United Continental Holdings Inc.’s Continental Airlines unit canceled 24 flights today because of crew shortages, mostly from the carrier’s hub at New Jersey’s Newark airport.
A so-called sickout occurred among pilots, news website Click2Houston.com reported. Megan McCarthy, a United Continental spokeswoman, confirmed the shortage, flight totals and locations by telephone while saying the airline wasn’t speculating on the cause of the absences.
Continental’s chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association union has said that it has a shortfall of at least 200 pilots, and that its members had to fly extra trips to cover the schedule. A union spokeswoman, Amy Flanagan, declined to comment on the flight cancellations.
United Continental was formed when UAL Corp.’s United and Continental Airlines Inc. merged in October, forming the world’s largest carrier. The Chicago-based company’s airlines must operate separately until they receive a joint certificate later this year from the Federal Aviation Administration.
A July 14 agreement between United Continental and unions for the separate subsidiaries cleared the way for offering 201 pilot vacancies at Continental, which was based in Houston before the merger, to furloughed United pilots. The pilots would start training in September and wouldn’t begin flying until year’s end, Continental’s union chapter said at the time.
United and Continental together fly more than 5,700 flights a day and have about 9,900 pilots among their 86,000 employees.
Pilot sickouts can result in court orders prohibiting employees from taking those actions.
United won an appeals court ruling in March 2009 barring pilots from a work slowdown that led to 329 canceled flights over two months. The United pilots union testified that an increased number of sick calls during that period was “purely a coincidence” and wasn’t a coordinated effort.
In February 1999, American Airlines pilots called in sick over 11 days to protest plans to add pilots from Reno Air Inc. to their seniority list. American was forced to cancel 6,600 flights, costing parent AMR Corp. $250 million and snarling U.S. air traffic. A federal judge later ordered the Allied Pilots Association to pay American $45.5 million in damages.
United fell 70 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $18.06 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have tumbled 24 percent this year.