The shortage of pilots is adding to travel chaos in the US as airlines struggle to meet demand

The shortage of pilots is adding to travel chaos in the US as airlines struggle to meet demand

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<p><figcaption class=Photo: David Koenig/AP

The chaos plaguing American travel has continued as a shortage of pilots has become the latest focus of anger at the struggling airline industry.

On Tuesday, more than 1,300 Southwest Airline pilots went on strike in Dallas, Texas amid stalled contract negotiations. American Airlines, which flies to more than 350 destinations, also blamed pilot shortages for its decision to suspend operations in three cities — Ithaca and Islip, both in New York, and Toledo, Ohio — after September 7. The airline is the only major airline that offers flights from Toledo.

Related: ‘We’re just robots’: US airline workers stranded due to staff shortages

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

After about 14,000 flights were canceled or delayed in the United States on Friday and Saturday, the shortage of pilots is compounding airlines’ existing struggle to cope with the large number of daily travelers.

Many airlines have attributed the shortage and general staffing issues to increased travel demand following the easing of pandemic restrictions and the busy summer holiday season.

However, airline workers counter that low wages and poor working conditions are to blame. Pilots say that almost daily flight changes put extra strain on their work and aggravate existing fatigue.

The pickets in Dallas relate to related issues, Capt Casey A. Murray, a pilot and president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told NBC News that nearly 30% of Southwest’s pilots are redeployed every day, sometimes on longer flights, who leave them feeling overwhelmed.

“If you continue to abuse us, you will continue to suffer from staff shortages,” he said.

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

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

A Southwest Airlines spokesman commented on the picket line. “We are aware that some off-duty pilots are participating in information picketing today,” Christopher Perry told the Dallas Morning News.

“Southwest Airlines respects the right of our employees to speak their minds and we do not expect any business disruption as a result of this single demonstration.”

Delta Air Lines pilots, represented by the Airline Pilots Association, wrote an open letter to Delta customers last Tuesday about continued flight cancellations and delays. It accused Delta management of planning more flights than available pilots. As a result, the airmen worked record amounts of overtime, it said.

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

“Our pilots are tired and weary,” Captain Evan Baach told the Guardian in a previous interview. “Our pilots are putting in record amounts of overtime, we’re working longer hours, we’re having shorter nights between shifts. We want the company to walk the talk and make changes to the pilot plans.”

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of airline pilots and engineers has declined by almost 4% in two years.

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