Southwest apologizes for delays and cancellations and blames technology issues

PORTLAND, Oregon – Alaska Airlines canceled dozens of flights on the US West Coast on Friday as pilots who came off vacation in several major cities protested deadlock in nearly three years of contract negotiations, and the airline said more could be canceled during the holiday. weekend.

More than 120 flights in Alaska were canceled — about 9% of its operations — and about 15,300 passengers were affected, the company said in a statement. It included 66 canceled flights to Seattle; 20 in Portland, Oregon; 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 marches and sit-ins in all of those cities, according to a syndicate website. Pilots from the Airline Pilots Association also protested last week in New York outside the airline’s investor relations day ahead of the picket line on Friday. People at the picket line said Friday that they are off duty and not responsible for canceled flights.

“Everyone in Alaska needs to run a successful, reliable operation. Today we are falling short. We are grateful to all the employees who work so hard to get our customers where they want to go,” the company said in a statement that did not mention the picket line.

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The cancellations come as air travel recovers to pre-pandemic levels and demand surges as many Americans head out during spring break for a much-anticipated vacation. Frustrated travelers have spoken out on social media about their failed vacation plans, stating that they waited 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.

Robin Doll, of Battle Ground, Washington, had planned to fly to Missouri on Friday with her husband, daughter and son-in-law for her father-in-law’s funeral. The family received an email from Alaska in the middle of the night, six hours before takeoff, that 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 city in less than a 10-hour drive.

“We would have gone with the flow if it was a vacation, but it’s something that has an expiration date that we can’t change which is heartbreaking,” he said in a phone interview. My husband is beside himself. His father was his best friend. »

She said Dold, who was due to give the eulogy, will watch the funeral live with her husband from her home.

“Honestly, I think what bothers me the most is that we weren’t told in advance that this was a possibility. We could have made other arrangements,” Dould said.

Pilots who were on a picket line at Los Angeles International Airport said the cancellations were the result of staff shortages at Alaska Airlines, which have been downsizing during the pandemic and slow to respond when demand for travel resumes.

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“Here, everyone is on vacation. Alaska Airlines has personnel issues. They may not want to say that, but they have personnel issues,” said Alaska Airlines captain Steve Van Mitter.

“We have transferred many pilots to other airlines due to quality of life issues with this airline.”

The pilots have been negotiating contracts with the airline for nearly three years and the two sides have been deadlocked.

The union says Alaska Airlines has not adequately prepared to return to air travel after the pandemic and has not taken steps to retain or attract pilots as demand recovers. It said in a statement that issues still to be resolved include job security, work rules and quality of life provisions that provide flexibility and reasonable working hours, and the current pilot contract lags far behind those of similar airlines in several key divisions.

Alaska Airlines said Friday it values ​​its pilots and respects their right to picket, but it also needs to negotiate a deal that will allow the airline to maintain growth and profitability. The company said in a statement that the company is working to compensate for $ 2.3 billion in losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The new trial 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 are most important 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.

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Associated Press videographer Eugene Garcia in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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