back to article Night before Xmas and all through American Airlines, not a pilot was flying, thanks to this bug

A bug in American Airlines' pilot scheduling software has left the US airline woefully understaffed for the coming month, particularly around Christmas week. Due to a gremlin in the code, all pilots who requested time off for the holidays were granted leave, whereas the system should have approved some and rejected others to …

  1. DNTP

    Yo get the fly boys back on the job

    "Yo get the fly boys back on the job and avoid axing flights..."

    I suspect the first letter of that sentence will be corrected to a "T", but honestly I think the directive is a lot funnier that way, and possibly an inadvertently direct quote from some middle-aged company director trying to act 'hip with it'.

    1. Adam Foxton
      Coat

      Re: Yo get the fly boys back on the job

      "American Airlines- Up with the Aircraft, Down with the cool kids"

      1. William Towle
        Thumb Up

        Re: Yo get the fly boys back on the job

        > "American Airlines- Up with the Aircraft, Down with the cool kids"

        "Up with the aircraft" remains to be seen AFAICT

        (but I laughed, so have a +1)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AI / Automation

    Can't wait!

    1. Stuart 22
      Devil

      Re: AI / Automation

      Yep, Ryanair really do offer the cheapest Pilot Scheduling software money can buy. But I guess AA selected the random allocation feature. Great if the flight isn't cancelled. But do you really want the pilot and first officer sitting behind you in 16E and 26B?

      Longer arms an advantage.

      [Only recent Ryanair afficiandos may fully appreciate the spirit of customer satisfaction involved]

    2. Scroticus Canis
      Terminator

      Re: AI / Automation - Can't wait!

      Oh yes you can, computer says so.

  3. Speltier

    1.5

    So... the pilots that asked for vacation and then reverse course get 1.5 time, while those that didn't get just time? I can see a bit of grumbling there.

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: 1.5

      If you'd booked your time off completely unaware of this issue as they were and then made plans, what would it take to make you change your mind? Would you reverse your decision to have holiday out of the goodness of your heart? What else can they do. The pilots that didn't book holiday aren't being asked to inconvenience themselves.

      1. #define INFINITY -1 Bronze badge

        Re: 1.5

        Weird. Two opposing views, both only with upvotes.

        Wouldn't want to spoil that; this post is magnanimously given to the impulsive downvoters.

        (BTW I agree with the first poster, but isn't it always thus?)

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: 1.5

          "Weird. Two opposing views, both only with upvotes."

          I think you're just witnessing the elusive "I will upvote any opinion I agree with but will not downvote one merely for disagreeing, unless I'm strongly opposed" phenomenon in action...

  4. NotTrue
    Pint

    Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

    I think I would take the holiday regardless of the wages, stuff flying all over the shop over the christmas period when you could be sitting at home chilling with family. Money can't buy happiness.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

      I always volunteered to work or be on call over Christmas/New Year. I'd usually do a deal on having extra time off instead of extra pay. One year I took the whole of January off and spent most of it with the family in New Zealand.

      Back then no one bothered about taking the kids out of school for that length of time. They came back a with a lot more understanding of the places and cultures we'd visited.

      Pity that I'd probably end up in jail if I did it now. It didn't hurt my kids education. Both have PHD's and are working in careers that they love.

      1. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

        I always volunteered to work or be on call over Christmas/New Year. I'd usually do a deal on having extra time off instead of extra pay. One year I took the whole of January off and spent most of it with the family in New Zealand.

        I had one Christmas 2007 I think where I was down to work in a critical role over the festive period. Then the company announced that they were making Christmas Eve and New Years Eve holiday days. They were both Mondays and I think a fair few people were just going to call in sick regardless. If you had to work those days then you were allowed to take them in the New Year. I had already carried over the maximum five days into the new year and so I ended up with seven days holiday in January. I had three and four day weeks as a result. Had I known they were going to do it I would have booked a holiday somewhere sunny for January.

