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Alaska Airlines delays

Old 07-10-2005, 03:55 PM
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Default Alaska Airlines delays



Alaska Airlines Slips to Last in on-Time Ranking
Jul. 9--Alaska Airlines ranked as the worst airline in the nation for on-time arrivals and departures during May, according to a new federal report.

The airline said its June on-time performance was also horrible but that July's numbers have improved.

Anchorage resident Mark Sabel is among those well aware of the airline's problems. In late June he spent five hours stranded at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport waiting for a connecting flight to California. His plane was initially delayed for half an hour. But a burned-out light on an instrument panel turned into a frustrating wait.

"Somebody came over the PA system saying the problem was initially a minor thing with the control panel. But once they opened things up, one problem led to another problem which led to another problem, all of which needed to be fixed," said Sabel, 44.

"I really want to be a fan of Alaska Airlines, but they're making it hard," he said.

Complaints from Alaska Airlines passengers abound lately, and with good reason. The airline with a once-strong reputation for customer service and reliability seems to be slipping.

The anecdotes were confirmed this week when the U.S. Department of Transportation released a monthly report that ranked the Seattle-based carrier lowest among 20 major domestic airlines in May for on-time performance.

Alaska Airlines planes left or arrived on schedule only 59 percent of the time during May. The best performing carrier was Hawaiian Airlines, which had a 96 percent success rate, according to the federal agency.

Over the previous 12 months ending in May, Alaska Airlines ranked next to last for on-time performance, the report said.

Among the worst routes nationwide for timeliness in May was Alaska Airlines flight 519 from Los Angeles to Seattle -- it was late 87 percent of the time. That score ranked it the third most-frequently delayed flight out of the thousands offered by the 20 airlines surveyed.

Other findings include:

--Nine percent of Alaska Airlines' flights arrived late at least 70 percent of the time. The airline flew nine of the 14 regular routes that arrived late most.

-- Alaska Airlines tied for the second-worst record for canceled flights.

Company officials don't deny that flight delays and cancellations have surged in recent months. The carrier is experiencing a range of problems, including labor talks, "work-force transitions," record numbers of passengers, and busy airports and airspace, Amanda Tobin, Alaska Airlines spokeswoman, said Friday.

Much of these woes came to a head just as the busy travel season got under way, she said.

In May, Alaska Airlines outsourced the jobs of 472 union baggage handlers to contract workers employed by a British firm, Menzies Aviation. The company said the move would save the airline $13 million a year. The machinists union for the ramp workers unsuccessfully sued in federal court to save the jobs.

The airline is also in contract talks with its pilots, flight attendants, aircraft technicians, cleaners and fleet-service employees.

Nagged by rising costs of fuel and labor, coupled with increased competition from low-cost carriers, Alaska Airlines wants to trim more than $300 million in costs. It has sought $112 million in concessions from employees.

In the last five years, the Alaska Air Group has lost $231 million.

The cancellations and delays have exasperated Alaska travel agents.

"The rumor is it's the different unions working together," said Brant Rice, manager of ITC Travel & Tours in Anchorage. "As an agent, I don't care. I just want the planes to be on time. In Alaska, they are our connection to the world."

Of the problems Alaska Airlines is facing, Tobin would not say which is hurting on-time performance the most.

"It's clear that those things individually and together can cause distractions," Tobin said.

A recent trip on Alaska Airlines turned out to be more than a distraction for Palmer resident Mary Flynn. In her 32 years of flying Alaska Airlines, virtually exclusively, Flynn said she never experienced anything like she did on June 21 after leaving Anchorage to visit her daughter in Sacramento, Calif.

The English teacher made it to Seattle fine. But on her connecting flight, 15 minutes into the air, Flynn smelled something burning.

"We didn't see smoke. There was no flame," she said.

But a "pungent burning smell" permeated the cabin, she said. The plane returned to Sea-Tac. She never found out what caused the smell.

Four hours later, Flynn boarded another Alaska Airlines jet. That one was delayed too. After sitting on the tarmac for some time, the pilot explained that the plane had been fueled incorrectly, Flynn recalled.

After the plane was refueled, she said, the flight went smoothly.

Not so on her return trip.

She was booked to fly out of Sacramento last Sunday. After her plane was repeatedly delayed, Flynn gave up and returned to her daughter's home.

She tried again on Tuesday.

Flynn boarded a Seattle-bound jet. After a series of delays, someone announced that the plane had hydraulic problems, Flynn said. She and the other passengers finally got to Seattle on a different jet, but Flynn missed her connecting flight to Anchorage.

Flynn said she doesn't want to bad-mouth Alaska Airlines. She said she feels for the customer-service agents who she witnessed taking abuse from disgruntled travelers.

"It must be terrible to be an Alaska Airlines counter person," she said. "My heart ached for those people."

Fixes are in place for many of the carrier's problems, Tobin said. The company has reduced the number of its daily flights to get a better handle on things. And it's already making a difference, she said.

While the company's on-time performance in June mirrors the dismal situation in May, Alaska Airlines is doing better this month, Tobin said.

Sixty to 80 percent of Alaska Airlines flights were on time so far in July, she said.

Sabel, who has racked up hundreds of thousands of miles on Alaska Airlines, hopes the carrier keeps it up.

"I really want to like the airline. But they really, really need to reorganize and get their act together or they're going to do permanent damage to their image."

By Paula Dobbyn and Sarana Schell


To see more of the Anchorage Daily News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.adn.com.
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