SEATAC, Wash. — 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 am, the airline had canceled more than 120 flights systemwide.
“It’s pretty frustrating. We got a text and email that the flight was going to be canceled at about midnight,” said passenger Matt Mullinix, who was trying to get to Belize with his family.
When KIRO 7 asked Alaska Airlines why the flights were canceled, the airline sent a statement about a labor dispute with its pilot union.
The statement also referred to a pilot shortage.
The Air Line Pilots Association said 1,500 pilots held informational pickets in several cities on Friday.
They quietly lined the sidewalk in front of the Seattle Tacoma International Airport, and outside the airline’s headquarters.
Union leaders said flights were not canceled because of the picketing and that all the participating pilots were off duty and not scheduled to fly.
“Flights are being canceled because they don’t have enough pilots in general,” said Alaska Captain Joseph Youngerman, a union leader.
Youngerman said that on the first day of a new month, Alaska added more flights than it could staff at a time many pilots are leaving.
“This should not have been a surprise to them. It certainly was not a surprise to us that they’re going to have a problem covering their schedule,” Youngerman said.
The union said that after three years of negotiations, Alaska is not offering a fair market contract that addresses pilot concerns about job security and scheduling.
Alaska Airlines would not do an interview but wrote that a new pilot contract remains a top priority.
The airline says their captains make, on average, $341,000 per year and that the airline has proposed paying new first officers $100 per hour.
The union said it is not planning additional pickets.
The airline said more cancellations are possible this weekend.
Check the number of cancellations here.
The pilot shortage comes as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport officials say travel is expected to reach near pre-pandemic levels as spring break travel gets underway.
Volumes are expected to be around 80% to 85% of pre-pandemic levels. That’s close to the busiest travel days since August 2021.
The highest volume is expected to be up to 145,000 passengers a day. About 160,000 was the average in 2019.
Alaska Airlines released the following statements about the cancellations and picket:
“Alaska Airlines is experiencing significant flight cancellations today. We’re notifying our guests whose flights are impacted, and we’re working as quickly as possible to make things right and get them to their destinations. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.
“As of 9 am this morning, we have canceled more than 120 flights – about 9% of our overall operation – impacting more than 15,300 guests. Additional cancellations are possible over the weekend.
“It takes everyone at Alaska to run a successful and reliable operation. Today, we fell short. We’re grateful for all employees who are working hard to get our guests to where they need to go.”
“We understand how important it is to our pilots to secure a new contract. As the negotiations continue, we respect their right to engage in lawfully protected activities to voice their concerns.
“We’re committed to reaching a collective bargaining agreement that recognizes the contributions of our pilots and supports them with increased pay, job security and greater work flexibility – key issues important to them.
“It’s also vital for Alaska Airlines to negotiate a deal that allows us to maintain growth and profitability for a strong future. It’s crucial we continue to provide all of our employees with competitive pay and benefits as we hire more people, invest in new planes and fly our guests to new destinations. We believe the goals of the company and the goals of our pilots complement each other.
“A new pilot contract remains a top priority for Alaska,” said Jenny Wetzel, vice president of labor relations for Alaska Airlines. “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 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.
“In support of our pilots, we recently presented the union with a comprehensive proposal. Among the highlights:
- We’re offering a top of scale wage of $280 per hour for captains and a market wage adjustment a year after the contract is ratified to keep our pilots’ wages competitive with their peers at other airlines. For reference, an Alaska captain’s average salary is currently $341,000 per year. For first officers, we’ve proposed a rate of $100 per hour, which would be the #1 new hire rate in the nation.
- We’re ready to increase the job security of our pilots: Any aircraft operated by Alaska Air Group over 76 seats will be flown by Alaska’s seniority list pilots.
- We’d add significant flexibility on how our pilots can set their schedules along with additional support for our reserve pilots. Our pilots currently work 16 days a month on average.
“We’ve been in talks with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) for a new agreement since the summer of 2019, with a mutual pause in talks for a year as the industry weathered the pandemic. As a normal part of the process, we filed for mediation with the National Mediation Board in October 2021 to help move the process forward and facilitate an agreement. We look forward to making further progress at our next mediation session scheduled for later this month.
“There are some flight cancellations connected to a shortage of pilots which has created operational challenges. 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.”
Air Line Pilots Association, International, released the following statement regarding the pilot shortage:
“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.
“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.
“Now, they’re 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 inadequate contract that will only exacerbate existing staffing challenges.
“Hundreds of Alaska pilots will be exercising their lawful right to conduct nondisruptive informational picketing today in five cities around the country to highlight Alaska’s strong financial position and urge the company to get serious about concluding a contract. Alaska pilots are more than ready.”
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