Pilot shortages add to US travel chaos as airlines struggle to meet demand | Airline industry

The chaos plaguing American travel has continued as the shortage of pilots has become the latest flashpoint of anger against the beleaguered airline industry.

On Tuesday, more than 1,300 Southwestern airline pilots picketed Dallas, Texas, amid stalled contract negotiations. American Airlines, which flies to more than 350 destinations, also blamed the pilot shortage on its decision to halt operations in three cities – Ithaca and Islip, both in New York, and Toledo, Ohio – after September 7. . The airline is the only major to offer service from Toledo.

“In response to the regional pilot shortage affecting the airline industry, American Airlines has made the difficult decision to end service,” spokeswoman Andrea Koos said in a statement.

Following the cancellation or delay of around 14,000 flights in the United States on Friday and Saturday, the shortage of pilots is exacerbating the current struggle for airlines to cope with the large number of daily travelers.

Many airlines have blamed the shortage and general staffing problems on increased travel demand following the easing of pandemic restrictions and the busy summer holiday season.

Airline workers, however, counter that low wages and poor conditions are to blame. Pilots say near-daily flight reassignments have added stress to their jobs, exacerbating existing fatigue.

The picketing in Dallas is about related issues, said Capt. Casey A Murray, pilot and president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, who told NBC News that nearly 30% of Southwest pilots are reassigned daily, sometimes on longer flights leaving them. feel overwhelmed.

“If you keep abusing us, you’re going to keep understaffed,” he said.

The union, which represents 8,300 pilots, said “pilot fatigue rates have reached an all-time high” amid ongoing scheduling issues, low pay rates and other concerns.

“The Southwest pilots have been in contract negotiations with the company for more than two years without any meaningful movement toward a new contract,” the union said in a statement to NBC News.

A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines commented on the picket. “We know that some off-duty pilots are on information pickets today,” Christopher Perry told the Dallas Morning News.

“Southwest Airlines respects our employees’ right to express their opinions, and we do not anticipate any disruption in service as a result of this protest alone.”

Delta Air Lines pilots, represented by the Airline Pilots Association, wrote an open letter to Delta customers last Tuesday regarding ongoing flight cancellations and delays. He accused Delta management of scheduling more flights than available pilots. As a result, Airmen were working a record number of overtime hours, he said.

Delta pilots had been protesting outside Delta hubs in several major cities since May over fatigue and poor schedules.

“Our pilots are weary and weary,” Capt Evan Baach told The Guardian in a previous interview. “Our pilots are working a record number of overtime hours, we are working longer days, we have shorter nights between our duty periods. We want the company to put its words into action and make changes to pilot schedules. »

The number of airline pilots and engineers has fallen nearly 4% in two years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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