A sickout by American Airlines pilots that forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights across the country over the weekend, including six at John Wayne Airport, is expected to ease during the coming days, airline officials said Monday.
"At this point we don't think we're going to have any problems with flights scheduled for Orange County after the start of the new year," said Mary O'Neill, an American Airlines spokeswoman.
Six flights at John Wayne Airport were canceled Sunday and two more were scratched Monday because of the sickout, which comes in the midst of a wage dispute between pilots and management at the nation's second-largest airline. Flights to and from Dallas, Chicago and San Jose were canceled Sunday, O'Neill said. On Monday, a flight arriving from Dallas and another returning to Texas were scratched.
Across the country, 249 flights were canceled Sunday and 267 on Monday because of pilots calling in sick, O'Neill said. More than 300 additional flights on Sunday and Monday were canceled because of weather problems, she said.
About 15% of the airline's pilots called in sick each of those days, about double the number that report being ill on a typical day, she said. American Airlines has about 2,300 flights a day, including 19 at John Wayne Airport.
O'Neill said the airline was unable over the weekend to find many substitute pilots because 329 of them have been temporarily assigned to Operation Desert Shield in the Middle East and many of the others have already completed their allotted flying time for the month.
"We're in a situation where it's the last day of the month, and we're simply flat out of additional pilots," O'Neill said.
With the start of a new month, more pilots can be called on to fill in for those who phone in sick during the next few weeks, O'Neill said. As a result, airline officials anticipate canceling only 49 flights today, she said.
The airline plans to cut back flights by 4% in mid-January if the wage dispute isn't settled, she said. It remains unclear what effect the cutbacks would have on Orange County, O'Neill said.