For Alaska Airlines — and its customers — April has been nothing but unrest.
Alaska canceled hundreds of flights and eventually cut its spring schedule by 2% in a race of flight cancellations that began on April 1. The good news for travelers is that the chaos seems to be passing, with the airline projecting that flights on schedule in the coming weeks will have the crew they need to fly.
A shortage of pilots was blamed for the cancellation spree. Drawing up the schedule in January, the airline projected to have more pilots on its roster than it would eventually have. While the airline says it has resolved the scheduling issue, pilots are in short supply.
Here’s what travelers planning a flight to Alaska need to know:
schedule has been fixed
On Thursday, Alaska announced it was cutting its schedule by 2% through June. In doing so, it believes it can avoid the flight cancellations that hit thousands of passengers’ plans for early April.
Alexa Rudin, Alaska Airlines’ managing director for communications, said, “Guests are being notified in advance and are being rescheduled for other flights if their itinerary is affected by a crew-related cancellation. is.”
but the big problem remains
There is a shortage of pilots throughout the airline industry, but the problem is particularly acute in Alaska. The airline, which employs about 3,100 pilots, saw 137 of its most experienced pilots retire early during the pandemic. Already this year, at least 32 Alaska pilots have left for other airlines and another 22 newly hired pilots have jumped to other airlines before completing their training.
The company and the pilot union are negotiating a three-year contract that has turned increasingly bitter. Union officials have publicly hinted at the possibility of a strike, a proposal complicated by federal rules to keep transportation workers from striking.
Why are there still cancellations?
Big boards at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and online flight trackers like FlightAware.com Dozens of Alaska flights continue to be listed as “cancelled.” Many flights were canceled a few days back due to the technicalities. Rudin said those notices will stop once an updated schedule flows through the system later this week.
What to do if your flight is canceled
Alaska’s Rudin said Monday that Alaska travelers whose flights have been canceled due to crew shortages should receive an email that includes a special phone number to help them get quick booking assistance. This number is different from the normal customer service line that was filled with calls earlier in the month.
Federal protections for passengers affected by flight cancellations leave much to be desired. Airlines require passengers to book on a later flight, or refund their money if they decide not to travel. Airlines sometimes offer vouchers in lieu of a cash refund, but passengers are not obligated to accept it.
What’s next for Alaska?
Alaska flights account for more than half the air traffic flowing through Sea-Tac Airport, and the Sea-Tac-based company is both a significant employer and a Northwest icon.
It is also looking forward to growing. Speaking with investors in late March, Alaska Air executives outlined plans to expand a fleet of 300 to 400 airplanes by 2025 — including both Alaska Airlines and regional sister carrier Horizon Air — and annual To increase revenue, which was $5.5 billion in 2021, to $400 million over the next five years.
The extent to which labor shortages will complicate those plans is unclear. In March, Nat Pepper, Alaska’s senior vice president responsible for jet fleet and finance, acknowledged that industrywide pilot shortages are a concern given the airline’s growth aspirations.
“We’ve got the balance sheet to do it. We have airplanes coming out,” he said. “But you obviously have to have crew to be able to do that.”