Travelers can expect Alaska Airlines to continue canceling flights at a high level for weeks
SEATTLE — In a message to Alaska Airlines employees Thursday evening, CEO Ben Minicucci said the high level of flight cancellations since April would continue through this month, but added that stability should return to the schedule. in June.
“Of the 1,200 flights we operate every day, we have canceled around 50, or around 4%. This comes at a time when flights are already full, so rebooking options are limited and many of our customers have experienced extraordinarily long wait times,” Minicucci wrote.
“We will continue to see these cancellations until June 1. We are working to manage them to reduce their impact as much as possible.
The chaos has been detrimental to the Seattle airline.
Passengers whose travel plans have been severely disrupted have found little help from the airline in finding alternative ways to get to their destination, with customer service phone lines citing wait times ranging from until 10 a.m.
In a follow-up video message for the traveling public that was posted to YouTube Friday morning and emailed to members of the Alaska Mileage Plan, Minicucci issued an apology.
“I’m deeply sorry,” he said in the two-minute video. “I hear every day from friends, neighbors and guests how disruptive our flight cancellations have been.”
He then reiterated the message he had sent to employees, saying that “May will continue to be a hectic month” but that “for June and beyond, we have made significant changes to ensure a high degree of reliability. “.
In his message to staff, Minicucci acknowledged that the responsibility for the situation lies with management.
“Since April we have canceled too many flights, disrupted too many plans, stretched our teams too far,” Minicucci wrote. “There are no excuses. The management team and I are taking responsibility and executing a plan to get it right and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
He also stressed that the chaos is not due to any action by the pilots’ union, which is in talks for a new contract and is considering a strike. This option stays away.
“I want to be clear – our pilots are not on strike,” Minicucci said.
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The reason for the wave of cancellations in April and May comes down to “not having enough pilots to fly our spring schedule,” he told employees.
He said Alaska started in April and May with 63 fewer pilots than needed to keep up with the published flight schedule. Management recognized this shortage only too late.
After the initial flood of cancellations that hit April 1, Alaska reduced the flight schedule, but “there was no way to fully close the gap,” Minicucci said.
He then outlined the plan to resolve the issues: management centralized personnel and scheduling planning under one team and prioritized the hiring, training and recruitment of pilots, flight attendants and other working groups.
However, he said it will take some time for the airline’s complex operations to turn around. Relief isn’t in sight until June, he wrote, when 114 more pilots will be available.
He told employees the airline should be back on track in July and August.
“By July and through the remainder of the summer travel season, we should be back in the piloting of a reliable, well-staffed operation,” Minicucci said. “50 additional pilots, 400 air hostesses and 200 reservation agents will have joined our ranks.
“Although we have reduced our flight volumes for this summer, we are not reducing our hiring plans,” he added. “Our goal is to have a lot more people on board before we look to accelerate growth again.”
Cancellations since April have broken the faith of some longtime Alaska Airlines loyalists. Tom Lennon and his wife, both Alaska frequent flyer program MVP Gold, found themselves stranded in New Orleans when Alaska canceled their flight last weekend.
“I don’t really know what it will take to regain my faith in Alaska,” Lennon wrote in an email to The Seattle Times.
Minicucci ended his video message to the public by calling on passengers to maintain their trust in the company.
“Long Term Alaska is a resilient airline with 90 years of history,” he said. “We’re going to get it right and get back to being the Alaska you can count on.”
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