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American Air Steps Up Passenger Outreach as Delays Continue

Mary Schlangenstein

(Bloomberg) -- American Airlines Group Inc. is stepping up damage-control efforts with customers who have suffered multiple delays or cancellations as flight disruptions linger from a work slowdown by mechanics and bag handlers.

Operations have improved each month since June, Kerry Philipovitch, senior vice president-customer experience, said Tuesday at an aviation conference in Las Vegas. That’s when a federal court issued a temporary restraining order against the TWU-IAM Association to end a union-backed job action designed to gain leverage in lengthy contract talks. The judge agreed last month to a permanent injunction against the union, which is appealing the decision.

The slowdown caused more than 1,200 cancellations and lengthy delays, delivering a blow to the busy summer travel season for American. The disruption has boosted operating costs by keeping planes out of service for longer than normal and forcing it to start the day with fewer operating aircraft. The carrier has sued the union for damages to help recover some of the costs.

“We still haven’t returned to full levels of productivity and capacity within our maintenance organization,” Philipovitch said in remarks at the conference. “We’re still feeling the effects of that.”

The airline’s “win back” team is contacting the most-affected customers, many of whom are American’s most frequent fliers, in some cases just to empathize and other times to offer compensation -- usually involving extra loyalty program miles. Employees may do “something more creative” depending on the circumstances.

“Certainly we’ve disappointed people,” she said. Philipovitch couldn’t say how many customers have experienced multiple delays. The airline hasn’t seen a “material defection” of corporate customers.

A customer-service training program asks workers to apologize to passengers when flights go wrong, but they have not been ordered to do so, the executive said. “The thing I hear most is, ‘I’m tired of apologizing.’”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Case at bcase4@bloomberg.net, Susan Warren

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