DALLAS -- American Airlines pilots apparently ignored a judge's back-to-work order Thursday, grounding nearly half the airline's flights -- the most since the sickout began over the weekend.
American went to court to ask the judge to hold the pilots union in contempt. A hearing was scheduled for Friday morning.
Passengers whose travel plans were disrupted by the dispute at the nation's second-largest airline fumed and fretted.
At the Los Angeles airport, Jennie Sussman said it could be the end of a relationship if she didn't make her flight for a Valentine's Day rendezvous at the Eiffel Tower in Paris with her boyfriend.
"We're probably going to get engaged," she said.
The airline estimated that 2,400 of its 9,400 pilots called in sick even after U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall on Wednesday ordered an end to the sickout.
About 1,170 flights were canceled because of a lack of pilots, according to AMR Corp., the parent of American. That's up from 990 flights canceled Wednesday and the most since waves of pilots began calling in sick on Saturday.
More than 380,000 travelers have been stranded across the country and 3,800 flights canceled since Saturday.
"We're surprised by the conduct of the union leadership," said AMR spokesman John Hotard.
Capt. Jim Philpot, an spokesman for the union, said: "We are meeting or exceeding the judge's requirements."
The pilots union is angry over pay disparities between pilots at American and those at newly acquired Reno Air. American pilots are barred by federal law from striking over the issue.
Passengers trying to reschedule or get refunds swamped American's reservation desk with calls and found themselves disconnected or forced to wait on hold.
George and Midge Griffin of Cincinnati had been at Chicago's O'Hare Airport since Wednesday trying to get a flight to Ecuador to visit their daughter. Because they had bought discount tickets from a relative who works for American, they were given lower priority than customers holding full-price tickets.
"We're at the bottom of the barrel," Griffin moaned.
The couple had been bumped three times in their efforts to get on a flight to Miami on Wednesday and finally gave up. They were trying Thursday to get a flight back to Cincinnati.
At Los Angeles, American tried to soothe passengers by setting out tables with bagels, cream cheese, muffins and juice in the morning and adding sandwiches and chips around lunchtime.
Malini Biswas arrived in Los Angeles after a 16-hour flight from Australia. The last leg of her trip to Boston was canceled. After two hours in line, she said: "I'm remembering now why I don't go on vacation and why I usually drive."
Even if everybody heeded the judge's order, there would be cancellations over the next several days as the airline worked to get planes and crews moved to the cities where flights were scheduled.
Some Reno Air pilots make half the $164,000 a year that an experienced American pilot makes. The American pilots want AMR to add Reno pilots to the higher pay scale more quickly.
AMR said that it will take about 12 to 18 months do that and the union's demands would cost as much as $50 million this year.
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