FORT WORTH, Texas – American Airlines says it's canceling about 200 flights Saturday but will have all of its MD-80 jets back in service by late afternoon.
Saturday's cancellations bring to almost 3,300 the number of flights the Fort Worth-based airline has canceled since Tuesday.
The cancellations started Tuesday when the nation's largest airline yanked 300 planes out of service to bring them up to federal safety standards on wrapping electrical wires to prevent fires.
The airline's mechanics and FAA inspectors cleared more of the planes to return to service today. American says 226 of its MD-80s were back in service by this morning, and it expects the rest to be ready by tomorrow night.
American thought it had done the needed repair work two weeks ago, when it scrubbed more than 400 flights. But the Federal Aviation Administration said wiring still wasn't properly secured and stowed in wheel wells.
The loudest complaints have come from the airline's own employees.
The pilots union took out full-page newspaper ads that asked, "Why is American Airlines Failing Its Customers?"
Flight attendants have renewed a campaign against stock bonuses for top executives.
There's nothing new about rocky management-labor relations at American, but this week's events have driven an even deeper wedge between executives and front-line workers.
Chairman and Chief Executive Gerard Arpey said he took responsibility and that neither American's mechanics nor the FAA were to blame. He said the company would hire a consultant to help it comply with FAA safety rules in the future.
Arpey said the cost — including vouchers to appease unhappy customers, overtime for maintenance crews, and lost revenue — would run into the tens of millions of dollars. An analyst with Standard & Poor's estimated it could easily top $30 million.
The cancellations also threatened to cost pilots money, since they only get paid for hours they fly. But on Thursday, the company and the Allied Pilots Association cut a deal that lets pilots get paid for their lost shifts if they were available to fly once the planes were fixed.
The pilots union has emerged as the most vocal critic of the company's performance this week.
The union took out a full-page advertisement in USA Today on Thursday, accusing the company of failing its customers. The ad showed a man dressed like a business traveler, sitting on a cot and scowling off into the distance.
The ad copy noted recent surveys that have rated American poorly for cancellations, late arrivals and customer satisfaction.
Scott Shankland, a first captain and spokesman for the union, said the ad was intended as a wake-up call for American's leaders. He said the MD-80s were safe, but "the cushion that keeps you safe is smaller" because of cutbacks to maintenance.
"This management team is driving reliability down to a point where it will drive customers away," Shankland said. "These guys are damaging this once-great airline."
The union, which represents 12,000 pilots at American, said Friday that pilots would demonstrate against the company in nine cities Tuesday to highlight what it called poor performance and customer service. Near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the union also put up a billboard sounding the same themes.
Ray Neidl, an airline analyst with Calyon Securities, questioned the wisdom of the pilots criticizing their own airline in such a public way.
"Someone is giving them bad advice," Neidl said. "It's their jobs at stake."
Arpey declined to be drawn into the dispute with the pilots' union over the ad. He said the company has "thousands of dedicated pilots that are working their tails off to help us work our way through this situation."
A spokesman for American, John Hotard, was more direct.
"We're disappointed that any union would choose negative tactics in a direct attempt to harm the company," he said. "It's energy better spent strengthening the company."
Meanwhile, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants is pushing Arpey and the next top four executives at American's parent, AMR Corp., to decline stock bonuses they are expected to get next week or else resign. Similar bonuses have been a flash point in labor-management relations since 2006.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents the mechanics who performed the wire-packing work on the planes, was less critical of the company.
A TWU vice president, Dennis Burchette, said FAA has made it more difficult to comply with safety rules by revising them frequently. He called the failed inspections "more a compliance issue than a safety question."
The cancellations affected some of American's oldest airplanes. Its MD-80s average 18 years in age.
Neidl, the airline analyst, said the groundings "may be more of an FAA administrator problem," but added that they have highlighted the fact that older aircraft need more care and attention.
American's entire fleet averages 15 years in age, the second oldest in the industry behind Northwest Airlines, according to regulatory filings by the airlines.
Arpey said Thursday that American may accelerate the replacement of its MD-80s, but only because newer planes get better mileage, an important consideration with fuel at record prices. The CEO pointedly said the recent groundings were not a factor in the decision to replace MD-80s.