Alaska Airlines passengers suffered another bad run of flight cancellations over the weekend.
Internal data from Alaska, obtained by The Seattle Times, showed 47 flights were canceled on Friday and 41 more on Saturday, affecting the travel plans of 13,500 passengers.
Independent data from airline flight tracking firm FlightAware showed another 61 cancellations Sunday, 8% of Alaska’s total scheduled flights.
And FlightAware showed the trouble bleeding into Monday, as planes out of position caused further cancellations. As of 9 a.m., Alaska had canceled 36 flights Monday, or 5% of its schedule.
Meanwhile, on Monday Alaska’s pilot union emailed a strike authorization ballot to its members. The pilots have through May 25 to complete the ballot.
The cancellations caused more chaos for travelers and drew complaints about Alaska’s service and support.
“Alaska is in meltdown,” wrote Dale Christensen via email Saturday. “They’re squandering years of customer goodwill.”
On Friday, Alaska canceled his Sunday evening flight home from New Orleans to Seattle and offered no alternatives.
“Your flight was canceled and due to limited flight availability, our automated system was unable to find a new flight for you within the next couple of days,” was Alaska’s message. He was invited to cancel and ask for a refund.
When he called the phone number provided, the wait time on hold was cited as “5 to 7 hours.”
Christensen left New Orleans a day early, giving up one night at his Airbnb and a day at the jazz festival. He booked the only flight home he could get on short notice to be back for work Monday: an 11-hour journey via New York on Delta Air Lines.
Other passengers slammed Alaska on Twitter.
“Hey @AlaskaAir, is there any reason for me to keep flying with you at all?” wrote Bellingham resident Reece Williams after his flight from Seattle to Chicago was canceled Sunday.
And an Edmonds woman used the hashtag “#infuriating” after checking in online Sunday for a Monday morning flight from Boston to Seattle for her family of four, only to find it canceled.
She had received no email or text, and the hold time for a customer service agent on the phone was more than four hours. She said she got a $500 refund and had to book a flight on another airline for $545 for each passenger.
Alaska was alone among the major U.S. carriers with this level of canceled flights over the weekend. Rival airlines all showed less than 1% of scheduled flights canceled on Sunday, except for Delta at 2%.
The weekend cancellations followed even worse chaos in early April and at the beginning of this month. On both occasions, Alaska blamed a pilot shortage.
In response to those incidents, Alaska management said it would reduce its schedule to match the number of available pilots so as to avoid last-minute cancellations.
On Monday, Alaska said in a statement that while its reductions in scheduled flights meant it had pre-canceled trips in advance where no pilot was available, it is “still exposed to daily cancellations related to absences, due to our limited reserves.”
The statement said things will improve in June when more pilots graduate from its training school.
“We proactively reduced June flying to the same level flown in April, but we will have more first officers graduated from training and ready to fly,” Alaska said.
Meanwhile however, the ongoing problem is clearly damaging the airline’s reputation.
The impasse with the pilot union could be contributing to the problem; many pilots may be unwilling to volunteer for open flights beyond their normal schedule, even when the airline offers extra pay at 150% of the normal rate.
In a union message to the pilots Friday, Air Line Pilots Association Alaska unit chairman Will McQuillen called for a 100% strike vote to convey a message of resolve to management.
The union will hold informational gatherings about the vote to answer questions from pilots and their partners.
The ability of transport workers, including airline pilots, to strike is governed by the Railway Labor Act, which mandates a drawn-out mediation process before a strike could happen.