays and cancellations. The New York Times reports that pilots have been taking more sick leave, and are filing more requests for maintenance, though the pilots deny that they are taking actions to hurt American’s performance.

“All the employees are very very unhappy with this company, the culture is really poisoned right now,” Saporito said, pointing out that the unions have conceded a lot in recent years.

“They’ve given up before. In 2003 they gave back a lot. [The attendants and the grounds workers] have in fact seen reality and  given up a lot. Pilots are willing to give up a lot, it’s just a question of how much is a lot right now,” he said. “American needs to pull [more than a billion dollars] out of labor costs. And it will, it’s just a matter of how you get there.”

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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