Do you plan to travel soon with Alaska Airlines?
According to Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci, you might find yourself on a “choppy ride.”
The problem is not the turbulence at 30,000 feet. Rather, it has to do with your chances of getting some air. Alaska canceled flights and cut routes throughout the spring due to a shortage of pilots.
In a video presentation Thursday to the airline’s frequent flyers, Minicucci acknowledged the cancellations. “We have canceled around 50 of the 1,200 daily flights,” he said. Minicucci said cancellations are expected to continue, although he hopes things will improve as the summer progresses.
Flights are canceled every day. But the corresponding bottleneck with Alaska Airlines customer service centers is compounding the problems for travelers. Travelers reported waiting 10 hours or more.
Recently my flight on Alaska Airlines was canceled just as we were preparing to board. Additionally, I spoke with many travellers, some industry representatives and travel agents to distill some key steps for travelers when faced with a canceled flight.
If you’re planning on flying with Alaska Airlines this summer, take a moment now and review your arrangements. Go online and double-check your flights, seat assignments, and any other arrangements you have made with the airline. Make sure none of your flights have been changed or cancelled.
In his recent video, Minicucci said Alaska Airlines has canceled about 4% of its flights. Previously, the airline had implemented a 2% reduction in its schedule. So that means more flights are being canceled in a bid to match available pilots and crew with planes to fly.
Don’t wait for Alaska Airlines to contact you if your flights have changed. However, if you receive an email telling you that your flight is cancelled, call the airline using the number not published in the email. This is different from the usual number of reservations. According to Alaska Airlines spokesman Tim Thompson, this “secret number” in the notification email will help put you in front of the line to speak to a customer service agent.
[Travelers can expect Alaska Airlines to keep canceling flights at high level for weeks]
If your flights are canceled and you need to call the airline, find the person in your party with the highest elite status. Typically, this is MVP Gold or higher. When an elite traveler calls, their calls are answered first.
A traveler was traveling to Palm Springs with her family when her flight was canceled at the gate. She called Alaska Airlines and was put on hold, then opted to be called back by reservations. After being driven home, she used her husband’s phone to call. This is a high level elite flyer. The reservations staff responded immediately and she was able to book everyone’s flight. Sitting in the lounge the next day before their new flight, she was eventually called back by Alaska Airlines. It had been over 24 hours.
In addition to calling your phone, you can text the airline to 82008. Keep your messages under 160 characters. I’ve never used the text feature, but I’ve had luck in the past sending a direct note via Twitter. Alaska has a dedicated social media team that monitors Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
When my flight was canceled two weeks ago, I walked over to the agent manning the counter. A woman named Grace helped me book for the next flight. I renamed it “Grace Under Fire” because 50 people quickly lined up behind me to be rebooked.
Sometimes it is easier to go to the airport and speak to a customer service agent than to reach the Alaska customer service office by phone.
I spoke with an Anchorage-based travel agent about Alaska’s woes. When asked for travel advice, the agent scoffed and said, “I don’t know. Maybe book Delta.
We laughed. The agent continued: ‘It’s a problem when you’re in a one-airline city. There aren’t many other options.
For most travelers in the state, Alaska Airlines is the airline of choice. For many, this is the only option. At least here in Anchorage, there are competitive options heading south to the Lower 48.
In his video address, Alaska CEO Minicucci acknowledges that it can be difficult to rebook during a busy period. An elite traveler was heading to St. Louis for a presentation when his flight from Seattle was canceled. At the last minute, he could have purchased a replacement ticket for $2,500. It was too much, so he canceled the presentation and Alaska refunded his ticket.
If you really need to get to your destination, call and buy another ticket. You have 24 hours to keep the ticket, during which time you can refund it without penalty. Save your receipts and pay later with Alaska Customer Service. It’s always a good idea to get the name of the customer service agent helping you, along with the time and date.
Consider travel insurance. I have travel insurance with Allianz, mainly for lost luggage and accidents. Some cancellations may be covered under the “travel delay” portion of the policy, including accommodation, meals and transportation. My credit card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, also has solid travel insurance. It includes travel delay insurance and the cost of lost or delayed baggage. There is also a category for replacement tickets, but the benefits are capped. There’s really no way to know exactly what’s covered without reading the fine print.
But since the COVID-19 pandemic, travel insurance has become more popular.
If Alaska Airlines rebooks you and other Alaskan flights are not operating, ask the agent to rebook you on another airline. Airlines do it every day, but sometimes you have to ask. Also, if your new flight requires a long layover, be sure to ask for assistance with accommodations and meals.
Many travelers fear that Alaska Airlines pilots are on strike, due to the information picket that took place last month. The pilots are not on strike. This month, the pilots’ union, the Air Line Pilots Association, or ALPA, is voting to authorize a strike. Although pilot negotiations are a separate and distinct issue from the current pilot shortage, there is still a connection. This is because some pilots leave Alaska Airlines to work for other airlines. The union has produced its own video to highlight this issue.
All airlines are looking to hire new pilots, so hiring is very competitive. Alaska Airlines is working hard to hire and train new pilots, reservation agents and flight attendants to handle increased travel this summer. Hopefully the airline will succeed in reducing the number of canceled flights and affected passengers. In the meantime, passengers should be prepared for a “choppy ride”.