A Alaska Airlines passenger flight takes off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle on March 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

A Alaska Airlines passenger flight takes off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle on March 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Alaska Airlines to keep canceling flights at high level for weeks

Flight cancellations since April will continue. The chaos has been damaging for Seattle’s hometown airline.

By Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — In a message to Alaska Airlines employees Thursday evening, CEO Ben Minicucci said the high level of flight cancellations since April will continue through this month but added that stability should return to the schedule in June.

“Of the 1,200 flights that we operate every day, we’ve been canceling about 50 of them, roughly 4%. 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 hold times,” Minicucci wrote.

“We will continue to see these cancels through June 1st. We are working to manage these to reduce the impact as much as possible.”

The chaos has been damaging for Seattle’s hometown 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.

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.

“Since April, we have canceled too many flights, disrupted too many plans, stretched our teams too far,” Minicucci wrote. “There are no excuses. The leadership team and I take responsibility and we’re executing a plan to get this right and ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

He also stressed that the chaos is not because of any action by the pilot union, which is in talks for a new contract and considering strike action. That option remains far off.

“I want to be clear — our pilots are not on strike,” Minicucci said.

The reason for the spate 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 April and May with 63 fewer pilots than needed to fly the published flight schedule. Management didn’t recognize this shortage until too late.

After the initial flood of cancellations that hit on April 1, Alaska cut the flight schedule, but “there was no way to completely close the gap,” Minicucci said.

He then outlined the plan to fix the problems: Management has centralized staff and schedule planning under one team and prioritized hiring, training and recruiting for pilots, flight attendants and other workgroups.

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

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.”

“While we have reduced our flight volumes for this summer, we are not reducing our hiring plans,” he added. “Our goal is to have significantly more staff on board before we look to accelerate growth again.”

The cancellations since April have shattered the faith of some longtime Alaska Airlines loyalists. Tom Lennon and his wife, both MVP Gold level in Alaska’s loyalty program, were stranded in New Orleans when Alaska canceled their flight last weekend.

“I do not really know what it will take to recover my trust in Alaska,” Lennon wrote in an email to the Seattle Times.

Minicucci ended his video message to the public with an appeal to passengers to maintain faith in the company.

“Long term Alaska is a resilient airline with 90 years of history,” he said. “We’ll get this right and return to being the Alaska you can count on.”

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Dan Bates / The Herald
When Seattle Genetics founder, Clay Siegall lost his father while in college, he switched from studying for an MD to studying for a PhD., and a goal to treat cancer patients.  His efforts are paying off in lives.
Bothell biotech CEO resigns after domestic-violence allegation

Clay Siegall co-founded Seagen, which develops therapies for cancer patients. He’s accused of attacking his wife.

FILE - A sign at a Starbucks location in Havertown, Pa., is seen April 26, 2022. Starbucks says it will pay travel expenses for U.S. employees to access abortion or gender-confirmation procedures if those services aren't available within 100 miles of a worker’s home. The Seattle coffee chain says, Monday, May 16, 2022, the benefit will also be available to dependents of employees enrolled in its health care coverage. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)
Starbucks will cover travel for workers seeking abortions

Amazon and Tesla also will provide the benefit. Walmart and Facebook have stayed silent.

A barista pours steamed milk into a red paper cup while making an espresso drink at a Starbucks coffee shop in the Pike Place Market, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. It's as red as Santa's suit, a poinsettia blossom or a loud Christmas sweater. Yet Starbucks' minimalist new holiday coffee cup has set off complaints that the chain is making war on Christmas. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Interfaith group asks Starbucks to drop vegan milk surcharge

They say the practice amounts to a tax on people who have embraced plant-based lifestyles.

FILE - In this Monday, March 1, 2021 file photo, The first Alaska Airlines passenger flight on a Boeing 737-9 Max airplane takes off on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday, Oct. 14,2021 by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Alaska Airlines to keep canceling flights at high level for weeks

Flight cancellations since April will continue. The chaos has been damaging for Seattle’s hometown airline.

FILE - An airplane flies past the Boeing logo on the company's headquarters in Chicago, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001. Boeing Co., a leading defense contractor and one of the world's two dominant manufacturers of airline planes, is expected to move its headquarters from Chicago to the Washington, D.C., area, according to two people familiar with the matter. The decision could be announced as soon as later Thursday, May 5, 2022, according to one of the people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing expected to move headquarters from Chicago to DC area

The move would put Boeing executives close to their key customer, the Pentagon, and the FAA.

This 3D rendering shows Sila's 6000-foot facility in Moses Lake, to be used to manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials. (Business Wire)
New factory in Moses Lake will bring hundreds of new jobs

The plant will manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials for cars and cellphones.

Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters, Antares, in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022  (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Helion Energy: New Everett company has the sun in its eyes

The firm is the winner of a new award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County, called Opportunity Lives Here.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is this year's winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Photographed in Marysville, Washington on April 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jon Nehring: Longtime Marysville mayor who’s nurtured growth

He’s helped steer the city’s transformation and is winner of the Jackson Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Monti Ackerman, recipient of the John Fluke Award, is pictured Thursday, April 28, 2022, outside his office in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Monti Ackerman: A passionate volunteer and calculator whiz

The Fortive executive is the winner of this year’s Fluke Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-38, is the recipient of this year's Henry M. Jackson award. The award recognizes a visionary leader who through partnership, tenacity and a strong commitment to community has created lasting opportunities to improve quality of life and positively impact the regional economy. Photographed in Everett, Washington on April 29, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Rep. Mike Sells: He fought for WSU Everett and worker rights

The retiring legislator is the recipient of the Floyd Award from Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

People sit outside the recently opened Amazon Go facility Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Cashier-less Amazon Go buzzing in Mill Creek grand opening

Locals came to check out the high-tech store, with $3 avocado toast and cameras watching customers’ every move.

Joel Bervell (Courtesy photo)
TikTok med student @joelbervell named top Emerging Leader

Joel Bervell, who highlights disparities in medicine, took top honors at an event for 12 rising stars in Snohomish County.