SEATAC, Washington – Canceled flights affected more than 15,000 Alaska Airlines passengers on Friday and the airline warned there could be more disruptions this weekend in the middle of the spring break travel season.
By 9:00 a.m., the airline had canceled more than 120 system-wide flights.
“It is very frustrating. We have received a text and an email that the flight will be canceled at around midnight,” said passenger Matt Moulinex, who was trying to get to Belize with his family.
When KIRO 7 asked Alaska Airlines why the flights were cancelled, the airline sent a statement about a labor dispute with the pilots’ union.
The statement also noted a shortage of pilots.
The Airline Pilots Association said 1,500 pilots organized media sit-ins in several cities on Friday.
They quietly lined the pier in front of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and outside the airline’s headquarters.
Union leaders said flights were not canceled due to the strike and that all participating pilots were off duty and were not scheduled to fly.
“Flights have been canceled because there are generally not enough pilots,” said Alaska Captain Joseph Youngman, a union leader.
On the first day of the new month, Youngerman said, Alaska added more flights than could be staffed by the time many pilots leave.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to them. It certainly didn’t surprise us that they would have trouble covering their schedule,” Youngerman said.
The union said that after three years of negotiations, Alaska has not offered a fair market contract that addresses pilots’ concerns about job security and scheduling.
Alaska Airlines will not conduct an interview but writes that the new trial contract remains a top priority.
The airline says that its captains earn, on average, $341,000 a year and that the company has proposed paying $100 per hour to its new first officers.
The union said it was not planning additional sit-ins.
The airline said more cancellations are possible this weekend.
The pilot shortage comes as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport officials say travel is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels as spring break travel begins.
Volumes are expected to be around 80% to 85% of pre-pandemic levels. This is close to our busiest travel day since August 2021.
The largest volume is expected to reach 145,000 passengers per day. The average in 2019 was around 160 thousand.
Alaska Airlines released the following statements about the cancellations and pickets:
“Today, Alaska Airlines is experiencing major flight cancellations. We are informing our guests whose flights have been affected, and we are working as quickly as possible to correct matters and get them to their destinations. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.
“As of 9am this morning, we have canceled more than 120 flights – about 9% of our total operations – affecting more than 15,300 guests. Additional cancellations are possible over the weekend.
“It takes everyone in Alaska to run a successful, reliable operation. Today, we failed. We are grateful to all the employees who are working so hard to get our guests where they need to go.”
“We understand how important it is to secure a new contract for our pilots. As negotiations continue, we respect their right to engage in legally protected activities to voice their concerns.
“We are committed to reaching a collective bargaining agreement that recognizes and supports the contributions of our pilots through increased wages, job security and increased work flexibility – key issues that are important to them.
“It is also imperative that Alaska Airlines negotiate a deal that allows us to maintain growth and profitability for a strong future. It is critical that we continue to provide all of our employees with competitive wages and benefits as we hire more people, invest in new aircraft and fly our guests to new destinations. We believe The goals of the company and the goals of our pilots complement each other.
“The new trial contract remains a top priority for Alaska,” said Jenny Wetzel, Vice President of Labor Relations for Alaska Airlines. “We have put a package on the table that is competitive and addresses the issues most important to our pilots. It is a significant financial investment in our pilot group with the knowledge that we are still working to recover from $2.3 billion in losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are keen to conclude negotiations quickly so that our pilots can To enjoy these new features as soon as possible.
“In support of our pioneers, we recently submitted to the Consortium a comprehensive proposal. Among the highlights:
- We offer captains above $280 an hour and a market wage adjustment a year after contract ratification to keep pilots’ pay competitive with their peers at other airlines. For reference, the average salary of an Alaskan captain is currently $341,000 per year. For the first officers, we proposed a $100 hourly rate, which is the No. 1 new hiring rate in the state.
- We are ready to increase the job security of our pilots: Any aircraft operated by Alaska Air Group with more than 76 seats will be flown by pilots from the Alaska Seniority List.
- We will add significant flexibility in how our pilots set their schedules along with additional support for our reserve pilots. Our pilots currently work an average of 16 days a month.
We’ve been in talks with the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) for a new agreement since the summer of 2019, with talks titling for nearly a year as the industry weathered the pandemic. As a normal part of the process, we filed an application for mediation with the National Mediation Board in October 2021 to help move the process forward and facilitate an agreement. We look forward to further progress at the next mediation session scheduled for later this month.
There are some flight cancellations associated with a shortage of pilots, which has created operational challenges. We have informed our guests that their flights have been affected and we are sorry for the inconvenience. We are working as quickly as possible to make things right and get them to their destinations.”
The International Airline Pilots Association issued the following statement regarding the pilot shortage:
“Alaska Airlines $2.3 billion bailout received from US taxpayers During the pandemic to weather the economic downturn, retain the workforce, and prepare to benefit from the recovery we are seeing now. It has one of the strongest balance sheets with industry-leading profit margins and has come out of the pandemic with lower net debt than it did before.
“However, despite all this, Alaska Airlines Failed To properly plan for increased demand for travel and take necessary steps to ensure that pilots are attracted and retained. In fact, only this week ALPA met with two of the company’s vice presidents who made it clear that they had failed to sufficiently retain staff and staff to meet an expected return to flying.
Now, they are trying to distract the public from their mismanagement and blame the pilots who helped save their company. Pilot leaders have been warning for years that pilots will choose to fly for other airlines due to an unsuitable contract that will only exacerbate current staffing challenges.
“Hundreds of Alaska Airmen will exercise their legal right to conduct unobtrusive media sit-ins today in five cities across the country to highlight Alaska’s strong financial position and urge the company to get serious about entering into a contract. Alaska pilots are more than ready.”
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