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Safety concerns, labor issues, bankruptcy take toll on American Airlines

5 hrs.

Video: American Airlines’ PR nightmare

When it comes to describing the state of American Airlines these days, travelers have lots of aviation-themed metaphors to choose from — experiencing severe turbulence; in the midst of a bumpy ride; trouble in the skies.

But the bottom line is American is a carrier with mounting difficulties, some that were in place well before the recent scheduling problems and tensions with pilots.

“In terms of the large U.S. airlines, this is the one with the highest profile problems right now,” said Robert W. Mann Jr., an airline industry analyst.

“They’ve got a serious public relations bow wave to try to keep ahead of.”

For travelers, the troubling headlines about American Airlines — the nation’s third-biggest carrier — just keep coming.

Rows of seats have come loose on planes in recent days, which the airline is investigating. Overnight, a group of engineers, tech crew chiefs and inspectors evaluated 36 Boeing 757s and plan to look at another 11. They found the root cause is a saddle clamp improperly installed on the foot of the row leg, said Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for the airline. The clamps were used on 47 of American’s 102 Boeing 757 airplanes.

“This issue does not seem to be tied to any one maintenance facility or one working group,” Huguely said.

“American regrets the inconvenience that this maintenance issue may have caused customers on affected flights. Safety is — and always will be — American’s top concern.”

Mann called the seat track issues “hard to believe.” 

Listen to the actual dispatch recordings from American Airlines Flight 443 (Audio courtesy:

Then, there’s the sudden rise in flight delays and cancellations that began last month after American imposed new cost-cutting terms on its pilots. The carrier has blamed the scheduling problems on a surge of maintenance requests filed by crews and by an uptick in pilots calling in sick. The pilots’ union says there is no organized sickout or work slowdown.

Fliers who’ve encountered snags on American are venting on social media and in higher-profile venues.

“You, American Airlines, should no longer be flying across the Atlantic,” wrote author Gary Shteyngart in an opinion published in The New York Times over the weekend about a recent flight from Paris to New York.

“The aircraft was indeed an interesting one. One of the overhead baggage compartments was held together with masking tape. Halfway across the Atlantic you decided to turn Flight 121 back because your altimeter wasn’t working.”

The dislodged rows of seats may be particularly disturbing to fliers, creating a perception — whether deserved or not — that American’s planes may not be in the best shape, industry observers said.

“Only a tiny percentage of flights have been canceled or delayed, even though the numbers are much higher than normal.  But poor aircraft maintenance is less easily forgiven than flight irregularities,” said George Hobica, founder of

“Air travel is still the safest way to get from one place to another, but perceptions can turn quickly if these problems persist.”

Fliers focusing on American’s recent problems may forget that the airline is also trying to restructure after filing for bankruptcy last November and facing a record fine from the government for safety and maintenance violations. In August, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it could seek up $162 million from American’s parent company, AMR.

The carrier is also dealing with a maturing fleet of planes whose average age is almost 15 years.

Older airplanes are less fuel efficient and, as energy costs have risen to the point where they are any airline’s biggest expense, they just make American’s cost problems more acute, Mann said.

Last year, the airline placed what it called the largest aircraft order in aviation history, which will reduce its average fleet age to 9.5 years by 2017.

Still, improvements five years from now likely have little meaning for passengers who are weighing their present air travel options.

“For American Airlines, time is of the essence,” said Rick Seaney, CEO of “You’re only as good as your last flight on airlines — people still have choice, even after a lot of these mergers.”

But while the problems are scaring some travelers, others will continue with flights already booked, Hobica said. Since most people still buy based on price alone, it wouldn’t be surprising to see American have a sale or offer bonus frequent flyer miles to entice travelers, he added.

“So far this is survivable. But when you add bankruptcy, labor unrest, delays, and now safety concerns, of course this is going to affect some passengers,” Hobica said.

11 days

American Airlines apologizes for flight delays, cancellations

56 days

FAA could fine American Airlines $162M for violations

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India’s Kingfisher Airlines halts flights for 3 days

4 hrs.

Rafiq Maqbool / AP

Passengers wait outside the Kingfisher Airlines reservation counter after their flight was canceled at the domestic airport in Mumbai, India, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Kingfisher says it has canceled several flights Monday due to a labor dispute with its work force, local media reported.

