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Old 07-16-2005, 03:19 PM   #1  
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Default Alaska Air problems....

Web posted Sunday, July 17, 2005

Problems add up to dubious ranking for Alaska Airlines
Labor negotiations, increased traffic, tight schedule all blamed for last place on-time ranking

By Claire Chandler
Alaska Journal of Commerce

Some 41 percent of Alaska Airlines' nearly 13,000 flights arrived at least 15 minutes late or were canceled in May, giving it the lowest percentage of on-time arrivals recorded among U.S. passenger airlines reporting their on-time flight performance, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Air Travel Consumer Report released in the first week of July.

A spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines said the same factors leading to widespread delays in May continued to hold up flights last month, for a similar on-time performance record in June.

Details of the airline's on-time performance in June, however, will not be released until early August. Alaska Airlines is among 18 U.S. air carriers required each month to report information about their flight operations to the transportation department for its monthly consumer report. Hawaiian Airlines and Frontier Airlines voluntarily report their flight information, even though their share of the domestic passenger market is less than 1 percent.

Air carrier delay and aircraft arriving late were the main causes for Alaska Airlines' flights not arriving on-time in May, when the airline's record for on-time performance was nearly 25 percent lower than the industry average of 83.7 percent and more than 20 percent lower than Alaska's on-time performance of 81.7 percent in May 2004.

Alaska Airlines reported that in May about 9 percent of its 407 regularly scheduled routes arrived late at least 70 percent of the time. Flights that were frequently delayed included the airline's daily flight from Juneau to Seattle and its daily route between Seattle and Los Angeles, the July consumer report said.

Alaska Airlines canceled 301 flights in May, or about 2.4 percent of its flights that month. Only two airlines - Atlantic Southeast Airlines and American Eagle Airlines - canceled a higher percentage of their flights in May, the report said.

Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Amanda Tobin said the unusually low percentage of flights arriving on time in May and June was caused by a combination of factors.

"Alaska Airlines is facing a wide range of unprecedented challenges that have presented a series of distractions," she said.

Like other airlines in the industry, Alaska Airlines recently has sold a higher percentage of its available seats than in previous years. More passengers on each flight has increased the chances that a flight will be delayed because it took more time than expected to accommodate the needs of a customer, such as connecting the passenger to another flight, Tobin said.

Another challenge air carriers are facing is that traffic at U.S. airports and airways has been increasing in recent years. To add, airlines often increase their number of regularly scheduled flights during the summer season, about May through September. When a single flight is delayed it can cause a domino effect by holding up other flights, especially when there is little room for error at crowded airports and runways.

Tobin said a series of labor negotiations and a work force transition at its operations in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport also contributed to Alaska Airlines' delays.

"Certainly having contracts open can be a distraction, just like any other major activity going on at a company," she said.

In the last two months, Alaska Airlines has negotiated with five of the six different employee groups represented by unions, reaching tentative agreements with three groups. The pilots group, however, rejected their agreement June 11 (see related story on front page).

Labor negotiations also contributed to Alaska Airlines' decision to subcontract ramp services at the Seattle-area airport. The airline cut 472 ramp service positions May 13 after the majority of its ramp and stores agents represented by the International Association of Machinists voted against the company's contract.

The new contract with Menzies Aviation - a ground-handling service company that already provided ramp services for Alaska Airlines in other airports such as Los Angeles and Portland - was part of the airline's continuing cost-management initiative, according to a May 13 news release by the company.

Alaska Airlines is working to address delays caused by factors under its control, Tobin said.

"To get the operation back on track, we are taking a variety of important steps," she said. "One of the most important steps is reducing the number of flights in our summer schedule."

The airline has cut eight daily round-trip flights from its summer schedule. Flights from Anchorage to Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle were among those eliminated, according to a June 10 news release by Alaska Airlines.

Fewer flights makes more aircraft available if a spare is needed and increases the amount of time between flights, giving the airline a longer window to recover from delays earlier in the day, and more time for maintenance and cleaning at night, Tobin said.

The company's efforts appear to be working. Between July 1 and July 11, about 65 percent of Alaska Airlines' flights arrived on time, according to Tobin.

"That is a marked improvement over the month of May and June," she said. "However, there are still far too many delays and Alaska Airlines continues to work diligently to achieve previous levels of on-time performance."

The airline's on-time performance was in the range of 70 to 80 percent on July 11, she said. "There is definitely improvement being seen day by day in July and we are looking forward to getting back to the figure that our airline and customers are accustomed to."
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Old 07-17-2005, 08:47 PM   #2  
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That the pilots aren't happy is an understatement. Guys have had to sell their homes following this debacle, some have quit - especially junior f/o's - morale is tanked, and operations are messed up. The amendable date of this arbitrator contract can't approach soon enough for our brothers and sisters at Alaska.
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