Aviation

For the first time this spring, Alaska Airlines starts a month with few cancellations

After a busy holiday weekend with relatively few flight cancellations, Alaska Airlines on Wednesday got through the first day of June with just two cancellations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as of late afternoon.

Given the experience in the previous two months, when hundreds of canceled flights left Alaska passengers stranded across the country, that’s real progress.

Passengers with bookings on June 1 had been dreading a repeat of the chaos on April 1 and again on May 1.

During the monthly pilot schedule transition on each of those dates, Alaska’s reserve pilots who had already flown to their monthly limitation were not free to fill in and pick up flights that were a pilot short. That produced a spate of flight cancellations.

But on June 1, the schedule was relatively smooth for Alaska passengers at Sea-Tac. Two Alaska flights were canceled there and one more was canceled in Dallas.

One cancellation was caused by a mechanical issue with the airplane and two were weather-related.

That followed a frantic Memorial Day holiday weekend for air travel that brought problems with cancellations at airports around the country. Yet Alaska, Sea-Tac’s busiest carrier, performed much better than rival Delta Air Lines in terms of flight reliability.

Alaska canceled 40 flights across its network from Friday through Monday, just 1% of its schedule, according to data from flight tracking company FlightAware. That compared with 7% of Delta’s flights over the same period.

At Sea-Tac specifically, from Friday through Monday, Alaska canceled 27 flights, less than 2% of its schedule, while Delta canceled 55 flights, 8% of its Sea-Tac schedule.

No other airlines had significant cancellations at Sea-Tac over the weekend.

Delta’s problems were across its network.

In a memo a day before the holiday weekend, Allison Ausband, Delta’s chief customer experience officer informed passengers that the airline was stretched thin and was proactively cutting 100 flights a day from its schedule through early August.

She cited “increased COVID case rates contributing to higher-than-planned unscheduled absences in some work groups” as well as staffing shortages at vendors in addition to normal airline disruptions due to weather and air traffic control issues.

The result is “an operation that isn’t consistently up to the standards Delta has set for the industry in recent years,” Ausband wrote.

She added that the cuts should “improve operational reliability.”

Delta passengers must hope that the flight cuts minimize cancellations ahead. The airline had four canceled flights at Sea-Tac on Wednesday.

Last month, in a video message sent to members of Alaska’s loyalty program, CEO Ben Minicucci said “for June and beyond, we’ve made significant changes to ensure a high degree of reliability.” He said Alaska was hiring and training 150 new pilots, 200 additional reservation agents and 1,100 new flight attendants.

“This, along with the reductions we’ve made to our schedule, will ensure we run an operation that you can count on,” Minicucci promised.

If June 1 marks a real turnaround, it will be a first step toward recovering the great deal of passenger goodwill Alaska lost in the past two months.

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