As vaccination rates climb and pandemic woes descend, American Airlines has run into some turbulence. The airline reportedly plans to cancel close to a thousand flights in the coming weeks, apparently due in large part to labor shortages.
Flight Aware reported American cancelled 188 flights on Sunday June 20th alone and delayed 755 or about a quarter of the number scheduled. Though the airline has suggested it will only cancel between 50 and 80 per day going forward and emphasized that this is only a fraction of its operations, this amounts to hundreds of flights and thousands of inconvenienced or displaced passengers.
An American Airlines spokesperson told Newsweek, “We made targeted changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation.”
“The first few weeks of June have brought unprecedented weather to our largest hubs, heavily impacting our operation and causing delays, canceled flights and disruptions to crew member schedules and our customers’ plans.”
While travel numbers skyrocket as restrictions ease and Americans feel more comfortable taking to the skies again, a major labor shortage seems to be decimating the airline’s ability to keep up. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) now consistently reports traveler counts around two million per day, versus around a quarter of that a year ago.
Though unemployment dropped again in May to 5.8% and gains were reportedly made in leisure and hospitality, these levels are still well above pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels: February 2020 showed a 3.5% unemployment rate. Nine months ago, American Airlines reportedly furloughed 19,000 employees, including 1,600 pilots. Just two months later, after receiving government-backed pandemic aid, the airline called those employees back. Now CNN reports a spokesperson for the airline blames its cancellations on vendor understaffing.
While speculation runs rampant on social media about why this labor shortage—across many industries—is happening despite widespread availability of vaccines and strong science supporting their success, a concrete reason has yet to emerge.
Some pundits suggest workers are unwilling to return to work because of increased unemployment and pandemic aid payouts while others suggest that money saved staying in during the pandemic is allowing a decentralized form of strike—that workers are generally unwilling to return to what are seen as relatively low wages and uncomfortable working conditions.
American Airlines has been criticized in part because of the company’s acceptance of billions through the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) bailout to stay afloat during the pandemic crisis while still furloughing employees and paying its CEO nearly $11 million. Though much of the criticism seemed misinformed, the airline did report its own acceptance of $5.8 billion in funding—including a direct grant of $4.1 billion and additional low-interest loans—from the U.S. Treasury. It did not, however, have as many involuntary layoffs as were suggested.
While some criticisms have cited as many as 30,000 layoffs, the company’s 19,000 furloughs were called back and the 13,000 warned of possible layoffs were not let go. The airline did document tens of thousands fewer jobs than the previous year but attributed this loss to voluntary departures through early-release programs. It told Snopes that only approximately 5,000 involuntary layoffs were made and that those mostly management and administrative positions were eliminated entirely.
The Allied Pilots Association sees it a bit differently. The union warned American Airlines in advance of the rapid recovery that the combination of early retirements and the need to certify pilots before they are cleared to fly after a break in service. American had 1,000 pilots accept early retirement offers in addition to the 1,600 who were furloughed during the height of the pandemic.
Flight Aware has an aptly named Misery Map showing the hubs with the most cancellations—at time of writing, problem spots include the AA hubs of Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), with other issues sprinkled throughout the network.
Though the company seems to be emphasizing weather as a leading cause for cancellations, this may be because weather provides a valid reason to cancel a flight without legally requiring the airline to make accommodations for travelers—a widespread labor shortage, however, may not provide the same leeway.
This article originally appeared on Forbes