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Numerous flights canceled, delayed Saturday as Alaska Airlines pilots picket for better negotiations

Pilots at the airline are demanding better pay and more flexible schedules to be able to spend more time with their families.

SEATTLE — Alaska Airlines canceled dozens of U.S. West Coast flights Friday and Saturday as off-duty pilots picketed in several major cities over an impasse in nearly three years of contract negotiations.

More than 120 West Coast flights were canceled Friday — about 9% of the airline's operations — thousands of passengers were affected, the airline said in a statement. Canceled flights included 66 in Seattle; 20 in Portland, Oregon; 10 in Los Angeles; and seven in San Francisco, according to the flight tracking website flightaware.com.

The cancelations and delays continued into Saturday. According to Flight Aware, the airline canceled 54 flights and delayed 19 in Seattle, as of 11 a.m.

The airline said more cancellations were possible through the weekend.

The cancelations came amid a planned informational picket by some Alaska Airlines pilots up and down the West Coast with others planned in Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Pilots have been in contract negotiations with the airline for nearly three years and the two sides are at an impasse.

“It takes everyone at Alaska to run a successful and reliable operation. Today, we fell short. We’re grateful for all employees who are working hard to get our guests to where they need to go,” the airline said in the statement that did not mention the picketing.

Will McQuillen, a pilot and union chairman for Alaska Airlines' pilots, said negotiations to reach a solution have been ongoing since 2019. 

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Negotiations were paused because of the pandemic, but Friday was the day the old contract, which employees have been operating as their current contract, becomes amendable. 

McQuillen said the goal of this informational picket, which is not a strike, is to bring awareness to pilots' struggles. 

Among the top priorities are better pay, more flexible schedules and more job protections.

"Attrition is a real concern. Pilots will leave for the career carrier of their choice that provides them the quality of life, the ability to be home with their family and the protections to know once they've invested their career that they will be with that carrier for life," said McQuillen.

He added that conversations with the airline have been frustrating and slow.

In an email statement, Alaska Airlines said, "A new pilot contract remains a top priority for Alaska. We’ve put a package on the table that’s competitive and addresses the issues most important to our pilots."

The airline also noted the pause in negotiations was mutual as the industry faced the pandemic. 

"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," the statement continued.

The airline said it offers competitive salaries for its pilots. For example, an Alaska Airlines captain’s average salary is $341,000 per year, the airline said.

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