American cancels more than 1,000 flights

Thursday, April 10, 2008
Paul Beaty ~ Associated Press Trinity Maughan, 6, of Peoria, Ill., rested on a bag Wednesday while waiting in line at O'Hare International Airport. Thousands of travelers were stranded Wednesday as American Airlines spent a second day inspecting the wiring on some of its jets.

DALLAS — American Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights Wednesday, more than one-third of its schedule, as it spent a second straight day inspecting the wiring on some of its jets — the same issue that caused it to scrub hundreds of flights two weeks ago.

The nation's biggest airline had already canceled 460 flights Tuesday, stranding thousands of travelers. Federal inspectors found problems with wiring work done two weeks ago, although the airline says passenger safety was never jeopardized.

Airline officials said the flights would have averaged more than 100 passengers, meaning that more than 100,000 travelers could have been left scrambling to book new flights.

Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American, said the cancellations could continue beyond Wednesday as the airline works on its fleet of 300 MD-80 jets. By Wednesday morning, only 30 of the planes were back in service.

In Cape Girardeau, Carolyn Kempf of Elite Travel said none of her clients had flights that were canceled. However, calls from concerned travelers Wednesday were triple the norm. She said she received about 40 calls from people that were "very confused and afraid," including several people who were not clients.

"People only heard that American flights were canceled; the didn't realize American has a huge assortment of aircraft in their fleet and only some were affected," she said.

She said there was a possibility people would be affected, because American has the most flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, the two areas the agency books the most. Also, American flights from St. Louis connect in Dallas or Chicago, the places most affected by the cancellations.

American uses the MD-80s mostly on midrange flights, particularly from hub airports in Dallas and Chicago. Wagner said 208 of Wednesday's cancellations would occur at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and 138 at Chicago O'Hare.

At New York's LaGuardia Airport, hundreds of passengers stood in a check-in line. The airline offered free doughnuts, coffee and orange juice, but there were few takers.

Bishop Bernard Jordan, a Harlem minister, was in a first-class line trying to catch a flight to Atlanta, where he was scheduled to preach Wednesday night.

"It would have been good to know in advance," said Jordan, who said he has 4 million frequent-flier miles with American and flies to Atlanta every other week. "I would have booked with another airline."

At Dallas-Fort Worth, Mike Barnes was wearing the same clothes he had on Tuesday morning when he left San Diego for a business trip to Indianapolis. The trip was interrupted by the sudden midday announcement of cancellations, leading Barnes to call the airline "totally unprepared."

"If it was safe enough to fly from San Diego to Dallas, why isn't it safe enough to fly from Dallas to Indianapolis?" asked the 53-year-old information technology consultant.

The airline issued a fresh apology Wednesday from Gerard Arpey, the chief executive of American and its parent, AMR Corp. Arpey said American "will do whatever it takes" to help affected customers, including compensating those who stayed overnight somewhere other than their final destination.

The Fort Worth-based carrier said it would put displaced travelers on other American flights or those operated by competitors. Wagner said that because the delays were "within our control" and not weather-related, American was offering meals, lodging and ground transportation to those affected.

American operates about 2,300 daily flights, more than one-third with MD-80s.

Southeast Missourian writer Lindy Bavolek contributed to this report.

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