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American Airlines pilots picket at O’Hare

American Airlines pilots including First Officer John Koss picket O'Hare International Airport Chicago Ill. Thursday September 20 2012. | Andrew

American Airlines pilots including First Officer John Koss picket at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, September 20, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:18AM

Hundreds of American Airlines pilots picketed in uniform outside O’Hare Airport Thursday to fight management work rule changes as the airline battles bankruptcy.

Earlier this week, American Airlines and American Eagle canceled 300 flights. Airline officials say the cancellations are to cope with a high number of pilots reporting sick and an increase in maintenance reports filed by crews. But pilots dispute the claim, saying there was not a large number of workers calling in sick. They say the airline’s aging planes is causing the problem.

The pilots and airline in a fight over a new contract. Pilots rejected the company’s latest contract offer last month.

Airline owner AMR Corp. is trying to cut labor costs by about $1 billion. Earlier this month, a federal bankruptcy judge allowed the company to impose new pay and work rules on pilots.

Meanwhile, the canceled flights amount to 1.25 percent of the 24,000 flights for the airlines. At O’Hare, “only a handful” of flights were canceled, said Mary Frances Fagan, spokeswoman for American Airlines. “All those passengers will be re-accommodated on other flights and we expect no significant delays.”

Union officials say the airline is operating at minimum FAA security standards to save some cash.

“We review the same data...we’ve reviewed it over the last several days and we’ve concluded that there’s no historical bump in pilot sick pay. It is the same that it’s been,” said Dennis Tajer, Allied Pilots Association spokesman and a veteran pilot.

The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month proposed a $162 million fine against American for alleged safety and maintenance violations. And Tajer says 11,000 systemwide layoffs and 900 in Chicago have dwindled the number of maintenance technicians and left undersupplied maintenance racks for varying aircrafts.

American is telling its frequent fliers why it’s been experiencing delays and has been letting customers fly standby for earlier flights at no extra charge.

It’s too early to tell how long customers will be affected by American’s financial woes, according to Cyndie Brough, spokeswoman for AAA. “These operational challenges can be fluid, and airlines that have them react to those fluid changes,” Brough said. “Travel industry professionals all will monitor those changes and advise our customers accordingly.”

Her advice: “Stay on top of the changes. Stay informed. Pack light. Travel with a carryon luggage and be flexible.”

Contributing: Jim Scalzitti

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