AA spokesperson on some pilots' behavior: "We can't sustain this"

American Airlines logo

(CBS News) American Airlines has now canceled hundreds of flights since mid-September amid a labor dispute with its pilots and has warned the pilots' union that they may pursue legal action.

Bruce Hicks, a spokesman for American Airlines, apologized on "CBS This Morning" to the airline's customers. He said, "This is not the way American Airlines runs an airline. It's not the way we're going to be running it in the future. ... These issues will not continue. They cannot continue. They are unacceptable and we understand that our customers are upset. They should be."

On Wednesday, American warned the pilots that the airline may take their union to court. That threat came in a letter, sent just a few hours after the pilots' union agreed to resume contract talks.

This month's on-time arrivals have dropped below 60 percent - down from the carrier's monthly average of 82 percent. And since September 16, Flight-stats.com says the airline has cancelled more than 700 flights.

Passengers like Harry Roberson - whose outgoing flight was canceled last week - are concerned. He said, "We need to maybe go looking at other airlines."

The airline says the hiccups are due to pilots calling in sick and that there's been a spike in maintenance work orders by pilots. However, the airline says it's all part of a work action sparked by labor problems.

"There's no question that some of our pilots are doing things that are disruptive to our operation or harmful to our customers, and in fact, impactful on all the employees of the company, but most importantly to our customers. We can't sustain this. We can't allow this to continue. We won't allow to it continue," Hicks said.

Watch Hicks' full interview in the video below.

The pilots, according to Hicks, are making a number of last-minute maintenance requests that cause delays, which he called "insignificant things," such as broken coffee pots, passenger reading lights or torn seat pockets. He added, "We've had a huge increase in the number of complaints within the cockpit, things like the lights not bright enough. Those are up more than twice. Complaints about cockpit wind shields."

Scott Shankland, of the Allied Pilots Association - the collective bargaining agent for American Airlines pilots, said, "There is absolutely no job action that is being orchestrated or any sanction being led by the pilots union."

Last month, a bankruptcy court, seeking to trim labor costs by $1 billion, gave the airline permission to throw out an existing contract with its pilots.

This after the union refused to give concessions on a new contract. Hicks said the agreement with the pilots would have provided the company the savings "necessary for successful restructuring and provide our pilots with a solid agreement going forward." But, he said, it "unfortunately didn't ratify."

Shankland said, "Bankruptcy allows the corporation to extort concessions from the labor groups."

Last week, pilots took to the picket lines at the Los Angeles airport.

While the pilots and American Airlines seem to be in a stalemate, both the flight attendants and mechanics unions have come to terms with the airline. Still, those two unions have very little confidence in the company.

Laura Glading, of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said, "Obviously, there was very poor decision-making. I don't believe American can survive as a standalone."

If and when the parties go back to the table remains to be seen. American Airlines says that it will emerge from bankruptcy protection with or without a renegotiated pilot contract.

Asked about a potential merger between U.S. Airways and American Airlines, Hicks said, "I can tell you that American is taking a careful look at strategic alternatives to our standalone plan. We've signed nondisclosure agreements with several organizations, including U.S. Airways. But we're not going to talk about the specifics of those at this point."

For more on this story, watch Manuel Bojorquez's report in the video above.