Originally created 02/17/99

American Airlines returning to normal



DALLAS -- With operations getting back to normal at American Airlines, the nation's second-largest airline is expected to offer bargains to win back passengers alienated by the pilots' sickout.

The sickout forced the cancellation of more than 6,000 flights over 10 days and messed up the travel plans of about 600,000 passengers.

Experts said Tuesday that because of high demand for seats, travelers shouldn't expect big fare cuts. Instead, Randy Petersen, publisher of InsideFlyer frequent-flier magazine, said he expects the airline to use frequent flier miles as an apology.

"I don't think we're going to see a lot of big fare slashes. American is more conservative. They don't like to do things everyone else would match," he said.

John Hotard, a spokesman for American's parent company, AMR Corp., would not comment on whether there would be a fare sale.

The bargains are aimed at people like Tamara Martin, who returned home to Miami from Puerto Rico on Tuesday on a United Airlines flight. She was supposed to fly home on Monday via American.

"I really doubt I would ever fly American again," Ms. Martin said. "I know it will be an inconvenience to myself and it probably wouldn't make a difference to their business, but I think I owe it to myself to stop flying American after what we've been through."

Meanwhile, the pilots obeyed a federal judge's order and placed $10 million, or one quarter of their union's assets, with the court. The money will go toward a fine that is expected to be levied against the union at a hearing on Wednesday for defying a back-to-work order and not ending the sickout.

To appease travel agents who have been overwhelmed by the turmoil, American decided Monday to pay commissions for tickets that were later refunded because of the sickout. Commissions are not usually paid in such cases.

Tourism experts said they expect the public and travel agents to continue to book with American.

"I think memories are short-lived in these situations. Travelers will base their choice on price rather than short-term problems with service," said Sheryl Spivack, a tourism specialist at George Washington University.

Jim Monroe of Boston, who was boarding an American flight at the Los Angeles airport, agreed.

"American Airlines is usually my first choice. It won't change. I've had good experience with them in the past, plus I'm in their frequent-flier program," Monroe said. "I don't hold it against the airline."

While passengers saw flight schedules return to normal Tuesday, the airline continued to negotiate with the Allied Pilots Association over the issue that started the sickout: The union wants American to immediately raise the salaries of pilots at newly acquired Reno Air.