Alaska Airlines bag-handler shortage creates holiday havoc

As many as 6,000 travelers were affected, with about 40 arriving airplanes delayed at Sea-Tac Airport.

By Lewis Kamb / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — An unexpected shortage of Alaska Airlines baggage handlers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport starting Friday caused luggage problems, flight delays and other stress for thousands of customers during one of the busiest travel times of the year, according to statements from the airline and airport.

Meantime, holiday travelers have taken to social media to roast the airline, complaining about hourslong waits on the tarmac, missed connections, missing bags and other frustrations.

A statement posted on Alaska’s website apologized to “our guests who endured considerable inconvenience and understandable frustration at Sea-Tac Airport over the past two days.”

“Put simply: a severe staffing shortage during a very heavy travel period, as well as difficult weather conditions, unleashed a cascade of problems for us, and — unfairly — for our guests,” Alaska’s statement said. “A large number of workers who support our baggage operation had called out sick.”

An Alaska spokesman said in an email late Saturday that as many as 6,000 travelers have been affected, with about 40 arriving airplanes delayed from getting to gates by one to three hours.

“Once the initial problems started, it all quickly snowballed,” spokesman Ray Lane said in the email. “Out on the tarmac, we didn’t have enough ramp agents to move the bags on and off the planes. That meant we had to use fewer gates because some were not staffed correctly. At least 1,500 bags were left behind as flights left Sea-Tac for their destinations — they never got loaded.”

Lane added the staff shortage is not part of an organized labor dispute.

“The amount of call-outs is twice what we’d normally see,” his email said. “This was not a coordinated work action. A big group of workers was just not feeling well. The dramatic number of call-outs caught us off guard and, frankly, we weren’t well prepared to handle it.”

Sea-Tac Airport spokesman Perry Cooper said Saturday the problems were confined to Alaska.

“It was really about the one airline,” Cooper said. “Operations weren’t affected for the rest of the airport or any of the other airlines.”

Representatives for McGee Air Services, the Alaska Airlines subsidiary that handles the airline’s baggage-handlers contract, and the Machinists union that represents those employees, could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Alaska’s statement on its website provided instructions for air travelers whose checked bags didn’t arrive at their destinations, offering to reimburse them for “reasonable and necessary expenses.” The statement added the carrier had called in management employees from across the company “to assist with the baggage backup and recovery.”

On Monday, the airline said: “As of Sunday afternoon, all bags left behind at Sea-Tac Airport have been sent to their intended destinations. Our teams worked quickly to make sure that happened, understanding how problematic and frustrating it has been for our guests not to have their belongings — especially during holiday travel. It remains a very busy time at Sea-Tac, with nearly all flights flying full. There will be lines and issues that pop up. We are determined to do our best in each case to help our guests.”

Talk to us

More in Northwest

Hanford companies to pay $58 million for alleged overcharging

A lawsuit said Bechtel Corp. and Aecom knowingly billed the DOE for time when workers had no work.

Seattle City Council overrides mayor’s veto of policing cuts

“Divestment from a broken policing model … is the needed course of action,” the council president says.

Seattle cop got preferential treatment in prostitution arrest

The officer, who lives in Monroe, also serves as a commissioner for Snohomish County Fire District 7.

Oak Harbor tour boat operator aids in Deception Pass rescue

“He was just in a really bad spot. He shouldn’t have been out there.”

Couple that lost baby in fire recovering in Seattle hospital

A GoFundMe has raised $318,372 for the family as of Monday evening. About 4,500 people have donated.

Seattle police drop effort to get protest images from media

Investigators had wanted the photos to help them solve arson and theft cases.

Hanford workers put at risk by improper respirator maintenance

Risks could include exposure to chemical wastes. Contractors have taken steps to correct deficiencies.

Court to decide if electronic signatures OK for initiatives

Some have urged Secretary of State Kim Wyman to accept them, given concerns about COVID-19.

New push to retire Native team names headed to Legislature

In Oregon, schools can be forced to drop Native American mascots unless local tribes approve them.

Most Read