Alaska Airlines pilots are getting a significant boost in pay. Since acquiring Virgin America last year, Alaska has established itself as the fifth largest air carrier in the country. But pilots from both companies felt they were underpaid in comparison to their peers from other airlines. An arbitration panel ruled Tuesday to increase the pilots’ wages.
The average pay increase for Alaska Airlines captains was 16% and the average for Virgin America captains was 29%. First officers from both airlines saw increases of 28% and 45% respectively.
David Campbell is a pilot and spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents the pilots. He says the large increases are a sign of how low the previous wages were.
“The increase in wages is a good example of how far we were from our peers at other airlines,” Campbell said. “And this negotiation was really about bringing into parity with our peers across the industry and this arbitration ruling failed to do that, so we’re disappointed.”
In a press release from the union, Capt. Chris Notaro expressed disappointment that while these pay increases are significant under most circumstances, pilots with Alaska Airlines are still paid less than their contemporaries at other airlines.
The arbitration panel ruled that while Alaska Airlines operates the fifth largest air carrier in the country, the volume of business they conduct is dwarfed by the larger carriers, such as Delta, United and American. Their larger revenues and operations allow for their pilots to have higher salaries.
Campbell said the arbitration process that began in late August was a last resort for the pilots: used to get what they considered to be fairer wages.
“We were in direct negotiations, and didn’t make any progress there,” Campbell said. “We didn’t make any progress in mediated discussions. And they really forced us into this arbitration, and it’s very disappointing that it had to go that far.”
Alaska Airlines declined to do a recorded interview on the topic. They released a statement stating, “We respect the decision of the arbitrators and the process they went through.” They emphasized, “Our commitment is to keep our company strong with low costs, low fares, and great experience for our guests while paying competitively.”
Both Alaska Airlines and former Virgin America pilots are under the same contract now, effective November 1st of this year. The contract also contains minor increases to some retirement benefits.