Labor shortage befalls Alaska Air as pilots bargain for ‘basic quality of life issues’ in latest contract

Apr 22, 2022, 9:52 AM | Updated: 10:52 am
Alaska Airlines...
500 AlaskaAir pilots are picketing in front of the company's HQ near Sea-Tac Airport (Nicole Jennings)
(Nicole Jennings)

Alaska Airlines has a shortage of pilots, and the head of the company’s pilot union claims that their position— represented by negotiations that have been ongoing for three years— advocates for industry-standard job security and “basic quality of life” benefits, as Capt. Will McQuillen, Alaska Air’s Master Executive Council chairman, put it to KIRO Newsradio.

Alaska Air confirmed the shortage in a recent quarterly fiscal report, saying “we recently reduced Q2 scheduled capacity in response to shortfalls in throughput from our pilot training department versus what was originally planned.” That scheduled reduction refers to 3% fewer flights in 2022 compared with 2019 passenger capacity data, as opposed to planned growth by the same figure.

Alaska Airlines to scale back flights amid slew of cancellations as pilot shortage persists

According to McQuillen, the airline is simply having a tough time attracting and retaining new pilots.

“The major airlines are poised to hire 8,000 to 10,000 pilots this year alone … [we’re] competing for a scarce resource,” McQuillen told KIRO’s Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. “Right now, for about the first time in a very, very long time in this industry, pilots have a choice of investing their career almost anywhere they want to.”

“They will gravitate towards an airline that gives them the best opportunity, the best work-life balance, the best job protections for that investment that they’re making,” he continued. “We’re seeing very clearly in exit interviews that, specifically for Alaska, pilots are leaving for quality of life reasons.”

The union’s contract technically expired in April of 2020, although has been floating as “amendable” since that time.

Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilots recently demonstrated at Sea-Tac International Airpot over their bargaining demands. The airline’s concurrent flight cancellations were unrelated, according to McQuillen.

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Labor shortage befalls Alaska Air as pilots bargain for ‘basic quality of life issues’ in latest contract