Delays and plane maintenance issues have finally led American Airlines management and the pilots' union back to the bargaining table for the first time in weeks.
After a tumultuous week of seats' becoming loose, flipping over in mid-flight in one case, American Airlines announced it was resuming stalled contract negotiations with its pilots' union.
Today, another safety issue put American Airlines under the microscope because of a mid-flight maintenance scare when a plane's landing-gear warning light jammed after take-off.
Flight 1862 from Dallas to St. Louis had to return for an emergency landing 10 minutes into the flight Tuesday. The passengers were told to brace for a crash landing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
Jim Faulkner, an American Airlines spokesman, said the flight turned back to the airport without incident around 8:40 a.m. local time. Passengers were put on another plane to St. Louis.
"When they said assume the position, it was scary," passenger Elaine Krieger said.
Some passengers were left to wonder whether the landing-gear concern was real, well aware of the airline's recent trouble with labor.
"Some people are cheering as we landed, and the rest of us are thinking, 'Is this a scenario they created, or was it real?'" passenger Jeff Estes said. "Are they really heroes, or are they guys just creating a job action?"
Former American Airlines pilot Ron Carr said pilots would not go that far, but it's clear he said that despite union denials, pilots are using their ultimate power in the cockpit to delay flights by forcing even small maintenance issues, like a broken coffee pot, to be fixed before takeoff.
"I think there's a lot of things that could be written up on an aircraft," Carr said. "You have a, a very complex machine that's being operated and there's always going to be something that's not quite right that could be written up."
Carr, who is currently an assistant professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, added that he did not think any pilot would resort to "sabotage" as that would be a safety issue.
"That would be very stupid on their part to pull a stunt like that… they would not do anything is that nature to jeopardize, or purposefully, to cause a problem to cause a delay. That's not going to happen, in my opinion," he said.
If pilots are using their authority to delay flights, it is a tactic that seems to be working for pilots who have put pressure on American by doubling delays and inconveniencing customers.
Thomas Horton, CEO of American parent AMR Corp., said Tuesday in a statement that he was pleased that "intensive bargaining" was scheduled to begin this week.
"It has been a very challenging couple of weeks for our company. As you know, our operations have experienced significant disruption, affecting our customers, our people and our owners," Horton said.