PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Dozens of flights along the West Coast were canceled Friday as Alaska Airlines pilots picketed during an impasse in contract negotiations with the airline that have lasted nearly three years.
More than 100 Alaska Airlines flights were canceled by the airline, including 66 in Seattle, 20 in Portland, Oregon, 10 in Los Angeles and seven in San Francisco, according to the flight tracking website flightaware.com. Flights were also expected to be affected in Anchorage, Alaska. Pilots planned to hold a rally and picket in all those cities on Friday, according to a union website.
Pilots with the Air Lines Pilots Association also protested last week in New York City outside the airline’s Investor Relations Day in a precursor of Friday's picket.
The bargaining actions come as air travel rebounds to pre-pandemic levels and demand is surging as many Americans head off on spring break for long-delayed 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 said they couldn't fly out 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 they were to take off — that said their flight was canceled.
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 go with the flow if it was a vacation, but this is something that has a due date that we can’t change and it’s heartbreaking,” she said in a phone interview. “My husband is beside himself. 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 I think really irritates me the most, honestly, is that we weren't given any notification ahead of time that this was a possibility. We could have made other arrangements ahead of time if they had said, ‘Hey, you know, the pilots might go on strike April 1,’” said Dold, who said she didn't know enough about the contract negotiations to pass judgment on the strike. “That's what's really disappointing.”
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 did not adequately prepare for a return to air travel after the pandemic and didn't take the necessary steps to retain or attract pilots as demand bounced back. Issues that still need to be resolved include job security, work rules and quality-of-life provisions that provide flexibility and reasonable schedules, it said in a statement, and the current pilot contract falls well behind those at comparable airlines in 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. Alaska Airlines is working to recover $2.3 billion in losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, it said in a statement.
The airline said it currently offers competitive salaries for its pilots. For example, an Alaska Airlines captain’s average salary is currently $341,000 per year, the airline said.