From Friday morning to 9 a.m. Monday, Alaska Airlines canceled a whopping 185 flights. leaving thousands of ticket holders scrambling to find alternative transportation via an airline call center that put people on hold for five to seven hours.
This travel nightmare got personal when I received an email on Friday informing me that my Saturday flight from Honolulu to Seattle was dropped. Sure, it is easy to think being stranded in Hawaii is not the worst thing in the world, but when you need to get home for important commitments, even a tropical paradise can lose its luster.
Luckily for me, my savvy wife knows how to navigate websites, flight schedules and labyrinthine telephone traps. She resisted accepting a multicity route back that would have stalled us at LAX overnight and, instead, nabbed a couple of seats by the bathrooms on a direct flight back to the Emerald City. I suspect many thousands of other travelers had a much harder time.
When a similar rash of flight cancellations hit Alaska customers a month ago, the airline assured everyone it was a one-time problem. Obviously, it wasn’t. When the Alaska public relations department blamed the continuing mess on the difficulties of scheduling flight crews when the starting day of a new month falls on a weekend, there was a lot of cynical laughter. An Alaska pilot pointed out that, since there is a new month 12 times a year, it might be a problem that good management could figure out before meltdown occurred.
It is telling that, while Alaska was canceling 5% to 8% of its flights, other airlines had cancellation rates of just 1%.
I have long felt a strong loyalty to Alaska Airlines. For the places to which I travel most frequently — Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., Mexico and Hawaii — it offers the convenience of direct flights, a good on-time record and prompt baggage handling. But the current pilot shortage — perhaps driven by operating too lean for too long — has sent the airline into a tailspin.
I hope it pulls out of it fast because Seattle benefits greatly from being served by a well-run hometown team in the sky.
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