Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Lately, I've been hearing from the occasional American Airlines passenger that they're not entirely happy.

Oh, this happens with United Airlines passengers, too -- yet, oddly enough, not so often with those who regularly fly Southwest and Delta.

Relatively speaking, that is.

At the heart of the complaints I hear are delays and staff who seem less motivated than they might be.

Of course, these two things could be influencing each other.

Indeed, Gary Leff at View From the Wing got hold of numbers presented by American's management to employees.  

They make for grim reaping.

I'm sorry, I meant grim reading.

You see, in the week from June 7 to 13, American's planes left punctually only 57.8 percent of the time.

I know customers have noticed. I also know that there might be one or two extenuating circumstances.

One might be that the airline has been in conflict with its mechanics for some time.

Relations between the two sides seem akin to those between an inebriated snake and a rabid mongoose.

American is currently suing its mechanics. It claims they're deliberately writing up spurious mechanical problems at the last minute, in order to disrupt flights and thereby get leverage in their contract negotiations. 

On June 14, a Texas court issued a temporary restraining order against the mechanics.

Surprisingly, the mechanics don't currently have kindhearted feelings toward management.

Indeed, John Samuelsen, president of TWU International -- the American Airlines mechanics' union -- stared at American's president Robert Isom between the eyes and suggested the union may go on strike.

He mused

If this erupts into the bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States labor movement ever saw, that's what's going to happen. You're already profitable enough.

Oh, corporations rarely have a definition of enough. Unless it includes the word more.

The mechanics are concerned American wants to outsource more of its maintenance work. They claim the airline may start using inferior parts.

Passengers, of course, are always in the middle of these things, powerless and frustrated.

They just want everyone to get along, do their jobs, and provide a service. And even, who knows, get a genuine smile from a staff member.

Indeed, this was something recognized recently by Southwest. 

It was also in a bitter seven-year dispute with its mechanics, but finally decided it was unwise to prolong it, especially in these torrid times.

Talking of Southwest, its own mechanics' union has suddenly expressed its feelings about flying American.

In an extraordinary statement, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association asked its members not to fly American because of alleged safety concerns.

The statement reads, in part: 

FAA investigations and CBS News reports confirm that American has been operating under a compromised maintenance safety culture for years with management resorting to coercive practices to suppress reports of aircraft damage.

Another part enjoys chilling tones: 

If you care about your families' safety, do not put them on an American Airlines flight until this injunction is vacated.

Some will see this merely as one union supporting another. 

I contacted American to ask how the airline sees it. A spokesperson told me: 

American has a best-in-class maintenance program that meets or exceeds FAA and manufacturer requirements. We have the largest maintenance team in the industry with 15,000 Technical Operations professionals, including more than 9,000 FAA-licensed aviation maintenance technicians and more than 100 FAA-awarded Master Mechanics. There are multiple platforms for team members to raise concerns, including anonymously, through our Aviation Safety Action Program. Our team members put safety above all else.

No airline enjoys this level of disruption to its flights.

American, of course, is also canceling hundreds of flights because of the continued grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX.

Yet the airline has always held up efficiency as its primary trait. 

Indeed, CEO Doug Parker freely declared that leaving on time was by far the most important thing the airline could do for passengers.

I worry, though, that American's confidence is beginning to erode. And this at a time when it has done some things well -- for example, expand its Wi-Fi service, which is far more serviceable than that of, say, United.

Remember the 57.8 percent result for on-time departures at American?

The airline's goal was a mere 64.2 percent. That doesn't reek of certainty in your operation or the good intentions of your employees.

In struggles like this, someone will blink. 

Hopefully before passengers take a hard squint and decide they've really had quite enough.

Published on: Jun 23, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.