Washington D.C. – The American airline industry has made a number of excuses following a “spik[e]” in flight cancellations ahead of the July Fourth holiday weekend in 2022 — including over 2,000 cancellations occurring in a single day — which came a month after flight cancellations left “tens of thousands” of travelers stranded during June 2022’s holiday weekends and consumer complaints surged by over 300% above pre-pandemic levels in April. While airline companies have blamed bad weather and air traffic controllers for the delays and cancellations, a new analysis from corporate watchdog Accountable.US outlines the history of worker mistreatment of the top five U.S. airline companies’ (even as they’ve received nearly $54 billion in federal bailouts) that is now contributing to a labor shortage and subsequent consumer headaches.
Decisions made by the major airlines to subject their workforce to low pay, long hours, and weak benefits bear much of the blame for the capacity issues they now struggle with, while some have even bragged about their profits as they have stretched their employees to the breaking point.
Highly compensated airline executives – including from companies that have taken billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts and bragged of recent profits – are desperate to blame anyone but themselves for a surge of delays and cancellations that follow years of treating their workers like dispensable cogs. Unfortunately it’s the consumers who are now paying the price of the airline industry’s self-inflicted labor crisis – one that is a predictable result of companies prioritizing a small group of wealthy investors above all.”
Accountable.US spokesperson, Liz Zelnick
- Southwest Airlines—which “‘ended 2021 on a high note with [its] first quarterly profit‘” since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic after cutting its workforce by over 1,400 in 2021—canceled nearly 20,000 flights ahead of 2022’s summer season while pilots, flight attendants, and other staff fought for fair pay and improved working conditions.
- Although Delta Air Lines touted profitability in the second half of 2021 and expected a “strong spring and summer travel season” in 2022, it canceled hundreds of flights ahead of the Fourth of July while over 1,200 of its overworked pilots and staff picketed for improved pay, benefits, and working conditions.
- United Airlines Holdings—which pushed many employees during the pandemic to take “voluntary exit package[s],” and significantly reduced its fulltime staff—before CEO Scott Kirby claimed the company was “‘ready’” to “‘ramp up’” scheduling in the summer of 2022, despite announcing dozens of cancellations.
- American Airlines—whose flight attendants were fighting to be paid during boarding times in 2022—shrunk its workforce by as many as 31,000 full-time employees during the first year of the pandemic and was poised to furlough 13,000 workers as soon as federal aid expired in March 2021.
- Alaska Airlines—which had 4,000 fewer full-time employees in FY 2021 than in pre-pandemic FY 2019 despite $478 million in FY 2021 net income—has cancelled flights in 2022 as pilots voted in May 2022 to authorize a strike amid a three-year-long labor dispute and as the company asked the Supreme Court to let it avoid state labor laws requiring “meal and rest breaks.”