Alaska Airlines says training delays, not picketing pilots, caused flight cancellations

Alaska Airlines pilots picketed in front of the Ted Stevens International Airport on April 1, 2022. (Katie Anastas/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska Airlines plans to reduce its number of flights through June as it continues to deal with a pilot shortage. That’s according to a press release from the airline published last week. 

The airline says it will reduce about 2% of its total flights through the end of June. In an email, an Alaska Airlines spokesperson wrote that the airline typically flies 1,200 flights per day.

In a press release last week, Alaska Airlines wrote that the worst of the cancellations were over. They said the picketing by pilots earlier this month did not cause the recent slew of cancellations.

Instead, they wrote, training delays during the omicron surge led to a backlog in new pilots being available to fly.

“Due to the training delays, we had 63 fewer pilots prepared to fly in April than we planned for in January,” the airline wrote. “We should have recognized this sooner and updated our schedule.”

On April 1, Alaska Airlines pilots picketed airports along the West Coast, calling for an end to ongoing contract negotiations. In Anchorage, more than 100 pilots picketed at Ted Stevens International Airport. Alaska Airlines released a statement outlining their proposed contract and apologizing to customers for canceling more than 120 flights that day.

“It takes everyone at Alaska to run a successful and reliable operation,” they wrote in the now-deleted statement. “Today, we fell short. We’re grateful for all employees who are working hard to get our guests to where they need to go.”

Both the airline and a local union spokesperson said the April 1 event was not a strike because none of the pilots picketing in Anchorage were scheduled to work that day. 

Scott McMurren is a travel writer based in Anchorage. He said a 2% reduction in flights won’t hit Alaskan travelers hard, but a strike could.

“There’s a big gap between informational picketing and a strike,” he said. “That’s why they have the federal mediator, that’s why they have a 30-day cooling off period. There’s a lot of steps between then and now. I don’t want to say it’s strictly theoretical, because it could happen, just like weather can happen.”

McMurren says Alaska Airlines, along with many other companies in the travel industry, is in a “perfect storm” of COVID-related staffing shortages, training delays and labor disputes. He said travelers should try to keep their plans flexible when they can. 

“This is the reality of frequent travelers trying to juggle life in a pandemic and the follow-on labor shortage,” he said. “So pack your patience, pack your good attitude. You know, breathe deeply.”

McMurren says 18 Alaska Airlines flights were canceled in Seattle on Monday morning.

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