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Why are Alaska Airlines pilots protesting?

Alaska Airlines has been the latest aviation company to have experienced delays and cancelations after pilots, crew members and supporters took to the picket last Friday.

Pilots and crew-members coordinated their action across the country with strikes taking place at five locations; Anchorage, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle. The impacts from the action spilled into Saturday with flight disruptions forcing 80 flights to be cancelled. The recent protests had detrimental impacts, resulting in 120 cancellations, 10% of the companies flight capacity, and more than 15,000 passengers left stranded.

For the last three years pilots from Alaska Airlines, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), have been in talks with the company. However, negotiations over issues such as scheduling, pay rises and job security have since stalled. The union argues that pilots and crew members are responsible for the success of the airline and should therefore be compensated as such. However, the industry as a whole is struggling, with post covid labour shortages hitting the entire industry, there is now a question over whether this compensation can be generated without significant financial strain on the company.

Protests by Alaska pilots have led to more than 120 canceled flights and 15,000 stranded passengers

Already, relaxed covid restrictions have led to an increase in air travel which is having significant consequences on the industry. The strike action last weekend was called due to recent changes in flight demand. Workers claim that the company has failed to adequately prepare pilots through retraining or attract enough into the industry.

Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines have expressed its devotion to finding a solution that makes financial sense for the pilots and for the long-term stability and profitability of the company. One solution offered was double pay to current flight attendants who are able to work over 100 trips a month to try and offset any future cancellations.

Mediated talks are due to continue later this month between ALPA and the company. However, it is unlikely that the two will come to an agreement. Despite previous offers made the union, which is the largest of its type, they are yet to agree to any of the packages offered by the company. These packages include options that are relevant to the pilots needs despite the significant financial hardship for the company, which is still trying to recover $2.3 billion in losses from the covid-19 pandemic. With schedules set to return to pre-pandemic levels for the upcoming summer period, it is clear that a deal needs to be reached to prevent any further disruption.

Post-covid labor shortages have hit some airlines badly, resulting in stretched schedules and cancelations.

Alaska Airlines is not the only company to have experienced industrial action in the past month. Last week, Frankfurt airport, Germany’s busiest airport was forced to close to departing passengers for a day due to striking members of staff. Also in Europe, SAS has been forced to use airBaltic to fly on behalf of the company after it experienced staff shortages and potential strike action over pilot’s salaries. In London strike action was overturned when a last minute contract was agreed.

Faced with the need to cover an already stretched industry, the impacts of the strikes will deal airlines yet another blow. As competitive packages are continually rejected by unions, more delays and cancellations could be felt in the near future. The disruption over the weekend impacted more than 37,000 customers, hopefully ALPA will soon accept a deal with the company and air travel and resume as normal.

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