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Aviation

Looking to book a charter flight to or from Unalaska? Try Facebook.

With regular air service suspended between Anchorage and Unalaska, a busy online market for charter plane seats has sprung up on social media.

A PenAir plane operated by Ravn Alaska that flew from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor is pictured off the runway at the Unalaska-Dutch Harbor airport on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (Jennifer Wynn)

Hundreds of people have joined a Facebook group created Thursday to coordinate air charters into and out of Unalaska, where a fatal plane crash Oct. 17 caused the suspension of scheduled commercial flights.

Ravn Alaska Group announced Thursday it won’t restart regular flights into the Aleutian Islands city until the week of Nov. 4.

The Unalaska Plane Charter Coordination Facebook group had nearly 300 members by Friday afternoon.

Getting a charter flight can be expensive and exclusive: Many operators book by the plane rather than seat by seat, so it can be hard to get on a plane if your company isn’t chartering one.

Unalaska drone pilot and weather blogger Andy Dietrick said he started the page Thursday to help resolve “the mess” that finding flights has become. Dietrick was flipping through Facebook while his young son napped when he came across a Facebook post from someone suggesting the creation of a Facebook group to coordinate charters.

“I reached out and he was headed out to sea so I started the group and the algorithm took care of the rest,” Dietrick said in an email Friday.

People who booked charters posted availability — one needed to fill seats inbound to Unalaska, but none going out — and one-way prices that ranged Friday from $600 to $900 per seat. People looking for tickets posted their dates.

Screenshot of Unalaska Plane Charter Coordination Facebook page.

Bernadette Oller Namasivayam and her husband, Jay Hebert, a Bering Sea fishing boat captain, chartered three planes through ACE Air Cargo for Sunday and Monday. They’re offering seats to community members for $700 each.

Hebert rented a van to drop passengers at the airport. The couple paid for the flights with their own credit cards.

“I stepped up to help, no one is hardly doing anything but ripping us (off) here,” Namasivayam said in a message

Some posters expressed frustration at the questions still surrounding air service. One person booked out of Unalaska on Nov. 9 asked if service still isn’t back, will seats be rolled over for travel with Ravn, which is flying charters during the shutdown. “Will I still be able to make it out on my day of travel?”

Unalaska’s city council planned to hold a special meeting Friday night with representatives of Alaska Airlines, Ravn Air Group and Grant Aviation participating by phone. The agenda includes time for public comment.

Alaska and Ravn canceled flights indefinitely after the crash of a Saab 2000 twin-engine turboprop carrying 42 people that overran the runway, killing a 38-year-old Washington state man and injuring 10 other passengers. The plane stopped just short of the water’s edge. Parts of a propeller ended up in the cabin.

Flight operator Ravn announced Thursday it planned to resume service the week of Nov. 4 with a different kind of plane, a de Havilland Dash 8. The company needs Federal Aviation Administration approval to do that.

Alaska Airlines on Thursday announced it will not market the Anchorage-Unalaska route until preliminary findings are available from federal investigators and Saab.

An Anchorage air charter company also announced Friday it is partnering with a travel agency to provide temporary service.

Security Aviation and Alaska Travel Source are providing three flights a week to Unalaska, with the travel agency making the reservations. Flights must meet minimum passenger capacity requirements and acceptable weather conditions. Passengers are limited to one 40-pound bag and a smaller carry-on item.

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