Dallas-based American Airlines' rift with its pilots hit home in the suburbs Thursday as pilots picketed at O'Hare International Airport.
American Airlines' cancellation of 300 flights through Sunday intensified the dispute as the pilots' union rejected the carrier's assertion that increased sick calls contributed to the schedule cuts.
The cancellations, which began Tuesday, are on top of 250 flights dropped from Sept. 14 through Monday that prompted AMR Corp.'s American to trim systemwide flight and seating capacity as much as 2 percent through October.
The disruptions began after American began imposing new work rules on pilots and reducing benefits to cut labor costs as the company restructures in bankruptcy. The Fort Worth, Texas- based carrier blamed increased maintenance reports filed by pilots and higher sick rates for the scrubbed flights.
The Allied Pilots Association "independently tracks the airline's operational performance," the union said in a statement Thursday. "We have verified that pilot sick rates have not deviated from normal historical rates. We have likewise verified that crew cancellations remain at normal rates."
Any pilot shortage has been caused by American's decision to stop recalls of furloughed pilots last year, the union said.
The airline is now reducing the amount of time off crew members have between flights, union members said.
This is a real sensitive issue for us," said Dennis Tajer, a union official and Arlington Heights pilot. "It can lead to issues regarding the condition of the flight crew. We believe our passengers deserve vastly more."
The airline apologized to customers affected by the cancellations and delays resulting from "some of the operational challenges we have been experiencing in recent days."
Bruce Hicks, a spokesman for American, said in an interview that the airline canceled the flights in order to provide "the least disruption to our customers by allowing them to plan ahead."
American is notifying affected passengers and helping to rebook them on other flights, he said. The airline is paying overtime and adjusting worker schedules to provide more service and is not charging passengers to stand by for other flights, according to a memo to managers.
• Daily Herald staff writer Marni Pyke contributed to this report.