By Kalai Raajan
Alaska Airlines Cancels Flights Due to Pilot Protests
Dozens of Alaska Airlines flights were canceled Friday morning at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport due to a pilot shortage. Alaska Airlines canceled more than 100 flights, including 66 in Seattle, 20 in Portland, Ore., 10 in Los Angeles and seven in San Francisco.
On Friday, Alaska Airlines pilots staged a series of informational pickets at Portland International Airport (PDX) and other major West Coast airports, leading the airline to cancel some flights due to a pilot shortage. These pilots are striking, demanding more pay and more flexible schedules so they can spend more time with their families. On Friday morning, the online arrivals and departures board at Portland International Airport showed 11 canceled flights, all of which were Alaska’s flights.
The airline stated in a statement that it has canceled more than 120 flights across the country, accounting for nearly 9% of its overall operations. Around 15,300 passengers were affected by the cancellation.
Alaska’s Crisis Management
Alaska Airlines’ pilots are picketing in five cities, including Anchorage, according to the Air Line Pilots Associations, which represents over 3,100 Alaska Airlines pilots. Each picket was preceded by a morning protest in a hotel near the airport, with the pickets at the airports slated to begin at noon and last two hours. Pilots from the union also demonstrated outside the airline’s Investor Relations Day last week in New York City, foreshadowing Friday’s picket.
More cancellations are also predicted throughout the coming week. According to airline officials, the flight cancellations are due to a pilot shortage, which has produced operational issues. “We notified our guests whose flights have been impacted and apologize for the inconvenience. We’re working as quickly as possible to make things right and get them to their destinations,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement.
These striking moves come as air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, and demand is increasing as many Americans take long-awaited vacations over spring break. Frustrated travelers took to social media to vent about ruined vacation plans and reported a 10-hour wait to contact with an airline official about changing flights. Many travelers have stated that they will be unable to fly out for a day or two.
Captain Jeff Schroeder, head of the Air Line Pilot Association’s Anchorage council, picketed outside the airport. He stated that 48 pilots have departed Alaska Carriers for other airlines in the last three months. “That’s a significant number for the size of Alaska Airlines,” he said in a statement. “We think that we need to fix the scheduling flexibility and job security issues.”
The picketing stems from difficulties with a substandard contract that Alaska gave to its pilots. When asked about it, Jenny Wetzel, vice president of labor relations for Alaska Airlines mentions “A new pilot contract remains a top priority for Alaska. We’ve put a package on the table that’s competitive and addresses the issues most important to our pilots. It’s a significant financial investment in our pilot group while recognizing that we are still working to recover from $2.3 billion in losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are eager to conclude negotiations quickly so our pilots can enjoy these new benefits as soon as possible.”
ALPA’s Union Backing
Alaska Airlines claims it has been in talks with the ALPA about a new agreement since the summer of 2019, but it was put on hold while the industry dealt with the global pandemic. According to the press release, these discussions have been ongoing for nearly three years, and the pilots have stated that the airline’s current proposal falls behind contracts offered by rival carriers, such as United, Delta, American Airlines, and is “not competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining pilots.”
According to the union, Alaska Airlines did not effectively plan for the return of air travel following the epidemic and did not take the required steps to retain or attract pilots as demand increased. They believe that, issues that still need to be tackled include job security, work standards, and quality-of-life provisions that enable flexibility and fair scheduling.
Negotiations, according to the airline, are still underway, with the next in a series of mediation sessions slated for later this month. It claims that its current wage offerings are competitive, with captains earning an average annual income of $341,000 per year. Alaska Airlines says it is offering a top scale compensation of $280 per hour for captains and has proposed a first officer rate of $100 per hour, which it claims is the highest new rate in the country.
In contrast to what Alaska claims about its proposed contracts, the ALPA appears to be dissatisfied with the entire issue in the first place.
“Alaska Airlines received a $2.3 billion bailout from American taxpayers during the pandemic to weather the economic downturn, retain its workforce, and be ready to take advantage of the recovery we are now experiencing. It has one of the strongest balance sheets with industry-leading profit margins and came out of the pandemic with less net debt than before it,” the union said in a statement. “Yet, despite all of this, Alaska Airlines failed to properly plan for increased travel demand and take the steps necessary to ensure it attracted and retained pilots. In fact, just this week, ALPA met with two corporate vice presidents who made clear that they have failed to adequately retain and staff up to meet a predictable return to flying.”