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Delta Air Lines pilots plan to picket outside MSP amid already high travel demand

The union representing the pilots says they're working a record amount of overtime and want an improved schedule.

MINNEAPOLIS — It's been another rough few days for travelers - around 10,000 flights were canceled, leaving people stranded at airports across the country.

Jet Blue and Southwest both said bad storms in Florida were partially to blame.

The weather, though, is only part of the problem. Aviation business experts say the demand for travel is unprecedented - back to numbers seen even before 2019.

Aviation business reporter David Slotnick writes for the website The Points Guy and says airlines are capitalizing on that demand and adding flights.

He says they should give themselves a buffer rather than schedule at full capacity. For example, Delta Air Lines is scheduling around 87% of its flights. It allows for so-called slack in their system to accommodate for any issues.

But schedule too few flights and ticket prices may go up.

"The ideal is that the airlines are going to figure out the middle ground, the perfect point to hit, obviously we're not there yet," said Slotnick. 

The added pressure is also putting some pilots in a pinch. About 200 Delta pilots staged a protest at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport last month, saying the company's scheduling practices were leaving them overworked and fatigued, according to our affiliate WXIA-TV.

The Air Line Pilots Association, the union representing many pilots, says the airline’s scheduling practices have caused pilots to fly long days or work additional days to keep the airline running.

The union confirmed an unspecified amount of pilots will also stage an informational picket at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on April 21, something they haven't done in six years.

"For those pilots, they’re working extraordinarily hard, picking up all the extra flying they can," said Slotnick. "But for them, there’s a limit they're allowed to fly and they're allowed to say no when they're not comfortable."

Despite no quick fix on the horizon, Slotnick says airlines are headed in the right direction. And he recommends travelers be prepared and proactive to help cut down on any travel troubles.

"Knowing the cause of this and what's happening isn't any consolation if you're stuck," said Slotnick. "It's a really tough situation for everyone involved right now."

In response to the picketing, Delta Air Lines said, in part, that the pilots are off-duty and it doesn't disrupt flight times. Here's the company's full statement:

“This informational exercise by some of our off-duty pilots will not disrupt our operation for our customers. All of our pilot schedules meet or exceed safety requirements set by FAA as well as those outlined in our pilot contract. As we continue to deliver industry leading operational reliability and recover our network, we are also balancing ways to improve schedules for our pilots. All of our people, including our pilots, are working hard to restore our airline and deliver for our customers as we emerge from the pandemic. We are grateful for and proud of their efforts.”

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