Originally created 02/16/99

American: Service getting back to normal



DALLAS -- With a growing number of American Airlines pilots reporting for duty, airline officials think they can resume regular service as early as Tuesday.

About 800 of American's 9,400 pilots were still listed as sick today, compared to the nearly 2,500 who declared themselves unfit to fly Thursday and Friday, American officials said.

However, about 250 -- or roughly 11 percent -- of the 2,250 flights scheduled for today have been canceled because some pilots weren't immediately available for flying. American spokesman John Hotard compared the impact on the airline's flight system to bad weather over the airline's Chicago, Miami or Dallas-Fort Worth hubs.

The Fort Worth-based airline has canceled only 17 flights scheduled for Tuesday, Hotard said.

According to American, pilots have been taking themselves off the sick list at a rapid rate since a federal judge held the Allied Pilots Association and two top board members in contempt and promised sizable fines against them.

All but 12 or 13 pilots would be immediately cleared to fly after removing themselves from the list, Hotard said. The remaining handful face meetings with the chief pilots at their bases about possible disciplinary action, he said.

U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall threatened a large fine against the pilots' union Saturday, saying that the union did not do enough to encourage pilots to return to work after he ordered the union to end the sickout.

More than half a million travelers have been left at the gate by the nation's second-largest airline because of the large number of pilots calling in sick. American has canceled 6,000 flights since the work action began, costing American between $67 million and $90 million, according to Chris Chiames, a spokesman for AMR Corp., parent company of American Airlines.

Despite the continued cancellations, most of the nation's airports were calmer Sunday with many passengers prepared for delays.

At Miami International Airport, heart-shaped decorations adorned American's baggage counter wall Sunday and musicians strolled through the terminal serenading passengers. But many travelers remained angry.

"I think I lost two to three years of age off my life," said Luis Delgado, a furniture exporter who faced delays in three cities over four days while trying to get home to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. "This is not my problem, it's American Airlines. We don't have to be the ones that suffer."

The slowdown had the potential to severely hamper operations of cruise ships sailing in and out of Miami, but major cruise lines kept damage to a minimum by chartering their own flights.

"It really worked out well for us," said Fran Sevcik, spokeswoman for Norwegian Cruise Lines, which had chartered several flights anyway in anticipation of the heavy travel weekend. "With very few exceptions, our guests were able to come and go because of these flights we had for them."

Kendall said he would decide Wednesday how much to levy in fines although he promised they would be substantial. He required the union to place $10 million with the court and for union president Rich LaVoy and vice president Brian Mayhew to remit a total of $15,000.

"I'm the guy who gets to stick his chin out there. I'm trying to protect the careers of these pilots," said LaVoy, who told pilots in a hotline to continue to call crew scheduling to get off of the sick list.

"While we are disappointed and disagree with Judge Kendall's order of contempt, we urge all pilots to comply with the restraining order," LaVoy said. "We're taking his order seriously. I took his order seriously Wednesday night."

LaVoy said the union has not considered whether to appeal the contempt order.

Union members have been calling in sick and refusing to accept overtime since Feb. 6 in a dispute concerning how quickly American should integrate the pilots from recently purchased Reno Air into its own roster. Negotiations on that issue are scheduled to restart this afternoon.