The cancellation of more than 1,500 American Airlines flights over the weekend has been attributed by the company to weather and staffing issues, but one organization says the real reason is flight crews and pilots are “experiencing major stress.”
The airline cut 340 flights on Oct. 29, 540 on Oct. 30, and 650 on Oct. 31.
In a letter to employees that was obtained by The Epoch Times, American Airlines CEO David Seymour blamed staff shortages and bad weather.
“With additional weather throughout the system, our staffing begins to run tight as crew members end up out of their regular flight sequences,” Seymour said.
“To make sure we are taking care of our customers and providing scheduling certainty for our crews, we have adjusted our operation for the last few days this month by proactively canceling some flights.”
A spokesman for the airline’s pilots’ union, Capt. Dennis Tajer, said poor weather and poor management were to blame for the cancelations—not the vaccine mandate.
But US Freedom Flyers, a nonprofit group that advocates for transportation industry workers and people who do not want vaccine mandates, says “not so fast.”
Kate O’Brien, director of media relations for the group, said the canceled flights are only going to get worse because pilots and crew members are calling in sick because of the stress they are feeling over the vaccine mandates.
“US Freedom Flyers does not condone or endorse work actions of any kind, but it appears as though flight crews have reached their breaking point,” O’Brien told The Epoch Times.
“Flight crews are acknowledging that because their unions and companies have broken their social contract, they are in a place where it is not safe for them to fly.”
Jason Kunisch, a pilot for a major airline, is one of the founding members of US Freedom Flyers.
Kunisch said unions and airline companies have not “shown up for employees and now those employees aren’t showing up for work.”
“The system is stressed as it is and now we have unions coming out and gaslighting their members that if they are unvaccinated, they need counseling and education.
“I think people who want to impose a medical procedure on others against their will are the most in need of counseling and help.”
This comes after the Pilots’ Union President, Eric Ferguson, sent out an email to members last week stating that “unvaccinated people need education and counseling.”
Kunisch said he thinks the statement has had an effect on the mental health of unvaccinated staff, who are still unsure as to whether they will be employed on Nov. 25—the deadline the airline has set for all employees to be fully vaccinated.
A crew member who did not wish to be identified told The Epoch Times in a written statement that she wanted a medical exemption and was asking US Freedom Flyers for assistance on how to obtain one.
“I did not want to get the vaccine and I started to panic as the deadline approaches. I can’t lose my job,” she said. “I ended up getting the first shot—I feel like this is one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made and am having a hard time getting past this. I’m not sure what to do next, I do not want to get the second shot as I have had weird side effects after the first one.”
O’Brien said that “delays and cancellations” will continue.
“Perhaps the sooner the unions and company leadership start showing up for their represented members and employees, the sooner operations can get back to normal,” she said.
Ron Souther, a pilot for a major airline, said that the stress among pilots and crew “is very real.”
“All of us are feeling it,” said Souther, a veteran 31-year pilot, in a telephone interview. “The stress these pilots are feeling over ‘the jab’ is absolutely real.”
A “fit for duty” app is installed on every pilot’s phone, tablet, and computer, and Southern said an airplane will not take off until each pilot self-certifies that they are “fit to fly.”
“The plane will not move until this is completed and it is not just for take-off, we have to declare during the flight as well.”
O’Brien said that pilots are stressed and have communicated that to her, but she says they are following safety guidelines.
“We have tens of thousands of pilots who have told us … they are stressed,” she said. “They all follow the FAA checklist of ‘IMSAFE’ and, right now, because of the mandate, and their companies and unions, backing up the federal government, a lot of them are not able to say they are fit for duty.”
IMSAFE stands for Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, Emotion.
The Epoch Times reached out to the Allied Pilots Association for comment, but it did not return phone calls.
Jack Phillips and Zachary Stieber contributed to this article.