Nancy Trejos and Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY
(USA TODAY) - American Airlines remains in the spotlight for an issue involving seats becoming loose during flight.
It had been reported that a row of seats became loose from the floor on two American Airlines flights on Boeing 757 jets. Now, it seems three flights have been hit with the problem, though two of the incidents occurred on the same plane, American Airlines confirms to USA TODAY.
The third incident was first reported by the New York Post, which says a row of seats came loose in-flight on an American 757 flight from Vail, Colo., to Dallas/Fort Worth. That adds to the two already-reported incidents on AA 757s, which happened yesterday on a New York JFK-to-Miami flight and on a Saturday flight from Boston to Miami.
American has been dogged by labor issues in recent months as it restructures under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but AA spokesman Bruce Hicks says labor disputes have nothing to do with the mechanical problems on the grounded planes.
"This could not be less related," he says to Today in the Sky.
He said the aircraft involved had recently gone through a seat reconfiguration to create extra leg room for premium seating in economy.
AA spokeswoman Andrea Huguely tells AP that the airline is inspecting eight of its Boeing 757s that share similar seat assemblies.
Meanwhile, AA's mechanics union also has come out with a statement today in which it adamantly denies any connection between the loose seats and the company's labor unrest. Instead, the Transport Workers Union that represents AA's mechanics and maintenance workers pointed the finger at what says is outsourcing by American.
In its statement, the TWU says:
Statements by some in the media and by self-appointed 'experts' linking the seat problem to labor issues are without any basis in fact. The facts are TWU has ratified agreements with the airline in recent weeks for all its members. Problems related to seats are less likely a labor problem, but rather a management issue related to outsourcing work to third-party facilities.
The use of outsourced maintenance is increasing. American Airlines has announced their intention to increase the use of third-part facilities, especially ones located in China and other overseas locations as part of their plan to exit bankruptcy.
AP writes that "the planes involved in the ... incidents were recently worked on at an American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa, Okla., and a Timco Aviation Services facility in North Carolina. In both cases American employees were the last to touch the seats, which were removed and reinstalled during maintenance, Huguely said. A Timco spokesman declined to comment beyond saying that the company is still investigating."
Meanwhile, AA spokesman Hicks said American would like to return to the bargaining table with its pilots.
"American has been very clear for weeks that we want to return to the bargaining table. We made the request on multiple occasions," he says to USA TODAY.
The airline has accused pilots of purposely disrupting flights by calling out sick and making frivolous maintenance reports.
Hicks said pilots' sick leave has been up since March. In September, he said it was up 20% over September 2011.
Last week, American sent a letter to pilots threatening legal action if they don't cease any disruptive activities. Hicks said the airline has not made a decision as to whether to go the legal route.
"We're monitoring very closely and we'll make that decision as needed," he said. "We have no interest in taking legal action. That's not our preferred choice."