Alaska Airlines cancels 9% of its flights over staffing woes
PORTLAND, Ore. — Alaska Airlines canceled dozens of U.S. West Coast flights Friday as off-duty pilots picketed in several major cities over an impasse in nearly three years of contract negotiations, and the airline said more cancellations were possible through the weekend.
More than 120 Alaska Airlines flights were canceled — about 9% of its operations — and about 15,300 passengers were affected, the airline said in a statement. Canceled flights included 66 in Seattle; 20 in Portland, Oregon; 10 in Los Angeles; and seven in San Francisco, according to the flight tracking website flightaware.com. According to a union website, pilots also held a rally in all these cities and a picket line. Pilots from the Air Lines Pilots Association protested last Friday in New York City against the airline’s Investor Relations Day. This was a precursor to Friday’s picket. The picket line on Friday claimed they were not on duty and were not responsible for the cancellations.
“It takes all of Alaska to run a reliable and successful operation. Today, we failed to meet our expectations. “We’re grateful to all employees who work hard to get our customers to where they need,” the airline stated in a statement that did not mention picketing. The cancellations are happening as air travel recovers to pre-pandemic levels, and as demand surges as more Americans take long-awaited vacations. Frustrated travelers vented on social media about botched vacation plans and reported that there was up to a 10-hour wait to speak with an airline representative about rescheduling flights. Many stated that they couldn’t travel for more than a day.
Robyn, a Battle Ground, Washington resident, had planned to fly to Missouri with her husband, her daughter, and her son-in law on Friday to attend the funeral of her father-in–law. At midnight, six hours before the flight, Alaska sent a message to Dold’s family advising that their flight had been cancelled.
Dold spent hours Friday on hold with the airline, and then in line at Portland International Airport, only to learn Alaska could not get them to the funeral on time — or even to a city within 10 hours’ driving distance.
” We’d follow the flow if this was a vacation. But, it’s something that has a due time that we can’t change. It’s heartbreaking,” she said in an interview. “My husband is devastated. His father was his very best friend.”
Dold, who was to deliver the eulogy, will instead watch the funeral on a one-way livestream with her husband from home, she said.
” What really bothers me is that we were not informed ahead of time that this was possible. Dold said that we could have made other arrangements. “That’s what’s really disappointing.”
Pilots on a picket line at Los Angeles International Airport said the cancellations were the result of understaffing by Alaska Airlines, which cut back during the pandemic and reacted too slowly when travel demand resumed.
“Everybody here is on their days off. Staffing problems are a problem at Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines captain Steve Van Metre stated that although they may not want to admit it, the airline is having staffing problems.
Pilots have been in contract negotiations with the airline for nearly three years and the two sides are at an impasse.
Alaska Airlines stated Friday that it values its pilots, and respects their right of picket. However, it must also negotiate a deal that allows it to grow and profit. The airline is working to recover $2.3 billion in losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, it said in a statement.
” A new pilot contract is a top priority for Alaska,” Jenny Wetzel (vice president of labor relations at Alaska Airlines) stated in a statement. “We have put together a package that is competitive and addresses the most important issues for our pilots. The airline stated that it offers competitive salaries to its pilots. For example, an Alaska Airlines captain’s average salary is $341,000 per year, the airline said.
Associated Press videographer Eugene Garcia in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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