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This Major Airline Is Canceling Hundreds of Flights Due to a Pilot Shortage

The carrier had to ground 15 percent of its scheduled departures in one day.

Whether it's a dreaded mechanical issue or a major weather event, the potential for a delayed or canceled flight is one of the unfortunate realities of traveling by plane. But while it's common for airlines to amend their schedules well in advance due to shifting demand, it's a different situation entirely when a carrier is forced to ground its own planes due to a staffing issue. Now, a pilot shortage is forcing one major airline to cancel hundreds of its flights. Read on to see if your travel plans might be affected by the groundings.

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Alaska Airlines was forced to cancel hundreds of flights over the weekend due to a pilot shortage.

An Alaska Airlines plane sitting on the runway

Since April 1, Alaska Airlines has canceled hundreds of flights due to a pilot shortage brought on by a labor dispute. The disruption saw 111 flights canceled on the first day—or 15 percent of its total operations—and 77 flights on April 2, CNN reports. According to the airline, more than 12,000 customers have so far been affected by the groundings.

"Communicating with our guests is important: We're notifying them if their flights are impacted and we're doing what we can to get them to their destinations as quickly as possible," the airline said in a statement. "We know the sudden cancellation of their travel plans is frustrating—we apologize to all of our guests who we let down. We remain grateful for all our employees who are working hard to get our guests to where they need to go."

The cancelations affected flights from cities such as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Airport lock down, Flights cancelled on information time table board in airport while coronavirus outbreak pandemic issued around the world

The cancelations primarily affected flights from cities where pilots planned to picket and rally, especially across the airline's West Coast hubs and destinations, USA Today reports. On April 1 alone, 66 flights taking off from Seattle were scrapped, as were 20 from Portland, Oregon, ten from Los Angeles, and seven from San Francisco, according to data from flight-tracking website FlightAware.

The airline's woes also appear to have carried on beyond the weekend as well: As of Monday afternoon, the carrier had canceled 39 flights from many of the same airports, as well as New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, New Orleans, Newark, Anchorage, and Palm Springs.

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Pilots have been negotiating with the airline for over three years.

airline pilot pulling his luggage airport terminal

The cancelations come as the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents Alaska Airlines pilots, pushes through its third year of contract renegotiations with the carrier. The union says several critical issues have yet to be resolved, including job security, scheduling, and increased pay, travel news website Simple Flying reports.

"Alaska Airlines pilots have been crucial in the overwhelming success of this airline and have earned a new contract that recognizes our contributions," Will McQuillen, chairman of the Alaska ALPA Master Executive Council, in a statement. "The contract improvements we seek are reasonable and affordable, and will allow our airline to remain successful and competitive."

Representatives for the carrier also seemed enthusiastic about potentially agreeing on a compromise as soon as possible. "A new pilot contract remains a top priority for Alaska," Jenny Wetzel, vice president of labor relations for Alaska Airlines, said in a statement. "We've put a package on the table that's competitive and addresses the issues most important to our pilots. It's a significant financial investment in our pilot group while recognizing that we are still working to recover from $2.3 billion in losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are eager to conclude negotiations quickly so our pilots can enjoy these new benefits as soon as possible."

Alaska wasn't the only airline plagued with a string of flight cancelations over the weekend.

A woman waiting in the airport with her head down after a flight was canceled

Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines was only one of a long list of carriers that saw a large percentage of flights canceled over the weekend. JetBlue, Southwest, Frontier, Spirit, and American Airlines also reported a significant number of grounded flights due to severe weather conditions and technical issues across the U.S., the Associated Press reports. Data from FlightAware shows that JetBlue and Spirit canceled a third of their scheduled flights on April 3, with major airports in Florida, Maryland, New York, and other areas primarily affected by the changes.

"Severe weather in the Southeast and multiple air traffic control delay programs have created significant impacts on the industry," a JetBlue spokesperson said in an email. "Today's cancellations will help us reset our operation and safely move our crews and aircraft back into position."

Southwest Airlines canceled roughly 1,000 flights over the weekend citing a "technology issue" and "weather and airspace congestion," especially in Florida on April 2. American Airlines also blamed the severe weather over the weekend for its cancelations, AP reports.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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