A mistake by one of Alaska Airlines' new outsourced ramp workers caused an aircraft tire to be slashed Wednesday, delaying a flight for...

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A mistake by one of Alaska Airlines’ new outsourced ramp workers caused an aircraft tire to be slashed Wednesday, delaying a flight for two hours.

The incident, the first such damage since Menzies Aviation replaced 472 unionized workers two weeks ago, is the most serious episode contributing to a sharp increase in delayed departures from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

About 20 percent of Alaska’s flights from Sea-Tac have been delayed because of ramp performance since the change in ramp workers, up from 10 percent to 14 percent before the switch, airline spokeswoman Caroline Boren said.

In Wednesday’s incident, a Menzies employee working on a flight bound for Fairbanks, Alaska, incorrectly attached a tow bar to the nose of a jet, and the bar fell as the airplane was being pushed back, Boren said.

“It’s not terribly unusual for a tow bar to break or disconnect either due to part failure or an incorrect connection,” she said.

The Menzies ramp agent is now in retraining, Boren said.

On May 13, the airline replaced its unionized Sea-Tac baggage handlers — who also guide airplanes into and out of gates — with contract workers from Menzies Aviation. Based near London, Menzies does baggage handling and other work for 500 aviation customers worldwide.

The union representing the workers who lost their jobs, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, last week asked a federal court to force Alaska to reinstate the employees. The airline plans to file a response to that motion today.

Despite the increase in delays, Alaska has had no flight cancellations because of problems with the ramp function since the contract workers started, Boren said.

Bags are being delivered in an average of 19 minutes, “which is in line with where it’s always been,” she said.

“While we’ve experienced some issues associated with this transition to a new team of people, we’re continuing to see baggage-delivery times improve and delays come down each day.”

Flight attendants, airline near pact

Alaska Airlines has reached “a general understanding on terms for a new tentative agreement” with its flight attendants, the airline and the flight attendants union said yesterday.

The airline and the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents roughly 2,400 Alaska flight attendants, plan to meet next week to work on completing the contract language. Details will not be announced until after members vote on a proposed contract.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com