Threats of a pilot strike could impact summer travel

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Tuesday, May 23, 2023
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- On a Monday night at RDU, there's still hustle and bustle as passengers make their way through Terminal 2. A lot of foot traffic for a weeknight, but it's the precursor to what is expected to be a busy travel season and passengers are already noticing.

"My first flight was fully booked there wasn't a seat available on it," said one passenger on her way back to Michigan.

"There was definitely a lot more traffic. The flight availability wasn't the same as it was last year," said Zachery Dodd, a passenger who came in from Alaska.

"The amount of people here at the airport is what I was worried about," said Jordan Starks. He was headed back to Atlanta.

Starks has reason to be concerned. TSA is preparing for record-breaking crowds this summer.

"I wasn't necessarily sure if flights were going to be delayed because Atlanta is a big airport coming from this airport," he continued.

Those concerns only increase as passengers brace for a possible pilot strike. Southwest, United, and American Airlines pilots' unions voted to authorize a strike. They're protesting for higher wages. Recently, American Pilots Union reached an agreement that will now go to a vote.

But for the other large carriers, a threat of grounded flights during peak travel seasons has passengers worried about their summer plans.

"I have another travel plan from California in September so that is a little scary," said Sarah Buriss who came in from Tennessee.

"I think through COVID we lost a lot of pilots and people were saying yeah we are going to bring them back and through the training process it could take years to bring them on for a commercial flight so if there is a shortage if there is a strike it's gonna be kind of crazy," said Jeffrey Brooks, who recently moved to Raleigh from Colorado.

ABC11 asked the experts what you should do. Vanessa McGovern with Gifted Travel Network said don't cancel your plans but prepare for delays.

"The best way that we can really navigate something like this or plan for it is to plan ahead. And you can combat that by giving yourself a buffer with your travel schedule. So, always making sure that you are arriving a day, ahead of any important plan scheduled a cruise isn't a great example of this," continued McGovern.

What should you do if you have flights with airlines that could strike? Donna May with Outlander Travel explains those carriers should be your second choice but sometimes it's unavoidable.

"If you're traveling into some of the Caribbean nations, American is the major carrier for that region of the world. And so, it's really hard to kind of go around American," said May.

McGovern and May said the goal is for unions to reach an agreement soon. If that doesn't happen federal law does make it challenging to proceed with a strike or walkout. Airlines are considered essential industries, and they have this special status when it comes to labor disputes. As a result, airline strikes are very rare.

"I think everybody wants this to work. Because with the problems that we had in the last year, everybody wants to go back to work," continued May.