Passenger seats on three American Airlines flights came loose as the planes were airborne, but the troubled airline said Tuesday that it had found the source of the problem — an improperly installed clamp.
Seats came loose on a flight Wednesday between Vail, Colo., and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, followed by similar problems on a flight Saturday and another Monday, the airline said.
The seat problems come as American Airlines, whose parent company, AMR, filed for bankruptcy last year, is mired in a labor dispute with its pilots. The airline also recently issued 11,000 layoff notices as part of its efforts to cut labor costs 20%.
But American Airlines officials said the problem with the seats is a mechanical issue unrelated to its labor problems.
Inspectors from the airline pinpointed the cause of the problem as an improperly installed saddle clamp at the foot of the seat that helps lock the seats to the cabin floor, the airline said. The clamp was used on 47 of the carrier's 102 Boeing 757 airplanes. The airline had inspected 36 of those planes and planned to check the other 11 shortly.
"The issue does not seem to be tied to any one maintenance facility or one work group," said airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. "American regrets the inconvenience that this maintenance issue may have caused customers on affected flights."
The union that represents American Airlines' mechanics and maintenance workers, the Transport Workers Union of America, said its workers recently reached agreement with the airline on a new contract. The union said that some of the seat installation work on the planes was done by Timco Aviation Services, a contractor in North Carolina.
"Problems related to seats are less likely a labor problem, but rather a management issue related to outsourcing work to third-party facilities," union representative Robert Gless said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Timco could not be reached.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it was also looking into the seat problems.
The airline began in 2010 to reconfigure the seats in its fleet of Boeing 757 planes, with plans to complete the work by 2015. The work includes adding new seats, new cabin interiors and updated in-flight entertainment throughout the aircraft.
The airline is also trying to settle a labor dispute with its 10,000-member pilots association. Hundreds of flights have been delayed or canceled in the last two weeks. The airline placed blame on pilots who have been requesting maintenance work orders shortly before takeoff.
Union leaders met Tuesday and voted to relaunch contract negotiations with the airline. No date has been set.