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Will American’s Layoffs Add to Flier Grief?

American Airlines said Wednesday it wants to cut 13,000 jobs as part of its bankruptcy filing, a move analysts say could lead to shuffled or canceled flights, longer waits and poorer customer service.

Executives at AMR Corp, the airline’s parent company, said more than two thirds of the proposed cuts would affect maintenance and ground staff. It also plans to terminate employee pension plans and ground many of its older planes. For people booking their summer vacations and other trips, these changes may result in longer lines for ticketing and checking in and more frequent exchanges with overworked, grumpy employees, experts say. “You could be in a real mess,” says Edward Hasbrouck, author of “The Practical Nomad,” a travel book series.

By far, however, the biggest risk for most fliers is that American might reschedule or eliminate their flights, analysts say. AMR’s chief executive Tom Horton said in a letter to employees that the carrier plans to increase its flights to its five most important domestic airports, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas and Chicago. That plan, combined with a proposal to ground older planes, is likely to reduce travel to smaller hubs, says George Hobica, president of fare-tracking site AirfareWatchdog.com. People traveling to smaller cities may find multiple connections added to their previously nonstop flights, or could see those destinations become more expensive. Experts say they may also have to reschedule flights or book with another airline.

To be sure, experts point out that cuts to maintenance staff would not have a big an impact on travelers’ experience as those to in-flight personnel, including pilots and flight attendants. And some of the remaining employees may actually offer better service because they feel lucky to have their jobs, says says Christopher Elliott, consumer advocate and author of “Scammed.” Indeed, since the airline filed for bankruptcy in November, Elliott says he’s heard of more cases of customer service representatives who are willing to bend rules for customers. “They’re being much more accommodating,” he says.

Of course, experts say such cuts are to be expected as part of the bankruptcy process. By thinning its staff and cutting back routes American Airlines could be preparing to merge with another airline, says Hobica.  It’s been reported that Delta Air Lines and US Airways Group may be planning bids to merge with the Dallas-based carrier, a move analysts say would likely lead to pricier flights.

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    • Our city is served by American’s regional airline (smaller jets) We have already experienced cancelled (a lot of alleged maintenance problems, but I suspect because some flights were not full, this was an excuse to cancel) or delayed flights for many years. Customer service has been non-existent. I too will not fly American unless necessary. American going completely out of business might be an improvement. At least we would know how to plan a trip, even if we drive. I can’t count the number of missed connecting flights I’ve experienced due to delays or having to stay overnight somewhere, because a connecting flight was cancelled and I couldn’t get to or from a meeting. Once it took me two days to fly from Chicago to Amarillo because of cancellations and delays.

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