PORTLAND, Ore. — Alaska Airlines canceled dozens of flights on the U.S. West Coast on Friday as furloughed pilots protested in several major cities over a deadlock in nearly three years of contract negotiations, and the airline said that more could be canceled over the weekend.
More than 120 Alaska Airlines flights have been canceled – about 9% of its operations – and some 15,300 passengers have been affected, the airline said in a statement. The canceled flights included 66 to Seattle; 20 in Portland, Ore.; 10 in Los Angeles; and seven in San Francisco, according to the flight tracking website. flightaware.com. More than a dozen flights in Anchorage were also affected, according to Flight Aware.
At the same time, the pilots organized a rally and picket in all those cities, according to a union website. Pilots from the Airline Pilots Association 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 Friday said they were out of service and were not responsible for the canceled flights.
“Everyone in Alaska needs to run a successful and reliable operation. Today we are short. We are grateful to all the 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 line.
The cancellations come as air travel recovers to pre-pandemic levels and demand surges as many Americans head out over spring break for a long-overdue vacation. Frustrated travelers have spoken out on social media about the failed vacation plans, reporting waiting up to 10 hours to speak to an airline representative about rescheduling flights. Many said they would not be able to fly for a day or two.
Robyn Dold, of Battle Ground, Washington, 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 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 city in less than a 10-hour drive.
“We would go with the flow if it was a vacation, but it’s something that has an expiration date that we can’t change and it’s heartbreaking,” he said in a phone interview. “My husband is beside himself. His father was his best friend. »
Dold, who was scheduled to deliver the eulogy, will watch the funeral live with her husband from her home, she said.
“Honestly, I think what irritates me the most is that we were not informed beforehand 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 a lack of staff at Alaska Airlines, which was downsized during the pandemic and too slow to respond when travel demand resumed.
“Here, everyone is on leave. Alaska Airlines has personnel problems. They may not want to say that, but they have personnel issues,” said Alaska Airlines captain Steve Van Meter.
“We have transferred several pilots to other airlines due to quality of life issues at this company.”
The pilots have been in contract negotiations with the airline for almost three years and the two sides are at an impasse.
The union says Alaska Airlines has not prepared sufficiently to return to air travel after the pandemic and has not taken the necessary steps to retain or attract pilots as demand recovers. Issues that still need to be resolved include job security, work rules and quality-of-life provisions that provide flexibility and reasonable hours, it said in a statement, and the current pilot contract lags far behind those of comparable airlines on several key sections.
Alaska Airlines said Friday that it values its pilots and respects their right to picket, but it 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, he said in a statement.
“A new pilot contract remains a 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 issues that matter most to 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.