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American Airlines computer glitch leaves 15,000 holiday flights without pilots

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A glitch in the computer scheduling system left more than 15,000 scheduled American Airlines flights without pilots for the busy holiday season. The airline is pledging to work everything out so holiday travelers can reach their destinations. (Getty Images)

More than 15,000 scheduled American Airlines flights are currently without pilots for the busy holiday season following a glitch in a computer scheduling system, The Dallas Morning News reported.

How did this happen?

The system granted vacations to American Airlines pilots that requested the same days off  around Christmas. As a result, thousands of flights have no pilot scheduled. To fix the problem, American Airlines is offering to pay pilots 150 percent of their hourly pay to work on dates that are not covered, a spokesman for the carrier told CNBC.

The mix-up is not expected to force cancellations, according to reports. The airline is pledging to work everything out so holiday travelers can reach their destinations.

The Allied Pilots Association, the pilots' union, compiled the figures on the number of flights affected from Dec. 17 to Dec. 31, based on information provided by the carrier, The Dallas Morning News reported. An American Airlines spokesman declined to confirm the figures.

What is the impact?

American Airlines will likely have to revamp the computerized staffing system, said John Cox, a former pilot and chief executive officer of Safety Operating Systems, a consulting firm. At the very least, the airline could face higher labor costs by giving pilots more pay to man the uncovered flights. The potential increase costs come at a time when investors are scrutinizing expenses, he added.

"It will be a challenge, but I don't think there will be mass cancellations," Cox told The Dallas Morning News. "There's going to be a lot of midnight oil spent on it, but I think they'll get the vast majority of them covered one way or another."

The glitch essentially granted every time off request without regard for whether it would cause inadequate staffing.

"The airline is a 24/7 op," Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines captain, told CNBC. "The system went from responsibly scheduling everybody to becoming Santa Claus to everyone."

"The computer said, 'Hey ya'll. You want the days off? You got it.'"

American Airlines is the largest airline in the nation, with key hubs in Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, Miami, and New York City.

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