US pilots seem set on striking as staffing shortages collide with booming vacay demand
The seat-belt sign is on… and there could be turbulence ahead for summer travelers. At least 25K US pilots have voted to authorize a strike this month as peak travel season approaches and new contracts haven’t been reached with major carriers. Pilots at American Airlines and Southwestoverwhelmingly approved a strike, and those at United picketed last week.
- Full flight: 80% of US air travel is flown by four carriers — American, United, Southwest, and Delta — three of which have potential work stoppages looming.
- Slipstream: After Delta pilots authorized a strike last year, the airline approved a $7.2B pay hike that’ll boost wages by 34% over four years. Pilots at competing airlines are seeking similar deals, plus more reliable schedules.
- Red-eye: For airlines this is particularly bad timing for a labor dispute. The industry faces a staffing crunch, Boeing jet shortages, and booming summer demand.
Planes, trains, and labor disputes… Airline and railway strikes are rare because Congress can vote to block them with a law that protects interstate commerce (see: Biden blocking a nationwide rail strike in December). But frustrated pilots could still disrupt airline schedules by refusing to work overtime. Meanwhile, airlines are facing a surge in pilot retirements given the FAA’s age limit of 65: half will be forced to retire in the next 15 years.
Essential workers are waiting for their payday…Pilots — like rail workers, delivery drivers, educators, and nurses — were all essential to the economy as the pandemic halted work in other sectors. Contract negotiations are coming due in nearly all these industries, as essential workers come out of the pandemic without significant pay bumps. If unresolved, it could mean disruptions in everything from shipping to healthcare.