As Pilots Picket, Crew Shortage Leads to Cancellation of Dozens of Alaska Airlines Flights | North West

Dozens of Alaska Airlines flights were canceled early Friday, largely due to a shortage of pilots, some of whom picketed the airline later in the day in Seattle and elsewhere.

Alaska Air and the union representing the airline’s 3,100 pilots have been locked in contract negotiations for nearly three years. Alaska Airlines officials acknowledged that some flight cancellations were “related to a shortage of pilots that created operational challenges.”

Alaska Airlines canceled more than 120 flights on Friday — about 9% of its overall operation — impacting more than 15,300 travelers. A company spokesperson said additional cancellations were possible over the weekend.

Cancellations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport included 68 Alaska Airlines flights, according to FlightAware.

The airline notified passengers whose flights were affected and as of Friday it was working “as quickly as possible to put things right and get them where they need to be,” an Alaska Airlines spokesperson said.

Contract negotiations between the airline and the Air Line Pilots Association, the union representing Alaska pilots, began in 2019 and are currently before a federal mediator. In a statement Friday, union leaders blamed Alaska for not preparing for a resumption of travel.

“Alaska Airlines has failed to properly plan for increased travel demand and take the necessary steps to ensure it attracts and retains pilots,” the union’s executive board said in a statement. .

Dozens of pilots hoisted signs Friday afternoon at the Hilton hotel near the airport. Similar demonstrations were planned for four other Alaska Air hubs.

Beyond salary, the main stumbling blocks in bargaining seem to be job security and stability of schedules. Both sides say they are ready to strike a deal, although the union argued on Friday that the airline was not yet serious about striking a deal.

“They are trying to distract the public from their mismanagement and blame the pilots who helped save their business” for the cancellations, union leaders said in a statement. “Pilot leaders have been warning for years that pilots will choose to fly for other airlines because of an inadequate contract that will only exacerbate existing staffing issues.”

Alaska maintains that it is committed to reaching an agreement, but that any agreement must allow the company “to maintain its growth and profitability for a solid future”.

After a pandemic crisis, Alaska Air made a profit of $14 million in the last fiscal quarter of 2021, a year that saw it generate $6.2 billion in revenue. Last month, the company announced plans to increase the size of its fleet by 100 planes, bringing the total to 400 planes, while increasing annual revenue by $400 million over the next five years.

Retention has been a significant issue for the company, which has seen employee unions produce online advertisements featuring former Alaska workers enjoying new jobs at other airlines. Jenny Wetzel, vice president of labor relations for Alaska Airlines, said in a statement Friday that “a new pilot contract remains a top priority for Alaska.”

“We have put a package on the table that is competitive and addresses the most important issues for our drivers,” continued Wetzel. “This is a significant financial investment in our pilot group while recognizing that we are still working to recover from the $2.3 billion in losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We look forward to quickly concluding negotiations so that our pilots can enjoy these new benefits as soon as possible.”

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The airline hopes to hire 300 additional pilots by the end of the year.

Frustrated travelers have spoken out on social media about botched vacation plans and reported waiting up to 10 a.m. to speak with an airline representative about rescheduling flights. Many said they couldn’t fly for a day or two.

Robyn Dold of Battle Ground had planned to fly to Missouri on Friday with her husband, daughter and son-in-law to attend her father-in-law’s funeral. The family received an email from Alaska at midnight – six hours before takeoff – saying their flight had been cancelled.

Dold spent hours on Friday waiting with the airline, then queuing at Portland International Airport, only to learn that Alaska couldn’t get them to the funeral in time — or even to a town in less than 10 hours drive.

“We would go with the flow if it was a vacation, but it’s something that has a due date that we can’t change and it’s heartbreaking,” she told The Associated Press. during a telephone interview. “My husband is beside himself. His father was his best friend. »

Dold, who was scheduled to deliver the eulogy, will instead watch the funeral live with her husband from home, she said.

“Honestly, what irritates me the most, I think, is that we were not informed in advance that this was a possibility. We could have made other arrangements in advance, ” Dold said “That’s what’s really disappointing.”

The pilot contract is currently being mediated with the National Mediation Council, the federal agency that coordinates labor-management relations in the railroad and airline sectors. The next mediation session is scheduled for later in April.

This report includes information from The Seattle Times archives and news agencies. Associate Editor Levi Pulkkinen contributed to the report.