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October 3, 2012

PR Shake-Up: Loose Seats On Flights Keeping American Airlines's Reputation Aquiver — On Heels Of Ongoing Labor Disputes, Carrier's PR Crisis Intensifies: American Rejects Idea That Incidents are Related

Loose passenger seats on three American Airlines flights actually make for a nice metaphor for the carrier's ongoing PR struggles — the company's reputation seems a bit shaky right now. After two incidents were reported earlier this week, American says passenger seats on a third flight came loose during flight and it's continuing to inspect other jets with similar seating — but company officials say that the loose seats are not an act of sabotage by angry workers, referring to its ongoing labor disputes with pilots and others that have forced numerous flight cancellations and delays, an AP news release reports.

The airline acknowledged Tuesday that seats came loose on a flight last week between Vail, Colo., and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The same thing happened on a flight Saturday and another on Monday. American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely says the airline is inspecting eight of its Boeing 757s that share similar seat assemblies, reports the news release by AP writer David Koenig.

The planes involved in the Saturday and Monday incidents were recently worked on at an American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa, Okla., and at a Timco Aviation Services facility in North Carolina.

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 said, USA Today reports. He said the aircraft involved had recently gone through a seat reconfiguration to create extra leg room for premium seating in economy.

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, report USA Today writers Nancy Trejos and Ben Mutzabaugh.

In its statement, reprinted in the USA Today article, 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."

Meanwhile, 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 said, the USA Today article reports.

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