      2. ps2os2

        Re: Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

        When I first started programming, I was the only single guy on the team, so I was told to come in on Thanksgiving and play operator to get a report out, for our VP. I was young and had not been in computer operations in the bank I worked at. I won't go into the whole story, but to make it short, I was surrounded by security guards as no one told Computer operations I was supposed to be there. I was taken to a holding cell while they called the police. I finally got to talk with the senior guard and showed him my ID. I got them to hold the call and asked them to call my boss. The boss (whom I had talked to earlier) phone was not functioning at this time. I asked them to call the VP, and they did, and I was eventually let go, and I went back to the computer room and ran the job that produced the 1-page report for my VP and shut down the computer and placed the report on his desk.

        The following Monday as I was sitting down, my boss grabbed me and escorted me to the VP's office. I asked my boss was I in some trouble as I was doing this under the boss's supervision. He said we both might be in trouble and not to say anything just follow his lead. The VP said he was happy he got his report and looked at my boss and said you better not have any more phone troubles. He got up and left with the one-page report and looked at me and said thank you for working on Thanksgiving and left the room. That afternoon my boss took me over to the computer room and introduced me to everyone and made sure I knew where everything was kept.

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

      and for people without (close) family around them, Christmas can be a very depressing time of year. For those people, work is a welcome escape from the feeling of loneliness that is pushed upon them at that time of year.

      Then there are also people who aren't of one of the faiths that celebrate at that time of year, for whom it should be no different to any other time of year.

    3. Steve the Cynic
      Joke

      Re: Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

      Money can't buy happiness

      No, but in my grandfather's words, reported to me by my mother(1), you "can be miserable in comfort."

      (1) Her father. He died the year before I was born.

      1. jmch Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

        Money can't buy happiness

        But it can buy you things that will make you happy :)

        1. Swarthy Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

          Money can't buy happiness

          But it can make a nice down-payment. Just ask her -->

      2. willi0000000

        Re: Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

        Money can't buy happiness but it can rent it!

    4. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: Time and a half or a holiday over christmas

      "Money can't buy happiness."

      I'd like to have enough to find out if that is really true.

      (Spike Milligan I think.)

  5. sjsmoto

    "We have reserve pilots to help cover flying in December, and we are paying pilots who pick up certain open trips 150 percent of their hourly rate – as much as we are allowed to pay them per the contract."

    I love how they make it seem like the company really really wants to pay them more, but golly gee, that darn contract is getting in the way.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @sjsmoto

      "I love how they make it seem like the company really really wants to pay them more, but golly gee, that darn contract is getting in the way."

      You raise a valid concern but sometimes this can actually be true, depending on the kind of government and the rules they apply. For example: over here in Holland employers have to pay 50% worth of taxes if they want to give their staff a little bonus on the payroll. So say a company has 4 employees and wants to give them half their salary as a bonus then they'd actually be looking at an effective cost of twice the salary costs. Even though the employees only get to see half of it.

      I'm not implying that this is also happening here, but it most certainly wouldn't surprise me if you had to put the blame on the government instead of the contract.

  6. web_bod
    Facepalm

    No Fly Zone

    ̶P̶l̶a̶n̶e̶s̶, Trains and Automobiles

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No Fly Zone

      "̶P̶l̶a̶n̶e̶s̶, Trains and Automobiles"

      No trains... Network Rail are doing upgrades over Xmas

  7. LosD

    Re: And people trust goo ...

    "and we are paying pilots who pick up certain open trips 150 percent of their hourly rate – as much as we are allowed to pay them per the contract."

    That sounds... Odd. "Please note in my contract that I'm not allowed to be paid more that xxxx".

    If it's added on behalf of the company, it both sounds like something put there for this exact excuse, as well as something that (at least from how I understand contract law) they don't need to renegotiate to change, as it's same or better terms.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: And people trust goo ...

