Aviation Woes (And Unions) Are Sparking a Chaotic Summer Travel Season

by | Jun 30, 2022 | Strikes, Travel

Little dispute exists about the healthcare industry feeling the most acute pain during the (still not over) pandemic, but the aviation industry is not far behind these days. Plenty of eager travelers booked summer vacations for the first time in years, and that has led to even more chaotic airport settings than usual as airlines cope with staffing issues.

One big difference between aviation and other workplaces, however, is this: Unlike an upset restaurant customer who can be more easily appeased about a long wait to be seated, canceled flights cause a massive uproar. Thousands of stuck, angry customers packed into airports all at once is, clearly, not an optimal situation for business.

Will the issue see relief anytime soon? That seems unlikely for the immediate future. Consumers want to travel, but this past Monday alone, major airlines (including Delta, United, and American Airlines) pulled 800 flights following mass cancellations on Father’s Day weekend. Airlines cited staffing issues (in the sky, at service desks, and in air traffic control centers) that were exacerbated by trimming staff through layoffs and offering early retirement packages to save money when travel times were slim.

Heading into the Fourth of July weekend, unions view this continued travel turmoil as the perfect time to push airlines for higher wages and benefits at the bargaining table.

For unions who represent pilots, that’s already happening. The Allied Pilots Association (representing American Airlines pilots) spoke out against overbooked schedules and pilot exhaustion due to overtime, all of which increase cancellations. That combination not only impacts safety but has a cascading effect upon schedules. Frustrated pilots are also making their voices known:

  • Around 1,300 Southwest Airlines pilots protested (although this was not technically a strike) in Dallas for higher pay while pointing the finger at management for the flurry of cancellations;
  • Likewise, Delta Airlines pilots picketed while off-duty with a Delta spokesperson insisting that these protests will not further hamper flight schedules;
  • American Airlines pilots recently picketed in New York City near the NYSE while claiming to dole out “tough love” for their employer;
  • Alaska Airlines pilots recently voted to strike, although there’s little indication of whether conditions will actually lead to pilots walking off the job.

Meanwhile, some airlines already decided to answer the pilots’ calls:

  • United Airlines became the first major U.S. airline to strike a 2022 deal for increased pilot pay. Their agreement with the Air Line Pilots Association will incrementally increase pay 14.5% for 14,000 pilots over the course of 18 months.
  • Piedmont Airlines is one of two American Airlines regional carriers who recently ramped up pilot pay rates in an attempt to mitigate shortages. The resulting increases are temporary (through August 2024), but steep (pushing first year pilots from $78 to $146 per hour), and could become permanent. Envoy Air followed suit with similar hikes.

In addition, an American Airlines spokesperson (spokespilot, actually) asked the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate flight overscheduling in comparison to the number of available pilots. In other words, pilot fatigue (and the shortage) won’t be resolved soon, nor will the exhaustion cease for airport workers on the ground. Expect plenty more travel delays as the airline industry attempts to resolve these hiccups.

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