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This Major Airline Expects Hundreds of Cancellations Through June, CEO Warns

A pilot shortage has been wreaking havoc on the carrier's schedule for weeks.

There's no denying that air travel can sometimes be a stressful and unpredictable experience. But of all the unanticipated issues that can arise, arguably nothing is more disruptive than a suddenly delayed or canceled flight. Of course, most carriers go to great lengths to ensure their aircrafts take off and land as close to schedule as possible. But now, one major airline has announced it expects hundreds of flight cancellations in the coming weeks. Read on to see if your future travel plans could be affected.

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Airlines are now reporting record-high ticket sales after more than two years of struggling with the pandemic.

A family going through security at an airport

It's no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly disrupted the airline industry. Besides essentially bringing air travel to a grinding halt, carriers have also had to deal with implementing and enforcing health-related safety restrictions while contending with staffing shortages brought on by sick employees.

But recent data shows that business is finally picking back up for the beleaguered companies after over two years of disruption. Airlines are now reporting record-high bookings as passengers begin to take to the skies again, USA Today reports. The surge in demand has even led many major carriers to bulk up their flight schedules with added routes and departures ahead of what experts expect will be a busy summer tourism season.

One major airline will still see hundreds of cancellations in the coming weeks due to staffing shortages.

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

Unfortunately, not all major carriers have been able to shake their recent woes as quickly. In recent weeks, Alaska Airlines has publicly struggled with its schedule due to a pilot shortage that has led to headaches for travelers and uncertainty for passengers who have booked travel with the company. Now, the airline's top executive is warning that the disruptions will likely continue, with hundreds more flight cancellations expected through the end of next month.

"I'm deeply sorry. I hear every day from friends, neighbors, and guests about how disruptive our flight cancellations have been," Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said in a YouTube video emailed to the company's frequent flyer program members. "Simply put: We had 63 fewer pilots than what we planned for when we built our schedule. By the time we caught this error, April and May schedules were bid on by our pilots and flight attendants, making it impossible to sufficiently adjust schedules to avoid cancellations."

In a recent company memo to employees outlined by the Seattle Times on May 13, Minicucci laid out exactly how dire the situation was. "Of the 1,200 flights that we operate every day, we've been canceling about 50 of them—roughly 4 percent," he said. "This is coming at a time when flights are already full, so rebooking options are limited, and many of our guests have experienced extraordinarily long hold times. We will continue to see these cancels through June 1. We are working to manage these to reduce the impact as much as possible."

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The airline says it is hiring more employees to hopefully be back to a "reliable" schedule by July.

An Alaska Airlines plane sitting on the runway

Fortunately for frustrated travelers, the executive reported that the company was taking all necessary steps to put its scheduling troubles in the past. "By July and through the rest of the summer travel season, we should be back to flying a reliable and well-staffed operation," Minicucci assured in the recent video. "An additional 50 pilots, 400 flight attendants, and 200 reservations agents will have joined our ranks."

Despite the corrective moves, Minicucci remained deeply apologetic while summing up the airline's current situation. "Since April, we have canceled too many flights, disrupted too many plans, stretched our teams too far. There are no excuses. The leadership team and I take responsibility, and we're executing a plan to get this right and ensure it doesn't happen again."

But ongoing labor negotiations between pilots and the company could soon take a drastic turn.

airline pilot pulling his luggage airport terminal

The company's announcement comes as it continues contract negotiations with its pilots' union. Last week, the labor organization announced it had begun voting on a potential strike that would further complicate the airline's ability to stick to its schedule.

"While talk of a 'strike' is concerning, especially for guests and the communities that rely on us, they don't happen quickly or without significant advance notice," a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines said in a statement, per local Seattle affiliate FOX 13. "We're confident we can get a deal through mediation and believe in this process because it has worked for airlines for decades," meaning that the company believes it can end negotiations before any such strike could further affect schedules.

Representatives for the airline's employees have held the line on their side of the bargaining table. "Alaska pilots are not looking to strike," Capt. Will McQuillen, chairman of the Alaska Airlines ALPA MEC, said in April. "We are looking for improvements to our contract in line with the market, but that will also allow our company to grow and remain successful and competitive. However, we are willing to take any lawful steps necessary, including a legal strike, to achieve the contract every Alaska pilot has earned."

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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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