PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Alaska Airlines on Friday canceled dozens of flights to the West Coast of the United States as furloughed pilots picketed several major cities during a stalemate in nearly three years of negotiations contracts, and the airline said further cancellations were possible throughout the weekend. .
More than 120 Alaska Airlines flights have been canceled – around 9% of its operations – and around 15,300 passengers have been affected, the airline said in a statement. Canceled flights included 66 to Seattle; 20 in Portland, Ore.; 10 in Los Angeles; and seven in San Francisco, according to flight tracking website flightaware.com.
At the same time, the pilots organized a rally and a picket line in all those cities, according to a union website. Air Lines Pilots Association pilots also protested last week in New York outside of the airline’s Investor Relations Day in a precursor to Friday’s picket line. People on the picket line on Friday said they were off duty and not responsible for the canceled flights.
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“Everyone in Alaska needs to run a successful and reliable operation. Today we fell short. We are grateful to all employees who work hard to get our customers where they need to go,” the airline said in a statement that did not mention the picket.
The cancellations come as air travel rebounds to pre-pandemic levels and demand surges as many Americans head out over spring break for a long-delayed vacation. Frustrated travelers have spoken out on social media about botched vacation plans and reported waiting up to 10 hours 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, Wash., 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 said in an interview. telephone. “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 weren’t informed in advance that this was a possibility. We could have made other arrangements,” Dold said. “That’s what’s really disappointing.”
Pilots on a picket line at Los Angeles International Airport said the cancellations were the result of understaffing at Alaska Airlines, which downsized during the pandemic and responded too slowly when demand travel has resumed.
“Here, everyone is on leave. Alaska Airlines has staffing issues. They may not want to say that, but they have staffing issues,” said Steve Van Meter, an Alaska Airlines captain.
“We have moved several pilots to other airlines due to the quality of life issues at this company.”
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The pilots have been in contract negotiations with the airline for nearly three years and the two sides are at an impasse.
The union says Alaska Airlines has not sufficiently prepared for a return to air travel after the pandemic and has not taken the necessary steps to retain or attract pilots as demand rebounds. Issues that still need to be resolved include job security, work rules and quality of life provisions that provide flexibility and reasonable hours, he said in a statement, and the pilot contract. current lags well behind those of comparable airlines in several key sections.
Alaska Airlines said Friday it values its pilots and respects their right to picket, but also needs to negotiate a deal that allows the airline to maintain growth and profitability. 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 remains a top priority for Alaska,” Jenny Wetzel, vice president of labor relations for Alaska Airlines, said in a statement. “We have put on the table a competitive package that addresses the most important issues for our drivers.”
The airline said it offers competitive salaries to its pilots. For example, the average salary for an Alaska Airlines captain is $341,000 a year, the airline said.
Associated Press videographer Eugene Garcia in Los Angeles contributed to this report.