Alaska Airlines says flight disruptions will continue until June

SEATTLE (AP) — In a message to Alaska Airlines employees last Thursday evening, and later sent to customers, CEO Ben Minicucci said the high level of flight cancellations since April will continue throughout May but that stability should return to the schedule in June.

He said the airline has been canceling about 50 of the 1,200 flights it operates every day.

“This is coming at a time when flights are already full, so rebooking options are limited and many of our guests have experienced extraordinarily long (customer service) hold times,” Minicucci wrote.

Alaska’s daily northbound and southbound flights into Wrangell have not been affected in recent weeks.

Minicucci said the airline started April and May with 63 fewer pilots than needed to fly its published flight schedule. Management didn’t recognize this shortage until too late, he said.

The airline said it has responded by centralizing staff and schedule planning under one team and prioritized hiring, training and recruiting for pilots, flight attendants, and other workers.

He said it will take some time for the complex operations of the airline to turn the corner. Relief is in sight in June, he wrote, when an additional 114 pilots will be available.

The chaos has been damaging for the airline. Passengers whose travel plans have been severely disrupted found little help from the airline in finding alternative ways to their destination, with customer service phone lines citing hold times of up to 10 hours, The Seattle Times reported.

In a follow-up video message for the traveling public that was posted on YouTube Friday morning and sent via email to Alaska’s mileage plan members, Minicucci offered an apology.

“I’m deeply sorry,” he said in the two-minute video. “I hear every day from friends, neighbors and guests about how disruptive our flight cancellations have been.”

He then reiterated the message he’d sent to employees, saying that “the month of May will continue to be choppy” but that “for June and beyond, we’ve made significant changes to ensure a high degree of reliability.”

In his message to staff, Minicucci acknowledged that responsibility for the situation lies with management.

He also said the cancellations are not because of any action by the pilot union, which is in talks for a new contract and considering strike action.

He told employees the airline should be back on track in July and August. “By July and through the rest of the summer travel season, we should be back to flying a reliable and well-staffed operation,” Minicucci said. “An additional 50 pilots, 400 flight attendants and 200 reservations agents will have joined our ranks.”

 

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