Ever since the pandemic, airlines have cut staff to the minimum to survive. Furloughed pilots, flight attendants, maintenance and other staff likely have gone on to other jobs out of necessity. While many of the highly paid employees, like the pilots, will return, there will be a gap and you can see this every day at the airport.
Back in October 2021, most of us remember the thousands of Southwest Airlines flight cancellations. While many attributed this directly to protest over the vaccine mandates, it exposed just how understaffed Southwest and other airlines are. Depending on the airline, the schedule is built around a minimum number of monthly flight hours. These schedules are bid by the pilots every month. The regular pilot schedule is around 75 hours for the larger airlines. In addition to the fully staffed schedule, there are pilots on reserve who fly in the event of weather, illness, maintenance issues or anything delaying normal departure. Those pilots are generally expected to report within an hour and in the event they do not fly a full schedule, they are guaranteed a minimum pay of around 70 hours. In the event the airline runs out of regularly schedule pilots and reserve pilots, they generate a request for off duty pilots to fly at overtime rates of one and a half to double pay. Many pilots await the bad weather days to boost their monthly income.
When staffing was cut to save on employee expenses, the airlines reduced the regular line pilots and reserve pilots, in anticipation of load factor cancellations. They simply moved passengers from one empty flight to another to reduce costs. But when those cancellations did not materialized, the airlines found themselves calling upon off duty pilots more to fill their regular schedule. While those pilots initially enjoyed the extra pay, at some point those pilots need a rest. In the case of Southwest, those off duty pilots refused to take the extra flights which resulted in massive disruptions to service. It is possible they were in fact protesting the vaccine, but it exposed just how fragile their system of extensive use of off duty pilots was.
Today, Delta pilots decided they have had enough. Air travel is picking up and they are being stretched beyond normal capacity. They are demanding that Delta Airlines rehire furloughed pilots to pick up the slack that off duty pilots have had to cover. Should the pilots want to make a point, they could do what Southwest pilots did; refuse overtime. It is not a work action to refuse work on your day off and it makes a point. We are approaching the busy summer and it could be a hectic time traveling in the event Delta does not come to an agreement with its pilots.
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