Airline Pilots Picket Nationwide Ahead of Holiday Weekend

Off-duty airline pilots from six airlines picketed at 13 U.S. airports, demanding better working conditions.

Off-duty pilots for six airlines picketed around the country at 13 major airports on Thursday to demand better working conditions and benefits. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) strategically led the one-day campaign ahead of the labor-day travel weekend, which is typically the last big summer holiday weekend for travel.

‘Send a Strong Message to Management’

ALPA explained in its statement ahead of the demonstration that its goal is “to send a strong message to airline management across the country.” According to the union, the message is this: “It’s time to address their operational problems and prioritize passengers, pilots, and other frontline workers who made extraordinary sacrifices during the pandemic.”

Off-duty pilots from Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), Endeavor, JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ: JBLU), Sun Country (NASDAQ: SNCY), Spirit (NYSE: SAVE), and United (NASDAQ: UAL) lined up to participate in the picketing and were only allowed to carry union-approved signs. Placards read, “airlines must do better for all” and “ready to strike.”

Federal regulations prohibit airline pilots from easily going on strike, which explains why off-duty pilots led the picket sessions. Negotiations around salaries and benefits often take time. The union and off-duty pilots use picketing campaigns to drive public awareness of their concerns and to pressure airline management.

On the East Coast, pilots gathered at airports in Boston (KBOS), New York (KJFK), Washington D.C. (KDCA), Atlanta (KATL), and Orlando (KMCO). In the Midwest, they lined up in Minneapolis (KMSP), Chicago (KORD), and Detroit (KDTW). Finally, out West, they gathered in Seattle (KSEA), San Francisco (KSFO), Salt Lake City (KSLC), Las Vegas (KLAS), and Los Angeles (KLAX).

“When ALPA pilots stand shoulder to shoulder in support of shared goals, people notice—our airlines notice,” ALPA said in a statement. The union welcomed many off-duty ALPA pilots to join the informational picketing campaign. It said its goal was to communicate to the “public, our lawmakers, and our airlines that all airline pilots stand together in support of the profession-wide goal of improved working conditions and benefits.”

Slow Contract Negotiations Are Frustrating Pilots

Ahead of the campaign, Delta’s ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC) representative Capt. Jason Ambrosi complained in a statement that his airline wasn’t ready to support the rush of travelers as travel rebounded, but pilots “stepped up to fly historic levels of overtime so our customers could return to the skies.” To that end, Ambrosi urged Delta’s management to come to the negotiating table to close out contract negotiations that began in April 2019. This was the third time that Delta pilots have picketed to negotiate their contracts this year.

“Contemplating a strike is not something we take lightly, and we can achieve the industry-leading contract that we’ve waited more than three years to achieve. The ball is in Delta management’s court right now,” Ambrosi said.  

His sentiments were shared by MECs from JetBlue, United, and Spirit, who all communicated that they desired better compensation.

“ALPA pilots delivered during the pandemic, and now it’s time for airlines to deliver for us,” the union said. “The contributions of pilots and other crew members across the U.S. kept supply chains moving and transported life-saving medical equipment, personnel, and vaccines to places they were most needed. It’s time for management to prioritize passengers and pilots—and invest in the people who keep our country moving,” ALPA president, Capt. Joe DePete said.

Some Pilots Have Made Progress

So far this summer, ALPA has worked with pilots it represents at Envoy Air, Piedmont Airlines, and PSA Airlines to secure significant pay upgrades that, at the time, promised to lead the regional sector in pay. Then, last week, Mesa Airlines, represented by ALPA, leapfrogged those airlines to secure the top spot with regard to pilot pay.

“This week’s agreement reflects an overall hourly rate pay increase of nearly 118 percent for first-year captains and 172 percent for new-hire first officers,” ALPA said in the announcement.

Travel Disruptions a Big Factor

The union said its pilots are also disgruntled over the operational problems that have caused significant delays and cancellations. Before the July 4th weekend, Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg chimed in to encourage airlines to do all they could to mitigate travel disruption. He also said that the DOT would hold airlines accountable for not taking care of passengers fully amid disruptions. To that end, the DOT launched its new Airline Customer Service Dashboard yesterday.

The department said it would “ensure the traveling public has easy access to information about services that U.S. airlines provide to mitigate passenger inconveniences when the cause of a cancellation or delay was due to circumstances within the airline’s control.”

Reuters reported in August that airline flight cancellations this year have surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with more than 128,934 flights canceled from January to July of this year. 

That’s 11 percent more cancellations than during the same period in 2019 when travel was last operating at “normal” travel conditions. The Bureau of Transportation also confirms this trend, reporting that from January to June, there were more than 100,000 canceled airline flights. 

As far as the union is concerned, DePete points the finger at airline management. In his statement, he said, “Unfortunately, some airlines squandered the opportunity to plan for post-pandemic flying adequately, and the result has been unprecedented flight delays and cancellations.”


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