American Airlines carrier cancels Charlotte flights, prompting passenger fury

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Edwin and Patsy Zeppa had just landed in Charlotte for a layover, returning from a trip to London. They were trying to get to their connecting gate when they found out their flight to a regional airport in Tennessee was canceled.

As they went to collect their luggage in hopes of booking a hotel for the evening, they ran into a crowd of American Airlines customers who, like them, had canceled flights. They said they could barely move through baggage claim.

“It was elbow-to-elbow down there,” Edwin Zeppa said.

They were among thousands of travelers who were stranded in Charlotte overnight Thursday after a “technical issue” led to the cancellation of more than 100 American Airlines flights.

The planes were operated by PSA Airlines, a regional carrier owned by American Airlines. PSA operates 800 flights each day from across the east coast to nearly 100 sites, according to the company’s website.

In all, the airline canceled 275 flights Thursday at various airports, according to the Observer’s news partner, WBTV.

“We never want to disrupt our customers’ travel plans, and are sorry for the frustration this caused,” PSA said Friday in a tweeted statement. “American Airlines is providing support and will be reaching out to all those impacted by this issue.”

A representative from American Airlines didn’t respond to phone calls or an email.

On Friday morning, flights were expected to start again around noon, Charlotte Douglas International Airport reported in a tweet.

While thousands of stranded customers tried to make alternative plans Thursday night, American Airlines tweeted they were working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Many, like the Zeppas, slept in the airport after they were told hotels in the area were booked.

Some were able to rent cars before companies ran out. Rental car companies at the airport told TV station WSOC they were rushing more to the airport to meet the demand.

By Friday morning, customers were still sorting through their plans to leave Charlotte.

Mary Bruce sat on an airport bench as she tried to calm her hungry 11-month-old daughter. Extra food wasn’t something Bruce thought to pack when her family was making a trip from Mississippi to Kentucky to see her ailing father.

Bruce’s layover with her husband and two daughters was in Charlotte, she said. The family was able to book a flight to Philadelphia that will connect to Kentucky, a full day after they were supposed to arrive. The ordeal added unnecessary stress to her trip, she said.

“This could’ve been prevented,” she said. “I’m already under emotional stress with my father being ill, and it’s frustrating.”

While travelers like Bruce chose to get new flights, others looked for different options.

The Zeppas were waiting on their daughter to drive four hours to take them to their original destination in Tennessee. They would’ve had to wait until Saturday for the next flight, so driving was a better alternative, they said.

The couple was frustrated with American Airlines and felt they didn’t receive much help after they were forced to sleep on the airport’s floor all night.

“I just think they should’ve been more accommodating,” Edwin Zeppa said. “I would’ve been happy if they had put a cot on the floor to sleep.”

Headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, PSA has flight crews based at Charlotte Douglas and five other airports, and maintenance facilities at Charlotte Douglas and seven other airports, according to the airline’s site.

Regional carriers are used by major airlines as a cost savings measure, according to the website OneMileAtATime.com. The staff is paid less than staff at a major airline, and uses smaller planes and covers destinations that often attract fewer passengers, the site reports.

PSA’s website says the airline operates 35 Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft, 40 Bombardier CRJ700 aircraft and 54 Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067; @jmarusak



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