International headquarters

New American Airlines CEO Robert Isom promises reliability as peak travel season kicks off

An American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER takes off from Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, October 28, 2020.

Loren Elliot | Reuters

New American Airlines CEO Robert Isom is aiming for one thing this summer: reliability.

The airline grew faster than its larger competitors last year and passengers at times faced widespread disruption, the result of routine challenges like weather as well as staff shortages. Other carriers such as Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines faced similar issues that forced them to cut their schedules.

Now Isom, who took over as helm of America’s largest carrier on March 31, said his priority is to make sure passengers can rely on American this summer and beyond.

“People really need to feel like they’re in control of their routes and we put them in control by making sure they get to when they want to go. I can’t be more direct about that. than that,” Isom told the pilots. during a company town hall last week, which was reviewed by CNBC. “Other airlines are really struggling.”

American’s partner in the northeast US, JetBlue Airways, for example, told staff earlier this month it would cut summer flights by up to 10% to avoid repeat flights. cancellations and massive delays, CNBC reported. US codeshare partner on the West Coast, Alaska Airlines, announced a 2% capacity cut this spring due to a shortage of pilots.

Leisure leads the recovery

Air travel has increased and passengers have shown they are willing to pay for tickets after two years of the pandemic, a trend that is helping carriers cover rising fuel costs. On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.3 million people, down about 10% from 2019 but up 57% from a year ago.

Isom said domestic leisure travelers are compensating for relatively weaker business and international travel demand.

March seems to be the best American month in its history, he said. This echoed comments made by Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian when the airline released its results last week. American is expected to release its first-quarter results and provide its second-quarter outlook before market open Thursday.

American’s capacity in the first quarter was down nearly 11% from the same period in 2019, it said in a filing last week. Delta, for its part, expects to fly 84% of its 2019 capacity in the current quarter, up from 83% in the first quarter.

“The priority is to operate reliably,” Delta Chairman Glen Hauenstein said on an earnings call. “If these demand trends continue, we have the opportunity to gain another momentum or we could pivot in a different direction if warranted.”

US carriers rushed to recruit staff to handle the rebound in travel. The $54 billion in federal payroll support airlines won from Congress banned layoffs, but carriers urged thousands to take buyouts and extend furloughs.

Airlines are facing a shortage of pilots, especially for the smaller regional carriers that feed their hubs, which has forced them to cancel flights or limit their growth. Pilots from Delta, American and Southwest have been picketing or complaining of fatigue from grueling schedules in recent months.

Isom said American has enough staff of pilots, flight attendant mechanics and customer service agents to handle summer travel.

“We’ve brought the schedule up to a level that matches the resources we have,” Isom told crews.

Other challenges to growth include securing aircraft from manufacturers including Boeing, whose 787 Dreamliner deliveries have been halted for much of the past year and a half due to production defects. American said Boeing’s woes forced it to cut some long-haul international flights.

Minimize disruption

The airline has also been working on ways to avoid the cascading delays that have been so costly for the airline and passengers.

American has invested heavily in training and its integrated operations center, a command center at its headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, to avoid delays.

A solution to inclement weather, which is common at its main hub as well as major airports serving Miami and Charlotte, North Carolina, is to work with air traffic control to establish ground delay schedules that help avoid cancellations later, IOC chief Steve Olson said during the town hall.

Olson said accountability is key, and not just to measure how quickly the airline bounces back from the disruptions, but also to determine what the impact is on airline crews, who have complained about long dwell times. waiting with timetables and hotel services. Flight attendants or pilots not in position for inclement weather assignments have added to cancellations and delays.

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.