Holiday Airfare – To Book with American Airlines or Not?

For more than a week now, FareCompare has been advising holiday travelers to start booking tickets for Thanksgiving, particularly passengers who prefer flying on specific days, non-stop routes or even certain times of day.

A Pilot’s View of the American Mess

American: Holiday Wild Card?

However, American Airlines has become an unwitting wild card this holiday travel season – the question many are asking is, book with American, or not? Reasons to ask this all-important question number in thousands – as in thousands of delayed and canceled flights – the result of ongoing, unsanctioned labor strife involving American’s pilots.

Flight Attendants Argue, Delay Plane

American: Latest Figures on Delayed, Canceled Flights

The following figures come from FlightStats, a provider of real-time flight information.

Recent American Airlines Statistics

Date Flights Canceled Flights Delayed
Wed. Sept. 26 25 462
Tues. Sept. 25 58 558
Mon. Sept. 24 41 638

In the last week alone, American chalked up nearly 4,500 delays (compared to about 1,850 for United). AA blames its pilots who are known to be unhappy – the pilots blame bad management. Some relief may be on the way as American has asked to reopen talks with pilots. However, at least one veteran American pilot – who spoke with FareCompare under the condition of anonymity – said, “I am open to this, but not especially optimistic.”

Holiday Travelers: Don’t Bring This Item in Carry-on

Questions to Ask Before Booking with American

The anonymous pilot also told FareCompare “given all the current uncertainty, it makes it difficult to recommend” people book holiday tickets with his airline over the holidays but clearly he is not a disinterested bystander.

For a neutral point of view, we turned to air travel analyst Rick Seaney. He admits booking with American right now is a gamble but also points out that the situation is still extremely fluid and could change at any time. He recently took four American flights and endured two minor delays, one fairly long delay, and one canceled flight (though his American gate agent quickly got him onto a United flight and he actually arrived early). Seaney added, “I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball for this scenario,” but suggested a few tough questions that travelers must ask themselves before shopping for airfare:

  • Can you be delayed? If you must travel within the next few days for an important meeting or conference that you cannot miss or arrive late for, Seaney says you must think long and hard before booking on American and be sure to review the airline’s most recent statistics.
  • Can you afford to gamble? If you’re looking to make holiday plans, Seaney said will probably be OK to book with American – the fact that the two sides are talking again is a good sign – and remember, some delays (and even cancellations are a fact of life during the busy holiday season. At the same time, stay on top of the latest news.

If the situation continues to deteriorate, Seaney said, American may be in much bigger trouble than anyone yet realizes.

Bargain Airfares? Not Yet

American is currently running an airfare sale set to expire this Friday, and while it features some attractive deals (starting from $77 one-way) these are not the kind of slashed prices one might expect to see from a desperate airline. Whether this will change may well depend on how talks with its pilots proceed.


Published: September 27, 2012