Pilot Exodus Blamed For Alaska Cancellations


Alaska Airlines blamed an exodus of pilots for more than 200 flight cancellations over the weekend and estimated more than 35,000 passengers were affected. From Friday to Sunday, 206 flights were canceled and a small number were significantly delayed across its network, according to the Seattle Times. Most of the misery occurred at its hub of Sea-Tac in Seattle but the pain was also distributed across the continent.  It may be Tuesday before some of the customers get to where they hoped to be on the weekend. Callers to the customer support line were told to expect a 10-hour wait. “We know the sudden cancellation of their travel plans is frustrating—we apologize to all of our guests who we let down,” a statement on the company’s website said.

Although pilot shortages are affecting all airlines, there has been an exodus of pilots from Alaska because of unresolved contract issues that have dragged on for three years. In a memo obtained by the Times, Capt. John Ladner, the airline’s VP of flight operations, said pilots heading for the door caused the weekend issues. “The primary driver for our performance right now is the shortage of pilots we have available to fly versus what was planned when we built our April schedule in January,” he wrote. He also said the airline was offering pilots 150 percent of their pay to pick up extra flights. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents the pilots, sent a message to members suggesting the weekend issues are just the beginning. “Pilot staffing for April is low,” the message read. “All of you saw it coming.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. The age of air carriers being able to take advantage of pilots due to pilots love of flying may finally be coming to an end. Since it is supposed to be a pilots’ job market rather then the other way around, those pilots who are leaving a current employer to better pastures are just taking advantage of the free job market that should have existed a long time ago. And those air carrier managers need to get their head out of their . . . and act accordingly. Just like the cost to get a private pilot certificate has risen, so finally has the cost of experienced/advanced rated pilots. And that also includes the cost of airfares. Making money on a $59 fare to Florida is just another road to bankruptcy, and screwing over existing pilot staff.

    • I’m at the end of my career now, and all I can say is ‘It’s about time!”. For far to long pilots have been treated like bus drivers and there is absolutely no comparison. When I began my career there were a number of people who took out ads stating that they would work for free, just so they could get more hours to increase their chances at a paying job. My how things have changed.

  2. Most of us posting and reading articles here are aware of what it takes to be a commercial pilot flying for an airline. Training upon training. Hours and hours spent on FARs and associated regs. Line checks by FAA examiners, etc. etc. etc. It is about time that pilots were paid on par with the skills and dedication it takes to pursue this kind of career. The same holds true for mechanics, and support.

  3. What is wrong with airline management? Are they always out to lunch? They have been pooh-pooh-ing predicted pilot shortages for decades now. Oh… it costs MONEY to be proactive and that might cut our short term bonuses and “stakeholder” dividends. Only lately have we seen some small efforts by the smarter carriers to create programs to attract and train pilots… steps that should have been taken decades ago. In the same vein, raiding regional carriers for pilots is just as bad, especially leaving these carriers (wholly-owned or not) to fend for themselves with recruitment. It is a complicated dance, but the principles are simple – however, corporate memory is short. History teaches, but is easily ignored and dismissed by the foolish.

  4. Baby Boomers… They are retiring. The younger generations have a lot of job opportunities that have never existed before the invention of the computer. There’s labor shortages in every sector. Piloting is not the only job on the planet. Being an airline pilot after the Vietnam war was a big deal. Today the graduating 18 year old is overwhelmed with choices and piloting is just one of those choices.

  5. It now costs more to become a pilot than a doctor. You don’t just have one life in your hands at a time, but maybe a hundred. I watched my mothers doctor pull up in a new MB Maybach. He saw I was a pilot and we discussed his new jet. He has retired airline pilots fly him around.
    I noticed all my mothers doctors were in this situation.
    They owned helicopters, jets, and multiple homes. Did it take longer for them to become doctors? Well, yea, it also takes forever to become a second officer now.
    I would never advise anyone to go to flight school to become an airline pilot. I tell them to go to medical or law school, then learn to fly for fun.