Hard reset: Alaska Airlines cancels 10% of its flights for January

Jan 8, 2022

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In an effort to get ahead of massive schedule cancellations over the past several weeks, Alaska Airlines is canceling a full 10% of its January schedule.

Winter weather impacting Alaska’s key Seattle hub, the rapidly spreading omicron variant of coronavirus, and staff shortages have all contributed to massive delays and cancellations at both Alaska and at SkyWest which operates many shorter-haul flights for Alaska.

Alaska has been hit especially hit hard by employee sick calls which the airline called “unprecedented.”

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“It’s a smart move,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research. He told TPG, “Given the current airline operating environment where so many employees are out sick because of COVID-19, Alaska’s decision to cut its flying.. is understandable.”

On Saturday morning alone, according to flight tracking company Flight Aware, Alaska had scrapped 17% of its scheduled flights and Skywest had cut 7% of its flights.

Related: 1 in 13 flights were canceled during the holidays

When asked for comment, Alaska pointed me to a statement that reads, in part, “… we need to build more reliability back into our operation as we deal with the impacts of omicron and during a time when guests generally fly less. We’ve decided to reduce departures by about 10% through the end of January. This will give us the flexibility and capacity needed to reset.”

According to a TPG analysis, Alaska canceled nearly 10% of its flights over the critical holiday period. In its statement, the Seattle-based airline said, “we will learn from these challenges, improve where we must and deliver on our promise to deliver nonstop care each and every day.”

There is some good news for Alaska flyers. The airline has instituted a flexible travel waiver through Jan. 16. There are no fees to change flights for any type of ticket even if it’s their “Saver” basic economy fares. You also won’t pay a fare difference.

Alaska will also let you get a full refund with the airline enabling you to get cash back or a travel credit depending on the type of ticket purchased.

Alaska isn’t the only carrier to reduce its schedule to get ahead of the massive challenges every carrier is facing at the moment. JetBlue also reduced its January schedule by 10% and other airlines have been making proactive ahead-of-time cancellations.

Harteveldt said, “Delta has announced flight reductions in January, JetBlue has announced its cutting its schedule, and other airlines are trimming their flights as well. I suspect airlines are seeing reduced demand for travel in January.”

Related: Here’s what to do if your flight is delayed or canceled

Hartedveldt added:

“One benefit to reducing the flights, is that it increases the pool of crew members available on a reserve or standby basis. If a pilot or flight attendant can’t work due to illness, a crew member on reserve could potentially step in to work on that flight.”

Indeed, airline analysts told TPG that the public shouldn’t be angry with Alaska or really any single airline.

“We haven’t seen so many people get sick at the same time in 100 years,” said Brian Sumers, editor-at-large for the travel site Skift.

“Some travelers like to think of this as an airline problem,” Sumers said. “But the data shows more people are getting COVID than ever before, and those people can’t come to work. Because of illness, airlines are so short-staffed they cannot possibly fulfill the schedules they sold to the public.”

Additional reporting by Ethan Klapper.

Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.

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