I'd like to point out one correction. Purdue was slightly mistaken when he stated:
"The issue with this particular AA flight is that, in order to get the westbound leg under 8 hours, American has begun to plan the flight at lower altitudes and higher airspeeds than normal. The planned conditions allow for flights of under 8 hours, and therefore legal for a 2-man crew."
AA has not begun to schedule this flight any different than they had done so previously. The above statement indicates that AA has changed they way they schedule this flight in order to get by with only putting two men in the cockpit, but this is not true. The change in block time is due to a seasonal reduction that is quite normal this time of year. The winds don't blow as hard from the west, there is less resistance and therefore a shorter block time. Even though AA used a different aircraft last year, I feel comfortable in saying that if one looked at the change of block times between winter, spring and summer of last year, they would see a similar reduction of block when compared to this year's block times. In fact, I would go as far to say that if AA had operated the 767 last summer, one would see an increase in this summers block time versus last summers.
When AA creates their schedule, they do so several months in advance to the actual operating date. For example, AA is just now putting the finishing touches on the August 1 - September 4 date range. Because of this, the scheduled block times have to be created in advance to the scheduling process. As a result, the schedule is dictated by the block times that have been developed and not the other way around. In fact, AA's scheduling department (Capacity Planning) has nothing to do with the development of these block times and is just as bound to them as anyone else.
Operations Analysis is the department that creates and adjusts seasonal block times based on a multitude of variables such as a 90% / 90% winds. These block times are calculated using mathematical equations and then adjusted up or down based on historical data and actual performance numbers. These block times are based only on this and not on external factors such as wanting to keep a flight under 8 hours in order to save a man in the cockpit. Frankly, the scheduling department and Operations Analysis really doesn't have the time or the need to worry about petty things like that.
Therefore, it is incorrect to say that AA is planning their flights differently than normal. Instead, AA is planning the block times based on what is perceived as normal and nothing more. In fact, the scheduled block times often "fat" with extra "padding" based on an assumption of 90% strength winds occurring 90% of the time. That is why on a good operating day, flights arrive early more often then not.
I can guarantee that in the fall and winter months, the block times on this segment will once again climb above 8 hours and there will be no argument from the APA. I think that the argument here is AA's overall reduction from a three man cockpit DC-10 to a two man cockpit 767. IMHO, since the 767 does not fly as fast as the DC-10 and the block time is now close to 8 hrs (or over), the APA is now trying to get additional "job protection" when it is not needed.