Two airlines representing many Hawaii flights and routes are posturing to strike before the end-of-year holidays. It isn’t clear that this will actually happen, and there will undoubtedly be falderal that precedes whatever conclusion is reached with both companies.
On Monday, the union representing American Airlines flight attendants is set to announce the next steps. Those include requesting that the NMB release them to strike. We’ll know more then, and the union said “This will allow ample time to prepare communications for the various interested parties, including the National Mediation Board, the Membership, and the media.” While it isn’t clear that this will result in a strike, it might go down to the strike wire before a deal is ultimately reached.
American Airlines flight attendants have been negotiating a new contract with their airline for almost five years. Until and unless released, the two sides undergo federally mandated mediation overseen by the National Mediation Board.
If the flight attendants feel that they are at an impasse, which is likely, they will request to be released from negotiations. If this request is approved, which also isn’t clear, the union must still wait out a 30-day cooling-off period before a strike could occur.
That mean an American Airlines strike potential exists as soon as December 20, 2023.
If a release is granted, the union may try to strike during the critical end-of-year holiday season. The NMB could, however, intentionally take its time deciding by granting the flight attendant release early in December instead, which would put the first possible strike date out to early January. Whatever happens, this is going to be fascinating.
Even if a flight attendant strike occurs, it’s reportedly not expected to be a full-on work stoppage.
Southwest pilots seek to strike but so far are prohibited.
This prolonged negotiation doesn’t seem to be coming to fruition either. Southwest’s pilots have voted overwhelmingly in favor of striking and have already asked to be released by the NMB. That request hasn’t been granted to date. Pilots could make that request again, which might allow for a holiday season strike. SWAPA, Southwest’s pilots union, is making plans for a strike and already opened a Dallas strike center earlier this month.
Southwest and its pilots have been trying to achieve a deal for more than three years. There’s still only a slim chance of a strike happening. Keep in mind that the last strike of a U.S. airline was some 13 years ago. And other airlines, including Hawaiian and Delta, gave in to pilot demands by providing salary increases up to 34%.
Potential strike impact on Hawaii flights.
American Airlines is the more minor player of the two in terms of Hawaii flights. They fly directly to the Hawaiian Islands from Los Angeles, Dallas, and Phoenix. A strike by them will have more impact on Dallas and Phoenix travelers, where there is less competition than there is from Los Angeles.
Southwest Airlines has become a behemoth in Hawaii flights, as they do in most places they serve. They fly directly to the Hawaiian Islands from Northern California, Southern California, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. They are also a significant presence in Hawaii interisland flights, albeit less so than Hawaiian. An interruption in Southwest Hawaii flights would be a massive disruption to both Hawaii visitors and residents, and other carriers could not easily replace flights from the large number of gateways that Southwest serves.
Moreover, there are repercussions for passengers, including cancellations, delays, and changes to travel plans. That’s exacerbated at the holidays, which may make it a more valuable bargaining tool for unions. Not only will there be inconvenience due to any strike, but there are also financial implications for Hawaii travelers unable to reach their destination. Airline customer service would also take a big hit during any strike as the airlines try to manage rebooking, inquiries, and compensation claims.
Airlines would suffer as well, especially in terms of reputation and public relations. Southwest, in particular, will want to avoid any service problems, especially during the holidays, following last winter’s debacle.
Is there anything passengers can do to protect themselves?
There isn’t much that can be done. We looked at whether trip insurance might provide coverage. If you already have a trip planned and have purchased trip insurance, you may well be in luck. If you don’t currently have trip insurance, it’s an entirely different matter. A strike cannot be a foreseen event when purchasing trip insurance in order to be covered. It’s always worth asking, since so far no strike has been announced.