`A disaster' for travelers // Planes fly, but without passengers

  Julie Schmit


  USA Today


  Page 01A

  (Copyright 1993)


  Paul Dean, 38, of Silver Spring, Md., didn't get to Dallas on American Airlines



  But his luggage did.


  It left on a jet that was empty of fliers because American Airlines didn't have

  flight attendants to fly with it.


  "This is a disaster," Dean said, as he watched the jet push back from the gate at

  Washington's National Airport.


  Dean wasn't the only one to watch American's "ghost" flights leave Thursday. A

  strike by 21,000 flight attendants shut down much of American Airlines, the

  USA's biggest airline. The attendants say they'll stay out through Thanksgiving

  weekend. Neither side says it will back down, and airline watchers say the strike

  may last that long.


  By the end of the strike's first day, American had flown only a portion of its

  domestic and international flights. Many flights left empty of fliers, as American

  tried to keep cargo moving. Without fight attendants, it couldn't allow fliers on

  board. American wouldn't say how many flights were canceled, but "obviously,

  the strike had a big impact," said American's Andrea Rader.


  In airports across the USA, tens of thousands of passengers waited in long lines

  only to be told just minutes before departure that their flight had been canceled.

  Fliers got out on other airlines - but not before more waiting.


  Today may go smoother, but don't bet on it. American ticketholders Thursday

  jammed ticket counters and travel agencies to rebook flights. Many seats are

  already gone.


  At All Aboard Travel Agency in Dallas, fliers even rebooked Christmas flights.

  If the strike lasts through Thanksgiving, seats on other airlines will be scarce.


  "There just may not be enough," said Thomas Nulty, of Associated Travel

  Management in Los Angeles.


  American began interviewing replacements Thursday, and said it'll have more

  temporary workers in place today. Other carriers, where they can, are adding

  flights or substituting bigger jets to take up the slack. Delta is even advertising its

  "commitment" to get American fliers where they need to go. The strike doesn't

  affect American's commuter line, American Eagle. Around the country:


  Chicago. At midafternoon, 101 out of 159 flights had been delayed. Most of

  those were later canceled. "It's been chaos," said Lawrence Merin, 42. He was

  booked on an American flight to Little Rock, Ark. It was canceled. His travel

  agency told him to go to the airport and take "potluck." It took him five hours to

  get on another airline.


  Los Angeles. So many American flights were grounded that United and Delta

  airlines were swamped. By 2 p.m., there were no empty seats on their flights to

  Dallas. Trying to get to Miami? No seats until Sunday.


  Dallas/Ft. Worth. At American's busiest airport, 142 flights out of 158 were

  listed as delayed as of 5 p.m. So few jets took off that when one did, passengers

  applauded. Joyce Ziska was flying from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Cedar Rapids,

  Iowa. She was rerouted to Dallas. There, she watched her empty jet "leave the

  terminal without us."


  American said late Thursday that 60% of its flights out of Dallas were "properly



  San Francisco. Almost 1,000 people crammed American ticket counters at San

  Francisco International Airport to change tickets or get on other airlines. "There

  was a lot of confusion," said airport spokesman Ron Wilson.


  Miami. At Miami International Airport, the connecting hub for American's

  flights to and from Latin America, most flights were canceled, said George

  Petrie, of Triple A Travel Agency in Miami. American let passengers board

  some flights and then made them get off because there was no crew.


  Nashville. About 35% of American's 106 daily departures left with passengers as

  scheduled. Jo Ann Schmidt was supposed to fly from Detroit to San Diego for

  her mother's wedding on Saturday. She was diverted to Nashville. After two

  hours, she still didn't know whether she'd get there. "This is nerve-racking. We

  have no Plan B," she said.


  Washington. At Washington National Airport, only one of 15 American flights

  departed as scheduled by 11 a.m. Fliers wandered around looking for anyone

  who worked for American. American didn't cancel flights until minutes before

  they were supposed to leave. Ticketholders didn't have time to catch flights on

  other airlines.


  "I'm really mad," said Deborah Nixon, 27. She was supposed to leave at 9:30

  a.m. to be at her firm's annual meeting in Dallas at 1 p.m. She didn't get out of

  Washington until 2:30 p.m. "I just hope everybody else was on American, too,"

  she said.


  Even American officials were stuck. American's labor negotiators spent

  Wednesday night in New Orleans trying to hammer out a deal. They were

  spotted Thursday morning at a Southwest Airlines ticket counter.


  Without a quick settlement, the strike is likely to cost American hundreds of

  millions of dollars. Six days after its strike in March 1989, struggling Eastern

  filed for bankruptcy reorganization and shut down almost two years later. A

  USAir strike last year lasted five days. It was the shortest strike at a major airline

  since 1978.


  Fliers and travel agents are preparing. At Carlson Travel in Green Bay, Wis.,

  agents have rebooked American fliers for weeks to come. FPT Travel in

  Cambridge, Mass., has set up a passenger hot line. "This strike is going to raise

  all kinds of Cain," said David Brown of All Aboard Travel.


  The stakes are high for American, too.


  American's parent, AMR, has lost $1.2 billion since 1990. It's under increasing

  pressure from low-cost airlines, like Southwest. Low-cost airlines have less than

  10% of the U.S. market now, but are the fastest growing.


  American CEO Robert Crandall says the carrier cannot compete because of its

  high labor costs. Instead of expanding American, he's shrinking it. By the end of

  1994, AMR will eliminate 5,000 jobs, or 5% of its workforce.


  American's attendants know AMR has lost money. But now AMR is poised for a

  turnaround: It's expected to make $192 million this year and $598 million next



  In 1983, the attendants agreed to a two-tier wage scale that meant new hires took

  pay cuts of 30% to 40%. "We've given and given and given," said attendant

  Michelle Milliron.


  Contributing: Sally Deneen, Kevin Johnson, Jonathan T. Lovitt , Tim Martin,

  Ken Turetzky and Rhonda Richards

  PHOTO,color,Anne Ryan, USA TODAY ; PHOTO,color,Mark Wilson,AP;

  PHOTO,color,Jerry Redfern,AP