Business

'You won't care two months from now': Analyst says American will bounce back fast after CLT chaos

American Airlines announced Tuesday that its regional carrier "has stabilized its computer systems" and is working to restore flights and get back to regular operations.

The computer problem was tied to the crew scheduling and tracking system at PSA Airlines, a wholly-owned subsidiary that operates flights under the American Eagle brand. The issue is with hardware at PSA's headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, and it has left the carrier unable to get flight crews and planes matched up.

About 2,750 PSA flights across various airports had been canceled since Thursday, when issues began, according to American Airlines.

That includes about 200 canceled departures from Charlotte on Tuesday, a number American said it expects to "dramatically reduce" on Wednesday.

"The process of getting back to operating their full schedule is expected to take several days as we work to get aircraft and crews where they need to be," American Airlines said in a news release Tuesday afternoon.

The canceled flights stranded hundreds of passengers in Charlotte. Travelers were forced to sleep at the airport and many posted angry comments on social media. One woman even broke an airport window out of frustration.

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But the canceled flights will have zero long-term impact on American Airlines, said travel analyst Joe Brancatelli.

“Customers have short memories, and, apparently, that’s what American is banking on,” he said. “You won’t care two months from now.”

That’s because customers either will not have flight options other than PSA or the PSA flight would be cheapest, he said.

United suffered no long-term damage when a passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight last year, he added.

“So if something that appalling doesn’t cost an airline business, why would this?”

Brancatelli criticized American Airlines for not offering travel waivers, which would allow customers to choose other flights.

Travel waivers are common during severe weather, and proactively allows a customer to change a flight, he said.

Typically, American Airlines issues waivers for an entire airport, said spokeswoman Katie Cody.

Because the canceled flights only involved one regional carrier, it didn’t apply to the majority of Charlotte passengers, she said.

That’s why American Airlines decided to work one-on-one with passengers, she said.

The company offered refunds, alternative solutions and were able to get some passengers switched to either main line flights or other regional carriers, she said.

The problems at PSA highlight how crucial the often-overlooked regional airlines operating smaller planes are to the major carriers and their jumbo jets.

Regional airlines funnel large numbers of passengers to hubs like Charlotte, where they connect to other planes to reach their final destination.

At Charlotte Douglas, regional carriers account for about 55 percent of American Airline's daily schedule. PSA operates about 12 percent of American’s 6,700 daily flights, American Airlines said.

Although they operate as separate companies with different pay scales for pilots and other employees, the regional airlines are, in the eyes of travelers, usually indistinguishable from the airlines whose names they bear.

Many, like PSA, are completely owned by a major carrier as well.


Correction

An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that there were 6,700 daily flights from Charlotte. There are 6,700 daily American flights across various airports.
Cassie Cope: 704-358-5926, @cassielcope
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