AA expects cancellations through Saturday

April 9, 2008 8:52:29 PM PDT
More passengers were stranded at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport Wednesday after American Airlines canceled 850 flights nationwide for last-minute inspections. The wiring on all MD-80 jets is the focus of the inspections. This is the same issue that caused several other airlines to scrap hundreds of flights two weeks ago.

American Airlines canceled 147 flights at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. That is about 73-percent of its Chicago's flights. More than 200 flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were also canceled on Wednesday. On Tuesday, American Airlines grounded about 500 planes nationwide -- 66 of those were at O'Hare.

American says flight schedules may not return to normal until Saturday. The airline is aniticipating cancelling 900 flights Thursday.

Many passengers came to the airport under the impression their scheduled flights were leaving, only to find out otherwise when they got here and found long lines and lots of cancelled flights on the board.

"It's frustrating. But what can we do besides just wait and be patient? It's not their fault. Well, the booking agent, at least," said passenger Julie Weiser.

Many passengers spent much of the day in lines, waiting to be rebooked or flying standby on one of the few flights not cancelled. American encouraged customers to call for more information. But in many cases, that offered no help.

"All of our representatives are busy at this time. If you need to speak to someone, please try your call later," a call to the line says.

Airline experts say the wiring issues American is fixing in their fleet of md-80's are not a safety hazard and should never have led to this sort of widespread disruption.

"I've been watching aviation for a long time and have never seen this kind of aggressive action to ground airplanes. The scale of this is staggering," said Prof. Joe Schwieterman, DePaul University transportation expert.

American executives, however, say they have no choice.

"And if you're not in compliance, you must ground the aircraft. And so when the FAA concluded that we were not in compliance, this is what we had to do," said a spokesman.

The problems are spread around the country. Karl Steiner says he was fortunate to find another flight home from San Francisco after his first one was cancelled. But he arrived at Midway and had to take a cab to O'Hare to pick up his car.

"I'm frankly soured on the system. I think the FAA got a little bit down on American. I'm pretty confident that American is a safe airline," he said.

"We have been working with the FAA now for a few days on this issue. And it's a decision we needed to make in order to be in compliance and we all want to be in compliance. It's what we had to do," said Mary Frances Fagan, American Airlines Spokesperson.

The lines at O'Hare's American Airlines ticket counters were filled with stranded passengers trying to make other travel plans.

"Oh it's wonderful. That's sarcasm. I'm from Boston. Actually it's very frustrating. It is new to me," said Doug Myers, flight canceled.

"I don't understand this, if they knew they were going to do this, you would think they'd put people on other airlines," said Cheryl Bibbs, flight canceled.

American Airlines had to ground its MD-80 fleet for safety inspections -- to make sure the wiring in the planes' wheel wells is secure. This is the second time in less than two weeks the airline has had to do this.

The airline did its best to accommodate those who had to spend the night in Chicago, putting many travelers up in hotels.

"We made cancellations and people are in line to be accommodated on other flights. We are offering flights on American Eagle and other airlines," said Fagan.

"They gave us hotel and travel vouchers so we got a one night stay in Chicago," said Nathan Bittinger, flight canceled.

George Vesely from Crystal Lake is celebrating his 80th birthday by getting on an airplane for the first time in his life. He was surprised by the cancellations.

"I just heard about it this morning, the cancellation," said George Vesely, flight canceled.

Luckily, Vesely was able to get on a flight Wednesday morning.

It is not clear when the airline will have its full fleet of aircrafts in the air.

"At this point I can't give a definite time and we are making to sure make it is accurate and the clamps and ties and everything meets the very specific requirements of the FAA," said Fagan.

Passengers should call the airline to check their flight.

Also, Delta and Alaska airlines both announced they too will be inspecting MD-80s. Passengers planning to fly those carriers should also call ahead.

"A lot of people even called in to verify that flights would be on time. But yet, they were canceled. And we're standing in line," said traveler Cynthia Turner, who said that despite American's effort to compensate passnegers for delays weren't really what she wanted.

"I really would like to be at home tonight," she said.


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