Short of pilots, Alaska Airlines cancels dozens more weekend flights

Alaska Airlines canceled 92 flights around its network on Saturday, 46 more flights on Sunday and three on Monday as a pilot shortage continued to wreak havoc with its schedule.

In addition, the airline said 18 Saturday flights were significantly delayed, “primarily due to a mix of weather, mechanical and other standard issues.”

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Saturday, the airline canceled 27 departures and 32 arriving flights were canceled.

Alaska said more than 12,000 passengers had their flights canceled Saturday and another 7,000 passengers will be affected Sunday.

On Friday, the airline had canceled 68 flights at Sea-Tac and more than 120 overall, affecting at least 15,300 travelers.

Saturday, Constance von Muehlen, Alaska’s chief operating officer, said in a statement Saturday that the airlines is “doing everything we can” to support affected passengers.

However, those desperate for support by phone were out of luck.

When 90-year-old Dorothy Case, called Alaska’s customer service line to find out if her scheduled flight from Tucson to Seattle on Wednesday was still on, a recorded message cited an expected hold time of “more than 10 hours.”

Kelly Pollock, with her family on a spring break trip to Disneyland, heard the same dispiriting message when she called at 5:30 am Saturday after hearing that their 8:00 am flight home to Chicago through San Francisco, booked in first class, was canceled.

After repeated calling, Pollock eventually got through to Alaska’s reservations line. The airline was able to put her husband, who needed to get back for work, on a United flight to Chicago Saturday.

To get Pollock and her two teenagers home together, the best Alaska could offer was a 6:00 pm flight Sunday on American.

In the meantime, the three were stuck in a hotel at LAX, which Pollock paid for. She’s expecting a refund for the hotel cost from Alaska, but the reservations agent said she had to talk to customer service about that. With the expected hold time beyond 10 hours that was impossible. And the airline’s online chat option and text options were both not available “due to volume.”

Pollock said she normally flies United but chose Alaska because of a bargain first-class ticket price. “”I don’t think I’ll be flying Alaska again

An internal Alaska Air memo Friday indicated the reasons for the chaos.

“Our operational performance today was below the level many of us expect,” Capt. John Ladner, Alaska’s vice president of flight operations, wrote in a Friday email to pilots. “The primary driver for our performance right now is the shortage of pilots we have available to fly versus what was planned when we built our April schedule in January.”

Ladner cited the level of attrition as a major factor, and said Alaska was offering 150% of pay to pilots willing to pick up extra flights.

The airline has been locked in contract negotiations with its pilots union for three years. Some Alaska pilots picketed Friday near the airport and elsewhere.

“Today you and your fellow pilots demonstrated on the informational picket line and sent a clear message about your priorities and that you’re willing to fight for a market-rate contract, one that gives you job security and flexibility in your work schedules,” the union said Friday in a message to its members.

Pilots have been stretched to their limit, added the Air Line Pilots Association, and the current cancellations were predictable. “All of you saw it coming.”

In its Saturday statement, Alaska said it was notifying passengers and doing what it could to get them to their destinations as quickly as possible. ” We know the sudden cancellation of their travel plans is frustrating — we apologize to all of our guests who we let down.”

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