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Pilots picket as airline unions exploit summer travel challenges | business news

DAVID KOENIG, Author of AP Airlines

DALLAS (AP) — Hundreds of uniformed Southwest Airlines pilots lined up in perfect line under the scorching Texas sun at Dallas Love Field Tuesday, holding signs accusing Southwest management of delays and cancellations that have frustrated passengers.

From time to time the motorist honked or shouted encouragingly. Most of the passengers went straight to the security checkpoint inside the terminal.

The protest, which the union said involved up to 1,300 pilots, was the latest example of airline workers trying to put pressure on companies by taking their demands for higher wages directly to passengers.

Federal law makes it almost impossible for airline unions to conduct legal strikes. Contract negotiations usually drag on—often for years. Southwest flight attendants have been under the old contract since 2018.

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This slow pace is forcing unions to look for creative ways to put pressure on management. Sometimes they vote to sanction a strike – Alaska Airlines pilots did this last month – even though they are less likely to quit their jobs.

Last week, the Airline Pilots Association, or ALPA, released an open letter to Delta Air Lines customers saying its members sympathize with travelers whose flights have been delayed or canceled and blame Delta management. The union said Delta had scheduled more flights than pilots and the pilots were working overtime.

Earlier this month, American Airlines pilots gathered near the New York Stock Exchange, and before that, at major airports. Some held signs such as “Disappointed in A.A.? And so are we.”

Airline unions are hoping to take advantage of strong demand for travel this summer to push for higher wages and benefits.

United Airlines reached an agreement with ALPA last month. The terms were not disclosed, but they likely include higher pay – United’s CEO called it the best deal in the industry. The deal has yet to be ratified by the pilots.

American’s two regional subsidiaries will provide pilots with a 50% pay increase through August 2024, in addition to the longer-term increase. The so-called regional carriers, which operate American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, are suffering the most from the shortage of pilots.

On Tuesday at Love Field, which is near the Southwest headquarters, pilots in starched white short-sleeve shirts with epaulettes on their shoulders stood to attention holding signs reading “Operation Southwest: From First to Worst” and “Our Passengers and pilots deserve better.”

Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the airline’s 9,000 pilot union, said the job has become a “flying puppet” for pilots due to excessive schedules.

“It’s a fight every day there. Our fatigue scores reflect this,” he said. According to…

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