NEW YORK Alaska Airlines said Friday it will cut capacity by 8 percent this winter and slash up to 1,000 jobs, as high fuel costs and a weak economy provide a "one-two punch" to the carrier's bottom line.
The job cuts represent about 9 percent to 10 percent of the airline's 10,000 employees. The 850 to 1,000 positions on the chopping block include pilots, flight attendants and aircraft technicians, as well as reservations, customer service and ramp agents.
The carrier, a unit of Seattle-based Alaska Air Group Inc., says the capacity reductions and job cuts will start in November and continue throughout next year.
Alaska Airlines plans to cancel low-demand flights on Saturdays and holidays, reduce flights by about 1 roundtrip flight per day on major routes and end seasonal service on three Mexico routes. In total, the capacity cuts will reduce the airline's flights by about 15 percent.
Alaska Airlines said it is working with the unions that represent affected employees and offering them "early out" programs and extended leaves of absence to lessen the number of involuntary furloughs.
Alaska Airlines says the moves were needed because of "the one-two punch of record oil prices and a softening economy, on top of increased competition."
The company said it has taken steps to offset record costs, including increasing fees and adding charges, reducing fuel consumption and deferring capital projects.
"These steps, when combined with the recently completed transition to an all-Boeing 737 fleet, improve our viability, but are not enough to eliminate the need to reduce the number of our employees," said Alaska Air Group Chairman and CEO Bill Ayer.
Spokesman Stephen Gordon of the Machinists union, which represents more than 3,700 ticket and gate agents, ramp personnel and mechanics, said the layoffs weren't a surprise.
"Clearly we knew this was going to be coming ... it's an industrywide issue," he said.
But some other employees insist there are other ways to solve the carrier's problems.
David Campbell, an Alaska Airlines pilot and a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said that from his perspective, the layoffs were a "bad decision."
Capt. Bill Shivers, chairman of ALPA, said he is concerned the airline will cut its staff of pilots back too much and not be able to take advantage of opportunities for growth in the future.
"We are concerned that competitors such as Southwest, Virgin America or JetBlue will be in a position to capitalize on opportunities that our company has denied itself the ability to take advantage of," he added.
ALPA, which represents the 1,500 pilots at Alaska, is asking the airline to reduce the guaranteed number of flight hours and therefore reduce their pay instead of using furloughs.