SEATTLE - Alaska Airlines pilots will begin to vote on Monday whether they want to go on strike.
The decision won’t happen overnight. The pilots union will vote through much of May, but a spokesperson with Alaska Airlines admits: the company believes the "strike-authorization ballot" will pass.
"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," said the spokesperson. "We’re confident we can get a deal through mediation and believe in this process because it has worked for airlines for decades."
In other words, while the strike-authorization vote will wrap up later this month – the fallout would not be immediate. A deal could still be struck before pilots would officially strike.
"Alaska pilots are not looking to strike," said Capt. Will McQuillen, chairman of the Alaska Airlines ALPA MEC 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."
The questions over a potential strike come as Alaska Airlines has struggled to staff flights.
In April, thousands of travelers were delayed, or re-routed, as a domino of cancellations affected airports. At the time, Alaska said the issues were dealing with an industry-wide pilot shortage paired with a backlog of training programs that impacted their flight crews. They announced a 2% reduction in total flights through June – however, issues are still unfolding.
"I was trying to check-in and it kept telling you you’re too early to check-in," explained Rich Vulliet, who was trying to fly home from vacation.
Vulliet said he called Alaska Airlines when he couldn’t check into his flight, only to find out they’d sent a 1:54 a.m. e-mail canceling his flight and delaying his trip home by two days. Staying at a time-share that didn’t have availability for two nights, he had to work quickly to adjust plans. Eventually, he was able to fly home one-day late – it cost him roughly $2,000.
It wasn’t even the first cancellation of his trip, though. In fact, by the time he made it home he saw several delays, and three cancellations.
"Realistically, it’s a first-world problem when you’re in Hawaii," said Vulliet. "You can’t complain too much. So, three flight change in the course of one trip. I’m not sure what we’re equating that to – maybe labor shortage, they never told me why. They just pushed it back."
In a roughly 24-hour span between Saturday and Sunday more than 50 flights were canceled either coming in, or departing from Sea-Tac, according to FlightAware.com. A large number of those flights were Alaska Airlines flights.
Those delays, however, much like delays in April are still not being attributed to the ongoing contract negotiations between Alaska and the pilots union.