US maintenance delays: which are legitimate?
As many of you probably know, American has huge problems with their mechanics. They are currently in a labor dispute, and management and unions will be in court from tomorrow.
Although American had a restraining order against their mechanics in recent weeks, it does not seem to have improved operations much. This is no surprise to me, since the mechanics vehemently deny that they are doing anything to cause an increase in mechanical problems.
My articles on American mechanics received a lot of feedback and in many cases frustrated travelers shared their experiences. I think it’s important to note that while American has seen a massive increase in maintenance delays and cancellations, of course there are still “legitimate” maintenance issues. So not all maintenance issues at American are part of their current labor issues.
In this article, I wanted to share my take on the circumstances in which I assume a maintenance issue is ‘real’, versus situations where I think it may be part of a contract dispute. Let me note that this is partly seeing data regarding hubs, and partly based on anecdotal evidence.
Of course, the American mechanics would 100% dispute what I’m saying, since they say nothing is happening.
On days when I fly an American, I have a “process” that I am going through to assess the chances of there being a serious maintenance delay, so let’s go over a few things. Let me again clarify that I am generalizing here, so there will always be exceptions.
Here are some considerations:
Do you fly American Eagle or American Eagle?
If you are traveling with American Eagle, the US regional affiliate, this will usually not affect you. This is because American Eagle has separate mechanics with separate contracts, and they are not part of this dispute.
So when I had a mechanic Saturday on American Eagle which resulted in a delay of several hours, I knew it was “legitimate”.
Are you traveling via an American hub or US Airways?
Currently, there are two separate mechanic contracts at American. The “old” American mechanics have one contract, and the “old” US Airways mechanics have another contract.
In general, I have found that there appear to be more maintenance-related cancellations at legacy US hubs than at US Airways hubs.
I have found that New York, Chicago, Miami and Dallas seem to be the worst when it comes to this maintenance dispute. During this time, I found Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Phoenix to be some of the best.
When is the maintenance problem discovered?
Sometimes you will have problems which will be discovered at the door, while sometimes the main cabin door will close, you will push back and then the pilots will get some kind of error message.
Typically, if a maintenance issue is discovered after the door is closed, it is unlikely to be part of this dispute. Why? Because the pilots are not part of this contractual dispute and it is not to their advantage to return to the boarding gate.
Where did your plane park overnight?
I found that there was a strong correlation between planes at rest at night (especially on older US hubs) and mechanical issues.
If your plane flies continuously (like running a red eye), or if it spends the night at a remote station or non-traditional U.S. hub, there’s less chance there’s a problem.
These are the situations where the aircraft remains on the ground for a long time, especially at one of the hubs above, where the most problems seem to arise.
Mechanics often do some sort of work on the plane at night, which gives them plenty of opportunities to find things wrong and not “sign” on the plane.
What does the pilot say?
There is something to be said about the way pilots communicate during delays that should give you an idea of what is going on. This will not be the case in all areas, but as a general rule:
- If the pilots don’t seem terribly frustrated and / or say that maintenance is working on whatever the problem is, the odds are good, it’s legitimate.
- If the pilots seem frustrated and / or say things like “we’re just waiting to see if maintenance is going to sign the plane”, “I don’t know why they even started to board because the plane was there overnight and still has problems ”, and so on. there is a good chance that this is part of this situation
A concrete example
This weekend, I flew from Miami to Charlotte round trip on the US mainline (and I had connections, but they were on American Eagle).
The night before my flight from Miami to Charlotte, I looked to see where the plane was coming from. He was coming from Havana the day before and I had a bad feeling. Uh oh… an American plane at rest overnight in a city with frustrated mechanics (Miami).
And I was right… the plane ended up being taken out of service because the mechanics didn’t want to approve it.
When I got back, I felt much better. I looked where the plane was coming from for my Charlotte-Miami flight. I thought he was from Dallas, which sounded like bad news. But I also realized that she only had a short connection in Dallas, and that she had rested the night before in Fort Lauderdale. All of this is good news:
- Fort Lauderdale is not an airport with many American mechanics, so it is likely that no work was done there.
- The connections to Dallas and Charlotte were both less than an hour long, so it’s likely the mechanics won’t come into contact with the plane unless the pilots tell them to.
Indeed, the return flight is on time.
At the end of the line
The above is my take on where mechanics seem to play the most games. It is not a definitive guide to when a maintenance issue is “legitimate” and when it is not. Instead, it’s meant to give you a general idea of the chances of things going a certain way.
Do you fly American Eagle, was a maintenance issue discovered after the door was closed and / or does the aircraft operating your flight have mostly short connections that day? If a mechanic comes up, it probably has nothing to do with this dispute.
Are you using the US main line, was a maintenance problem discovered even before boarding began, did the mechanics not sign the plane and / or the plane? he spent the night in a former American hub? There’s a good chance it has to do with the American labor dispute.
I don’t recommend judging based on any of the above points individually, but a combination of several factors should give you a general idea of the situation.
Does anyone have any other experiences to share regarding American mechanics lately?