American Airlines accused its pilots of staging a sickout during one of the busiest travel times of the year to protest stalled contract talks.

American, based in Fort Worth, said the number of pilots calling in sick over the weekend before Christmas soared to record numbers. The absentee rate was almost 70 percent higher than normal, airline officials said.Union officials denied any organized protest was occurring but conceded that disgruntled employees could be acting on their own.

American management and the Allied Pilots Association have been negotiating a contract for 14 months but have made little headway.