MUMBAI, India — Kingfisher Airlines has grounded flights for at least three days after a violent strike over unpaid wages at the cash-strapped Indian carrier.

The company said late Monday that it was forced to declare a lockout after “unabated incidents of violence, criminal intimidation, assault” by disgruntled employees who have been intimidating their colleagues.

Flights will be halted at least through Thursday.

Chief executive Sanjay Aggarwal met with India’s airline regulator Tuesday. After the meeting, he told reporters that Kingfisher would decide on Thursday whether to resume flights and said the airline planned to pay staff “in the next few days.”

Aggarwal said half of Kingfisher’s employees received their salary for March 2012, though he forfeited his. He did not comment on staff payments since then.

“I get the last check,” he said.

The disruption is likely to hamper the money-losing carrier’s efforts to attract much-needed new investment. Its share price plunged 4.8 percent Monday, bringing its slide for the year so far to 27 percent.

India’s aviation minister, Ajit Singh, has warned Kingfisher over safety compliance since its engineers are on strike and said the company must keep at least five aircraft in its fleet flying in order to maintain its license, the Press Trust of India reported.

Kingfisher spokesman Prakash Mirpuri defended the airline’s safety record and said it is not in danger of losing its license to operate.

“There is no threat to our operating license,” he said by email Tuesday. “Our lock out follows violence by a section of employees. We have more than sufficient pilots and engineers to operate safely. However, they are being prevented from coming to work and hence the action.”

Kingfisher is operating 12 aircraft in its fleet, Mirpuri said. That’s down from 66 in March 2011, according to Kingfisher’s annual report.

Kingfisher posted a loss of 6.5 billion rupees ($124.0 million) in the quarter ending June. Its total debt as of March 2012 was 87.3 billion rupees ($1.7 billion), according to FactSet, a financial information provider. 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Spirit’s $100 carry-on fee starts next month

2 hrs.

MIRAMAR, Fla. — Spirit Airlines Inc. will begin charging passengers $100 for carry-on bags unless they pay a smaller fee before getting to the airport.

The higher fee starts Nov. 6 and applies to customers who pay the carry-on fee at the boarding gate. The airline announced in May that the $100 fee was coming.

Spirit touts low fares but makes up some of the difference with fees that account for 40 percent of its revenue. The average customer pays more than $100 per round trip in fees.

For baggage — whether checked or carried on board — Spirit has an unusual tiered system that charges passengers more the longer they wait.

Passengers who are members of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club will be charged $25 for a carry-on bag. Other passengers who pay the fee online will be charged $35 online, $40 over the phone, $50 at the airport ticket counter, and $100 if they get all the way to the gate before declaring their carry-on.

Spirit said Monday that its fees pass the cost of handling bags to passengers who bring them rather than raising prices for all customers.

The Miramar, Fla.-based airline lets customers bring one free personal item on board if it fits under the seat. 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Dislodged seats force emergency landing at JFK

20 hrs.

NEW YORK — American Airlines says a Boston to Miami flight had to make an emergency landing at JFK airport over the weekend due to a row of dislodged seats.

Flight 685 landed safety at Kennedy Airport on Saturday.

The unit of AMR Corp. said in a statement that passengers in the affected row were moved to three other seats.

Passengers aboard the flight were placed on another aircraft for the trip to Miami.

The airline said it was conducting an internal investigation to determine why the row of seats became loose.

It said the FAA was notified of the problem and the airline’s internal review. 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Supreme Court rejects appeal on airport scanners

5 hrs.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider a Michigan blogger’s challenge of the use of full-body scanners and thorough pat-downs at airport checkpoints.

Without comment, the court declined to take up Jeffrey Corbett’s complaint that the Transportation Security Administration’s use of the screening techniques violated passengers’ protection against illegal searches under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The TSA had in October 2010 directed the use of the scanners, sometimes known as advanced imaging technology, which some critics fear could emit too much radiation.

In addition, the TSA authorized enhanced pat-downs, which could include the touching of genitals, buttocks and breasts, for passengers unwilling to go through the scanners. Passengers who rejected both procedures would not be allowed to fly.

Corbett, who maintains the “TSA Out of Our Pants!” blog, complained that the TSA lacked unilateral authority to adopt the procedures.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had rejected Corbett’s case, saying a lower court correctly concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to review a TSA order.

The case is Corbett v. U.S., U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-1413.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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