Korean Air Pilot Strike Likely To Disrupt Flights Until New Year Intra-Asia & To The Middle East

Korean Air has been hit with their first pilot strike in 11 years after unions rejected a company proposal for pay increase, affecting flights within Asia and to the Middle East until December 31, 2016.

korean-air-a380

Even though a full scale pilot strike is prohibited by law in Korea, this will still inconvenience many travelers in the busy holiday period so it’s advised to check your schedule.

The strike was first announced 4 days ago just before the Christmas holidays with Korean Air publishing a schedule of flights which are directly affected and others which will be operating as planned.

There was a write up in the Wall Street Journal (see here) including some background details of the situation in Korea.

Unionized pilots at Korean Air Lines Co. went on strike Thursday for the first time in 11 years, disrupting some flights on the airline’s major Asian and Middle Eastern routes.

The pilots entered the 10-day strike after talks with management broke down, following nearly a year of wage negotiations. …

Over the next 10 days, the strike is expected to lead to the cancellation of as many as 150 passenger and cargo flights on the carrier’s domestic and international routes, including to Hong Kong, Dubai and Tokyo, according to the transport ministry.

Korean Air said disruptions will be limited and that more than 90% of flights scheduled for the next 10 days will be unaffected.

“We’re diverting passengers on the affected flights to other routes to their destinations. We will also make sure no year-end cargo are delayed,” a company spokesman said.

A complete work stoppage by pilots is prohibited under Korean law.

Airlines are categorized as one of the country’s critical industries, meaning that at least 80% of a company’s international flight operations and half of local flights must be maintained even during strikes. Korean Air accounts for about 40% of the country’s international flight operations.

Taking this at face value it seems like the regulations in Korea concerning strikes in the aviation sector are quite reasonable. I like the consideration that certain industries are vital to the country’s infrastructure and that the common good puts restrictions on labor action.

You can access the Korean Air website here where you find details about the strike and flights affected.

As far as international flights go the following schedule has been published:

ke-strike-flights-intl

A range of domestic flights are impacted as well including:

  • Seoul-Gimpo to Jeju
  • Seoul-Gimpo to Busan
  • Seoul-Gimpo to Ulsan
  • Seoul-Gimpo to Yeosu
  • Busan to Jeju

For the above, please refer to the website as quite a few flights are affected on domestic routes due to a very frequent schedule.

The WSJ article continued:

… In 2015, more than 120 pilots left Korean Air—seven times the number for the year before, according to the company, with nearly half moving to China.

The flood of departing Korean pilots has prompted greater demand for higher wages among those who stay.

Korean Air’s union, of which about two-thirds of the carrier’s 2,700 pilots are members, has threatened to strike since February, demanding a 29% pay raise instead of the 1.9% increase proposed by the company.

It seems like the demand for pilots in Asia is so high that Korean Air needs to increase their compensation packages in order to keep pilots in the company. A 1.9% pay increase is barely covering inflation and can’t be taken seriously, especially if it’s a competitive market where employers need to woo staff.

Even though the airline has offered to change or refund without penalty, you can demand that they rebook you on an alternative service, for example flights operated by Asiana as a last resort.

Conclusion

This situation wasn’t even on my radar until a friend flew from New York to Bangkok 2 days ago and asked me last night what’s up with this strike as people on the plane were talking about it. Sure enough there is information all over the place; usually I spot these quickly.

While a 29% pay increase demand sounds excessive, one has to consider that the pilots were not receiving any significant increases for a long time. Being a pilot comes with a lot of prestige, which is important in Korea, but you can’t feed your family from prestige alone. I’m not saying that KE pilots are poor, but if the market is outperforming Korean Air as an employer then they have to stop being stubborn and pay up.

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