Pilots picket as airline unions leverage summer travel woes

Jun 21, 2022, 3:29 AM | Updated: 4:19 pm
Southwest Airlines pilots picket outside the terminal at Dallas Love Field on Tuesday, June 21, 202...

Southwest Airlines pilots picket outside the terminal at Dallas Love Field on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/David Koenig)

(AP Photo/David Koenig)

DALLAS (AP) — Hundreds of uniformed Southwest Airlines pilots stood in perfect lines in the scorching Texas sun at Dallas Love Field on Tuesday, holding signs that blamed Southwest management for delays and cancellations that have upset passengers.

Every once in a while, a motorist would honk or yell encouragement. Most passengers made a beeline for the security checkpoint inside the terminal.

The protest, which the union said drew up to 1,300 pilots, was the latest example of airline workers trying to put pressure on companies by taking their demands for higher pay directly to the flying public.

Federal law makes it nearly impossible for airline unions to conduct legal strikes. Contract negotiations tend to drag out — often for years. Southwest’s flight attendants have been working under an old contract since 2018.

That slow pace causes unions to look for creative ways to put pressure on management. Sometimes they vote to authorize a strike — Alaska Airlines pilots did that last month — even though there is little chance that they will walk off the job.

Last week, the Air Line Pilots Association, or ALPA, posted an open letter to Delta Air Lines customers, saying its members empathized with travelers whose flights were delayed or canceled, and blaming Delta management. The union said Delta has scheduled more flights than it has pilots to fly, and pilots were working record overtime hours.

Earlier this month, American Airlines pilots picketed near the New York Stock Exchange, and before that, at major airports. Some held signs such as, “Frustrated with AA? So are we.”

Airline unions are hoping to take advantage of strong demand for travel this summer to win increases in wages and benefits.

United Airlines reached agreement with ALPA last month. Terms have not been disclosed, but they likely included higher pay — United’s CEO called it an industry-leading proposal. The deal still needs to be ratified by pilots.

Two regional subsidiaries of American will give pilots a wage premium of 50% through August 2024 in addition to longer-term increase. So-called regional carriers, which operate American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express flights, are being hit hardest by a shortage of pilots.

On Tuesday at Love Field, which is next to Southwest headquarters, pilots in crisp white short-sleeved shirts with epaulets on their shoulders stood at attention, holding signs that read “Southwest’s operation: From first to worse,” and “Our passengers and pilots deserve better.”

Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the union for the airline’s 9,000 pilots, said work has turned into a “flightmare” for pilots because of over-scheduling.

“It’s a struggle every day out there. Our fatigue rates reflect that,” he said. In the first five months of this year, Southwest pilots reported feeling fatigued at more than triple the rate of a year ago, according to figures from the union, which says this raises safety concerns.

Southwest said in a brief statement that it respects the right of employees to express their opinions, “and we do not anticipate any disruption in service as a result of this single demonstration.” The airline declined to comment on the union’s concerns.

Neither the union nor the company would discuss wages or other bargaining topics.

Dallas-based Southwest has been hiring pilots since last year to replace those who took buyouts that the airline offered in 2020, when the pandemic caused air travel to plummet. The union says pilots are not being fairly compensated for handling extra flights, and that Southwest uses outdated crew-scheduling technology that makes it hard for the airline to recover from even minor hiccups.

Southwest, the nation’s fourth-biggest airline, suffered through high cancellation rates last summer and again in early October, when weather-related cancellations in Florida cascaded into a dayslong, nationwide meltdown. It has performed better more recently, including over the Memorial Day weekend.

It is hard if not impossible to know whether picketing at airports helps unions at the bargaining table.

Pilots enjoy particular respect from travelers, and when they picket in full uniform, “they create a powerful image” that travelers remember, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group.

Harteveldt said pilots currently have leverage in negotiations because of a pilot shortage and widespread flight delays and cancellations.

“But timing is everything in these negotiations,” he said. “If the economy has a significant slowdown and airlines see business fall off and scale back their flying, then the leverage pilots have today may be gone.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Hiring signs are displayed at a grocery store in Arlington Heights, Ill., Jan. 13, 2023. Emp...
Associated Press

Pay transparency is spreading. Here’s what you need to know

U.S. employers are increasingly posting salary ranges for job openings, even in states where it’s not required by law, according to analysts with several major job search websites.
13 hours ago
Meadowdale High School 9th grade students Juanangel Avila, right, and Legacy Marshall, left, work t...
David Klepper and Manuel Valdes, Associated Press

Seattle high school teacher advocates for better digital literacy in schools

Shawn Lee, a high school social studies teacher in Seattle, wants to see lessons on internet akin to a kind of 21st century driver's education, an essential for modern life.
13 hours ago
South Carolina Senators hear from the parents of people who died from fentanyl overdose on Jan. 19,...
Associated Press

With overdoses up, states look at harsher fentanyl penalties

State lawmakers nationwide are responding to the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history by pushing harsher penalties for possessing fentanyl and other powerful lab-made opioids that are connected to about 70,000 deaths a year.
13 hours ago
FILE - In this July 3, 2014, file photo, the Microsoft Corp. logo is displayed outside the Microsof...
Associated Press

Microsoft adds AI tools to Office apps like Outlook, Word

Microsoft is infusing artificial intelligence tools into its Office software, including Word, Excel and Outlook emails.
4 days ago
FILE - This photo provided by the Alaska Volcano Observatory/U.S. Geological Survey shows the Tanag...
Associated Press

Alaska volcanoes now pose lower threat, after quakes slow

Diminished earthquake activity led authorities Thursday to reduce the warning levels at two volcanoes on an uninhabited island in Alaska’s Aleutian chain because of the decreased potential for eruptions.
4 days ago
A television screen displaying financial news is seen inside one of First Republic Bank's branches ...
Associated Press

Big banks create $30B rescue package for First Republic

NEW YORK (AP) — Eleven of the biggest U.S. banks Thursday announced a $30 billion rescue package for First Republic Bank in an effort to prevent it from becoming the third to fail in less than a week and head off a broader banking crisis. San Francisco-based First Republic serves a similar clientele as Signature […]
5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Pilots picket as airline unions leverage summer travel woes