Pilots at two major US airlines are eyeing strike action this fall due to ongoing disputes over working conditions. Unions representing American Airlines and Southwest Airlines pilots have indicated they are preparing for stepped-up labor disputes this fall.
American Airlines pilots prepare to picket airports
According to Reuters, American Airlines pilots will soon begin informational picketing at key American Airlines ports in response to work schedule, fatigue, and layover accommodation issues.
“Our airline needs scheduling practices that support the safety margin, respect pilots’ and passengers’ needs, and de-risk American Airlines to protect and improve revenue,” the Allied Pilots Association told Reuters.
With domestic travel demand rebounding faster than anticipated, US carriers have been caught on the hop. They’ve been criticized for letting too many employees go during the travel downturn. As a result, as demand accelerates, many airlines find they don’t have enough employees to meet scheduling demands.
Over one six-day period in June, American Airlines canceled over 600 flights. Contributing factors included labor shortages. Consequently, American Airlines trimmed its July schedules to match its actual capacities better.
More localized problems, such as issues at Dallas Fort Worth Airport in late July were also exacerbated by labor shortages.
Flights crews left stranded in hotel lobbies during layovers
Such disruptions not only cause chaos for passengers but can also leave crews stranded. That brings to head another ongoing problem at American Airlines, a shortage of hotel rooms for crews on layovers, planned or otherwise.
Over the recent summer, US media carried reports about American Airlines crews waiting hours for hotel rooms and sleeping in hotel lobbies on occasion.
“We have flight attendants sleeping in airports and outside of baggage claim due to the company not providing hotel accommodations in a timely manner,” a union memo to American Airlines flight attendants said in July.
With the problems continuing to simmer for several months, the Allied Pilots Association is now upping the pressure on American Airlines.
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Labor unrest also at Southwest Airlines
Meanwhile, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, representing approximately 9,000 Southwest pilots, told CNBC this week that they continue to consider picketing at Southwest airports. Like at American Airlines, Southwest crews are complaining about scheduling and layover problems.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association is also suing the airline over pay and working conditions. The union alleges Southwest Airlines “significantly altered working conditions, rules, and pay rates for Pilots.”
CNN calls Southwest Airlines “a toxic mix of canceled flights, long delays, and disgruntled pilots and flight attendants.”
Casey Murray, President of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said Southwest’s schedules over the summer were not sustainable. Lyn Montgomery, a union rep for Southwest’s 15,400 flight attendants, said they were at breaking point.
Like American, Southwest Airlines has grappled with operational meltdowns. Those meltdowns often last for days and see thousands of flights canceled and delayed. While not wholly attributed to labor shortages, airlines across the United States are finding it hard to plug last-minute schedule changes because of employees shortages. Those shortages drag out operational disruptions and add to the airport mayhem.
Southwest Airlines says it puts its people first. In August, Bob Waltz, Southwest’s vice president of flight operations, said in a statement;
“We routinely work with the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association on a variety of matters that affect our pilots, but we also have a responsibility to consider a number of factors before implementation of suggestions.”
Similarly, American Airlines recently affirmed looking after their employees was a top priority. But it seems both airlines have some work to do to get that message through to their flight crews and unions.