Internal memos reveal chaos unfolding at American Airlines

There are 15 cities without American Airlines service this morning. A total of 255 aircraft — all MD80s — are grounded. That translates into 991 flights canceled today, resulting in hundreds of thousands of passengers jamming the phone lines at the world’s largest air carrier.

At a time like this, it’s instructive to pay attention not to what the airline is saying to us. Or not saying.

Instead, why not review what it’s telling its own employees? Thanks to an inside source at American, I have series of memos that outline the airline’s attitude — or am I allowed to say it — aatitude, toward cancellation-gate.

Here’s how the situation unfolded yesterday, in the airline’s own words:


As we are all painfully aware, there are 991 more S80 cancellations today, 9APR08. We apologize to all our customers for the inconvenience of the cancellations and those who must be re-booked again.

The REACCOM tool is not running at this time. We will advise when it is turned on.

Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound good. I’m not an American employee, but having the REACCOM tool not working doesn’t sound like it’s helping the situation.

The memo urges employees to keep their spirits up but not to get too chatty on the phone.

Please do not speculate to our customers and just use the guidelines in RESCON for your conversations. Keep a smile in your voice and thanks for all your hard work!

A few hours later, American is painfully aware that not everyone can reach the airline to have flights rebooked.


As you know, American has canceled more than 1,000 flights today as part of the effort to complete inspections on our MD-80 aircraft, and we are doing whatever we can to assist our customers who have been affected by this event. Due to our extremely high call volume, many of our customers have been unable to speak to a Reservations Representative on their first attempt.

It’s clear that the airline is also pushed to the limit when it comes to resources.

Update 1445CT/09APR HDQHR8

During this critical time for American Airlines, we would like to ask all of our Reservations Representatives to work as many extra hours as they can through Friday in order to accommodate our inconvenienced passengers. Our goal is to fill every work station in all of our reservations offices. We are currently accepting overtime for all Representatives including those who were scheduled for a day off today, tomorrow, or Friday.

Please follow your local procedures for signing up for overtime. Please note that Representatives can work up to a total of 14 hours each day.

Our hope is to have enough volunteers to fill all of our workstations. However, due to the criticality of our current situation, it may be necessary to institute mandatory additional hours for Thursday and Friday.

The appeal doesn’t work. American can’t find enough volunteers. So it orders reservationists back to work.

Update 1705CT/09APR QSDRSK

Thank you to all Reservations Representatives who have worked so hard to assist our customers during this very difficult operational crisis. We are very appreciative for the extra hours that you have volunteered to work over the next three days.

We are expecting additional cancellations and a continuation of our extraordinarily high call volume. We have assessed the number of volunteered extra hours thus far, and we are still far short of the hours needed to cover our anticipated workload this Thursday and Friday.

In light of this shortfall, all full-time Reservations Representatives who are scheduled to work on Thursday, April 10, and Friday, April 11, will be required to work two additional hours each day. We recognize the short notice and we would like to accommodate your schedules to the extent that we can. Therefore, please choose the extra two hours that would be most convenient for you to work on Thursday and Friday.

What’s going on here? American is clearly overwhelmed by the cancellations. It’s trying to reaccommodate passengers as best it can, but it can only do so much.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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