Alaska Airline's cancellation woes not over yet; CEO says it will be back on track by July
Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci has apologized for the airline's continuing problems with flight cancellations while also signaling that things should start to improve next month.
“I’m deeply sorry,” Minicucci said in a YouTube video that was emailed to Alaska's Mileage Plan members. “I hear every day from friends, neighbors and guests about how disruptive our flight cancellations have been.”
The airline's chief executive said the steps taken to correct Alaska's problems will take some time to take effect, and says the airline should be "back on track" by July and August.
The carrier says it has been canceling roughly 50 flights a day, about 4% of its 1,200 daily flight schedule, since April. Airline officials say the primary reason for the spate of cancellations is that the airline simply doesn't have enough pilots to fly its planes. According to FlightAware, the airline had 12 cancellations on Saturday, May 14, just 1% of its total schedule.
“This is coming at a time when flights are already full, so rebooking options are limited,” Minicucci said in the video.
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As TPG reported, the carrier had already reduced its total flight schedule by 2% as part of its efforts to minimize the impact to travelers.
Compounding the problem for passengers stranded by canceled flights has been incredibly long wait times trying to get through to Alaska's customer service agents. The airline is also addressing that by expanding its staff across the company.
“By July and through the rest of the summer travel season, we should be back to flying a reliable and well-staffed operation,” Minicucci said. “An additional 50 pilots, 400 flight attendants and 200 reservations agents will have joined our ranks.”
Related: What to do if your flight is delayed or canceled
He admitted that the pilot shortage caught management off guard and that executives didn't recognize the potential for disruption until it was too late. “There are no excuses. The leadership team and I take responsibility and we’re executing a plan to get this right and ensure it doesn’t happen again," Minicucci said.
He also emphasized that the disruption has nothing to do with the pilot's union and current negotiations over a new contract. “I want to be clear – our pilots are not on strike,” he said.
As TPG previously reported, Alaska's problems began when it started April with 63 fewer pilots than it needed to operate its flight schedule. Now, the airline has centralized staff and schedule planning under a single management team and has put a priority on hiring, training and recruitment for pilots, flight attendants and other airline personnel.
Related: Alaska Air and Horizon launch pilot academy
Like many airlines, Alaska Air has struggled to regain its form following two years of pandemic-related disruption to the aviation industry. Back in January, it had to cancel 10% of its flights because of COVID-19 and weather issues.