Last week, Fort Worth-based American Airlines announced that 150 of its planes will remain grounded due to an ongoing pilot shortage – as we approach peak travel season.
To find out what this means for consumers, the Texas Standard spoke with Alexandra Skores, who covers business and airlines for the Dallas Morning News.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: So there’s a big pilot shortage at American Airlines. How much of this is an industry-wide problem?
Alexandra Skores: So the pilot shortage kind of dates back a couple of decades when most baby boomer pilots were hired out of the military in the 1980s. And that kind of left carriers with little worry for years to come. But then the airlines went through a crisis in 2013 when the FAA increased the number of flight hours required for a student to earn an air transport pilot license, the certification that’s needed to fly commercial jets.
Since then, you know, we’re still seeing that – and that’s not just exclusive to American. These are carriers across the board. And then add in a pandemic that we’re coming out of. So, again, not having enough pilots is really taking a toll on these airlines.
Of course, we have American, though, announcing 150 of its planes will remain grounded. Is it hitting American harder than other airlines, or what’s going on?
It’s pretty similar across the board. I mean, Southwest also said – their CEO, Bob Jordan, said – that 40 of its aircraft are also grounded. And for American, those 150 are also regional jets. So there are aircraft that are on the ground and the air carriers just can’t get all of those off the ground. So we’re going to be seeing that, you know, across the board. It’s not just one carrier that’s being burdened by this. It’s all of them trying to get still more jobs and have more competitive pay to get more pilots into these jobs.
Yeah. I mean, we were talking a moment ago about, well, what this might mean for the summer travel season. And I’ve been noticing the airports are jam-packed even when it’s not like a holiday travel season. So I’m wondering if there is any fix for this long term and what this might actually mean for people who already have flights booked on, say, American or other carriers?
Yeah, the pilot shortage, it’s going to take several years for it to really meet that equilibrium. You know, carriers are trying to hire as fast as they can. And then you also look at labor negotiations kind of factoring into that as well. When Delta announced their ratification of a contract, that kind of set the standard for other airlines. And now American has an agreement in principle as well with its pilots.
So that’s going to factor into your airfares a lot when you see the rising costs for how much they’re paying their pilots overall. Some experts are saying that could hit airfares as well. So along with heightened demand always comes heightened prices. But there are a couple of different factors playing into how that might affect consumers.
Should people be worried about their summer travel plans with American and Southwest grounding some of their planes?
Honestly, no. If you look at the stats for Memorial Day weekend, both Southwest and American did not have any major incidents or cancellations, delays. There was a small weather situation that, you know, made it unsafe to fly. But again, that’s routine, and that’s expected. As of right now, it seems like airlines are prepared for the summer. And we should see a really record level of demand going into what could be one of the busiest summers post-pandemic.