A worker stands next to an American Airlines plane at the Miami International Airport on September 25, 2012 in Miami, Florida.
A worker stands next to an American Airlines plane at the Miami International Airport on September 25, 2012 in Miami, Florida. - 
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American Airlines is really, really sorry. Battered by weeks of passenger anger over delayed flights, CEO Tom Horton has apologized, promising the carrier can work through its bankruptcy and labor troubles.

Now that the pilots union and American are talking again, there’s some hope of a deal. But there are two big wildcards that make these high-stakes talks very different from past labor disputes. For one, American is in bankruptcy protection. If there’s no agreement, both sides take their chances in court.

“A judge can intervene and literally terminate the collective bargaining agreement,” explains Michael LeRoy, a labor relations professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “At that point, it could be a very chaotic situation.”

The other wildcard is anyone who had a lousy flight experience recently and shared it with the world via Twitter or Facebook. Passengers can react in real time to delays, bringing American’s troubles to a wider audience.

“When you’re in a situation with social media, you’ve got to be better than you were 10 years ago,” says longtime aviation consultant Michael Boyd. “When seats start to come loose and you have labor problems, it just intensifies the public perception.”

Nobody wants angry flyers, and the pressure the public can now exert online could motivate both sides to strike a deal.

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Follow Mark Garrison at @GarrisonMark