      Perfectly common in union jobs. There is a maximum bonus/overtime rate to stop managers having a low official rate and making it up in bonuses/overtime/allowances that they can change independant of the union. Similar to how wall st pays discretionary bonuses of several times the annual salary

  8. Oengus
    FAIL

    Managers too slack to do their job

    It could so easily happen in my workplace. The managers used to be required to approve all leave requests. If they didn't do their job the request went through to payroll who automatically approved the leave (Policy decision). When this was reviewed the system was changed to automatically approve all leave that the employee had entitlement to because so many managers were not "doing their job". The managers are advised of the leave and have the ability to decline the leave but seldom bother review the leave calendars. If employees decide to apply for leave for the same period at different times the manager probably wouldn't notice that all of their staff are off at the same time.

    1. sjsmoto

      Re: Managers too slack to do their job

      The cynic in me sees this as a way for slack managers to get bonuses for saving the company money.

      "Oops, all 20 of my staff are out. Hm, nothing's crashing, everything's fine. I think I'll can 15 of them."

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was it created in...

    ...Matsoft.

    No one heard of Matsoft? Point made. Ask a certain Council why they insist on using it then when you can't get anyone easily, to code for it.

    1. Amos1

      Re: Was it created in...

      When a new technology is proposed by the devs I always check the job postings for it on Dice and Indeed. If no one is hiring for it it's not a good technology. They once wanted to start using Microsoft Lightswitch. Everything pointed to Lightswitch being a dead product, even Microsoft's tech blog hadn't had an update in over a year. There were more postings for electricians using the word "light switch" than developers on Indeed, because that;s clearly where all of the really good electricians hang out, and more posts for Silverlight developers after everyone knew it was a DOA product.

      But because mgmt is so smart we went with it anyway. And two years later dumped it and rewrote everything because it would not scale, just like all of the evidence said. Apparently we don't have the time to do it right the first time but we do find the time to re-do it. :-)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't blame them booking it off, have you seen die hard 2?

  11. Kernel Silver badge

    Or, as we would say in English ..

    "By not including APA in developing collaborative solutions to this critical holiday scheduling failure, management’s actions contrast with their handling of previous scheduling failures involving other work groups," the union said on Tuesday."

    "They didn't give us the chance to screw even more money out of the company."

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Or, as we would say in English ..

      "They didn't give us the chance to screw even more money out of the company."

      The company probably wanted sorted out for this Christmas, not the year after next.

  12. WolfFan Silver badge

    the pic

    Why is Santa on a MiG-19?

    1. Blofeld's Cat
      Mushroom

      Re: the pic

      "Why is Santa on a MiG-19?"

      [Checks pylons] I guess he's delivering "gifts" to people on his "naughty" list ...

      1. A. Coatsworth
        Holmes

        Re: the pic

        He is red and gives things for free to people who doesn't even work. Af course Santa is part of the Commie plot!

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: the pic

        Because: JFK archive confirms existence of false flag plan to start war with USSR

        This is off-topic, but I will bite.

        I love RT reporting. They are taking the best pages of radio Free Europe book, enhancing them with the best of BBC Foreign service experience and topping it with some recent newspaper sprinkle.

        That was not the intention of the meeting. This is the classic BBC Foreign Service/Radio Free Europe method of "take a fact, put it out of the context, and make it seem like a phenomenal piece of news".

        The context is that this is part of the post Bay of the Pigs planning of the second invasion which never materialized. CIA made extensive use of false flag aircraft during the Bay of the Pigs operation and it worked because both the Cubans and the CIA were using the same planes - P47, T33 and B26. There were some real gems of propaganda and fake news there too - bombing a civilian international airport, fake landings by fake defector pilots in planes with fake bullet holes all over the place. Verrrrrrrry theatric (*).

        By mid-1962, Cubans already had Russian planes. This is what this is about - FEAS for reusing an already used and successful strategy.

        It would have caused WW3 for a different reason - by that point the missile launchers for the Cuban missile crisis were already being built.

