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American Airlines cancels roughly 1,200 weekend flights, citing weather and staffing issues

Pilot and flight attendant availability were listed as reasons for most cancellations Saturday and Sunday, according to internal tallies seen by CNBC.
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American Airlines Boeing 737 Max aircraft in 2019. Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

American Airlines has canceled more than 1,500 flights since Friday over disruptions it blamed on staffing problems and high winds at its busiest hub.

American canceled some 340 flights on Friday and 543 flights, or 20% of its schedule, on Saturday, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines cut 86 flights, or 2 percent of its Saturday operation.

American said in a statement to NBC News that it cancelled an addition 630 flights by early Sunday. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines cut 185 flights, or an estimated 5 percent of its Sunday operations.

One video shared on Twitter from an airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, showed passengers waiting in a lengthy line, saying American Airlines needed to "give their customer service agents in Charlotte a raise."

The airlines Twitter account has responded to dozens of upset customers, some complaining at the lack of service and others just expressing anger over having multiple flights cancelled.

American’s COO David Seymour said in a staff note on Saturday that the problems started with high wind gusts on Thursday that cut capacity at its Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hub and that crew members ended up out of position for their next flights.

Pilot and flight attendant availability were listed as reasons for most of the cancellations on Saturday and Sunday, according to internal tallies, which were seen by CNBC.

“With additional weather throughout the system, our staffing begins to run tight as crew members end up out of their regular flight sequences,” Seymour wrote. He said that most customers were rebooked the same day and that he expects the operation to stabilize in November.

Airlines have struggled with staffing shortfalls that have sparked hundreds of flight cancellations and other disruptions since travel demand rebounded sharply in late spring. Carriers had convinced thousands of staff members to accept voluntary buyouts or leaves of absence to cut their payroll expenses during the depths of the pandemic.

Now they are trying to staff up again, hiring pilots, flight attendants, ramp and customer service workers, and others. Leaner staffing makes it harder for airlines to recover from disruptions like bad weather or technology problems.

Southwest earlier this month said that a meltdown earlier this month in which it canceled more than 2,000 flights cost it $75 million. It also said it would further trim its remaining 2021 schedule after earlier cuts to avoid more disruptions.

American Airlines’ Seymour said that 1,800 flight attendants would be returning from leave starting Nov. 1 and that the rest would be back by December. It said it also is in the process of hiring pilots, mechanics, airport workers and reservations agents “so more team members will be in place for the holiday season.”