American Airlines Resumes Talks With Pilots After Scares and Delays

PHOTO: An American Airlines jet takes off from Miami International Airport, Sept. 27, 2012.
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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.

Nearly half of American Airlines' fleet of Boeing 757s -- 47 jets -- were taken out of service earlier this week to make sure that no more of its coach seats came loose in flight, as they now have three separate times. As of this morning, many of the planes are now back in service as the airline said the loose seats were a result of human or mechanical error and not sabotage.

The airline said a saddle clamp was improperly installed on the planes where the seats disengaged. The latest reported incident of loose seats occurred on a flight from Vail, Colo., to Dallas Sept. 26, the New York Post reported Tuesday.

Flight 443 from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to Miami had to return to JFK Monday when the loose seats were discovered, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

The earlier reported incident took place Saturday night when seats came unbolted on American Airlines Flight 685 from Boston to Miami. The flight was diverted and made an emergency landing at JFK.

The FAA said in a statement Tuesday that it was looking into the first two incidents and that the airline's initial inspection of each aircraft had found other rows of seats that were not properly secured.

"Preliminary information indicates that both aircraft had recently undergone maintenance during which the seats had been removed and re-installed," the FAA said.

ABC News' Matt Hosford contributed to this report.

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