        In any case - nothing to do with Santa and AA :)

        (*)They have not managed to achieve the same level of grandeur ever since. Neither Ex-USSR, nor Syria, nor ex-Yugoslavia false flag setups they ran were anywhere as pompous

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: the pic

      Wait, are you saying... no way. Oh no. Oh god. It's not a real photo?

      C.

  13. Brian Miller

    Software bug

    If (TRUE)

    Or some complex variation thereof.

    Testing. You know you should have done some.

  14. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Nickname

    Back in the day, there was an airline over here Allegheny Airlines that was called Agony Airlines. I think through a series of mergers they became UScare. I suggest the nickname should be revived for American and henceforth they shall be called 'Agony Airlines'.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nickname

      I think U-Scare is a fine name

    2. G.Y.

      Re: Nickname

      USeless air

      Now merged with AA

  15. Milton Silver badge

    The unbeatable combination: greed and stupidity

    You see it in every single corner of our societies now: the desperate and heedless grasping for lucre, coupled with dumbfounding stupidity.

    In a well-managed company (there may be a few left, but I've only encountered one in the last 20 years and it was a non-profit) there are some tasks a manager naturally performs. They are not something you should automate until and unless we have true "AI", which will look and behave unlike anything currently being touted as "AI" by the marketurds.

    One of those tasks—along with setting priorities, agreeing goals, organising appropriate training, resolving disputes and acting as an early-warning detector for problems, and so many non-negotiably essential other roles of the good manager—is to approve leave. The manager does this because s/he is responsible for the team's/department's overall delivery, has the best view of who is doing what, and also should have the best ability to ensure fairness in allowing time off. As anyone who's had these responsibilities knows, sometimes it can be tricky to decide who gets to take leave at particular times, when you also have to ensure sufficient resources to cover the work. Occasionally you have to make a tough call and disappoint someone. Being fair and decent and transparent about it, so that people don't feel it's arbitrary, or suspect favouritism, is a uniquely human skills, as is the soothing of ruffled feathers when someone is ticked off.

    That the approval and allocation of leave requests could be assigned to an automated process—I find astonishing. Pilots have managers in the flight ops department, whose very purpose is to ensure that resourcing, rostering, training and much else is well organised to ensure a functioning machine and a satisfied work force. If that's not what they're doing, why are they employed?

    This is a classic case of greed (let's save some expensive man-hours) and stupidity (give a task requiring human judgement to a chunk of code).

    And, of course, as always happens when greed and stupidity come along hand in hand, the end result is that the business is less efficient in the long run, incurring additional costs because of the mess created by the original, dumb decision-making.

    Whoever thought it was good idea to save money by letting code perform a human manager's tasks should now be answering some tough questions about why pilots will have to be paid 50% extra to fly planes. For an airline this size during peak season, the cost will be in the millions surely?

    PS: Except, of course, the idiot who "saved" this money has most likely pocketed their "cost-saving bonus" and fled to cause another disaster somewhere else ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The unbeatable combination: greed and stupidity

      Of course, this kind of gross inefficiency is only possible when a company enjoys a monopoly or oligopoly position in its market. Were they truly competitive, such shenanigans as this and others would spell doom in short order. As so much economically unjustified concentration has been allowed, these kind of inefficiencies are now commonplace.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AI - Automatically Inept

    That is all.

  17. Spiracle
    Thumb Up

    +1 for gremlin

  18. Korev Silver badge
    Coat

    NYE

    I'm sure it'll all New Year's Even itself out in the end...

  19. Ralph the Wonder Llama
    Unhappy

    How I wish...

    ...that they used this system where I work :(

  20. willi0000000

    teamwork

    It’s another example of why we are thankful to have such an incredible team.

    i've never seen a statement like that by a corporation that wasn't followed by layoffs, salary reductions or pension theft?

    [ it's good to be loved ]

  21. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Pilot Scheduling Application

    They thought that meant it was for scheduling pilots, rather than being a Beta version.

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