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"We deserve better than that": Labor dispute at Alaska Airlines forces flight cancellations up and down the west coast

Picketing pilots forced Alaska Airlines to cancel more than 120 flights across the country.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Alaska Airlines warn more flights could be canceled this weekend, as pilots up and down the west coast picket for higher pay and flexible schedules.

Picketing pilots forced Alaska Airlines to cancel more than 120 flights across the country, which is about 9% of the airline's flights.

"It's certainly longer than it should take for a pilot group that basically got this airline through the pandemic, we deserve better than that," Alaska Airlines Pilot Joseph Youngerman said.

The disruptions had little, if any impact at the Spokane Airport Friday, although one flight departing Seattle for the Lilac City was canceled.

"That contract should have been done a considerable time ago, it's time for them to get serious about it, it's time for them to engage us at the negotiation table," Youngerman said.

Some 1,500 Alaska Airline pilots stood outside airports in Seattle, Portland and along the west coast. The pilots say they are underpaid and overworked. But, they aren't just asking for more money. The three big demands are flexible scheduling, quality of life and job security. Contract negotiations have stalled for three years.

"The conversations have been frustrating because the progress at the table has been incredibly slow. We haven't been able to meaningfully problem solve on these priorities and it's frustrating," Alaska Airlines Pilot Will McQuillen said.

Pilots have been working under an old contract, which became amendable Friday.

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

In a statement, the airline said in part:

"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. 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 airline says more cancellations are possible over the weekend. All of this comes as spring break travel is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels. The Spokane area's largest school districts, Spokane Public Schools, Central Valley and Mead, are all on spring break next week.

Many Alaska Airlines flights leaving Spokane are on smaller prop planes which are operated by Horizon Airlines. Horizon pilots are not picketing. 

If you are traveling over spring break, just make sure to check your flight status and be aware that masks are still required in airports and on airplanes.

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