Tips for Navigating Cancellations and Travel Changes If Your Experience with Alaska Airlines proves to be ‘sporadic’

Planning to fly on Alaska Airlines soon?

You may be on an “interrupted flight,” according to Ben Minicucci, CEO of Alaska Airlines.

The issue is not turbulence at 30,000 feet. Instead, it’s all about your odds of ever getting on the air. Alaska has canceled flights and routes throughout the spring due to a shortage of pilots.

In a video presentation Thursday for the airline’s frequent flyers, Minicucci even owned the cancellations. “We canceled about 50 out of 1,200 flights per day,” he said. Minicucci said the cancellations will likely continue, although he hopes things will improve as the summer progresses.

Flights are canceled every day. But the corresponding bottleneck with Alaska Airlines customer service centers compounds the problems for travelers. Travelers report waiting 10 hours or more.

Recently, my Alaska Airlines flight was canceled while we were getting ready to board. I’ve also spoken with many travelers, some industry representatives, and travel agents to distill some of the essential steps for travelers when they encounter a canceled flight.

If you’re planning to fly with Alaska Airlines this summer, take some time now and review your arrangements. Go online and double-check your flights, seat assignments, and any other arrangements you’ve made with the airline. Make sure not to change or cancel any of your trips.

In his latest video, Minicucci said Alaska Airlines has canceled about 4% of its flights. Previously, the airline had implemented a 2% reduction in its schedule. This means that more flights have been canceled in an effort to match available pilots and crew with aircraft to fly.

Don’t wait for Alaska Airlines to call you if your flights change. However, if you receive an email notification that your flight has been cancelled, contact the airline using the number unpublished in the email. This is different from the regular reservation number. According to Tim Thompson, an Alaska Airlines spokesperson, this “pin” in the notification email will help you skip to the front of the line to speak with a customer service agent.

[Travelers can expect Alaska Airlines to keep canceling flights at high level for weeks]

If your flights are canceled and you need to contact the airline, find the person in your group with the highest status at the elite level. Usually this is MVP Gold or higher. When an elite-level traveler calls, their calls are answered first.

A passenger was traveling with her family to Palm Springs when her flight was canceled at the gate. She called Alaska Airlines and was put on hold, then chose to take a call from Reservations. After returning home, she used her husband’s phone to call. It is a high profile flyer. The booking staff responded promptly and I was able to rebook everyone’s flight. Sitting in the lounge the next day before their new flight, she finally got a call from Alaska Airlines. It’s been more than 24 hours.

In addition to calling your phone, you can text the airline at 82008. Keep your messages under 160 characters. I’ve never used the text function, but in the past had the good fortune of sending a note directly via Twitter. Alaska has a dedicated social media team that monitors Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

When my flight was canceled a couple of weeks ago, I headed to the agent who runs the counter. A woman named Grace helped me rebook the next flight. I renamed it Grace Under Fire as 50 people quickly lined up behind me to rebook.

Sometimes going to the airport and talking to a customer service agent is easier than getting to the customer service office in Alaska over the phone.

I spoke with a travel agent in Anchorage about Alaska’s problems. When asked about advice for travelers, the agent quipped and said, “I don’t know. Maybe the Delta Book.”

We laughed. The agent continued, “This is a problem when you are in a city with only one airline. There are not many other options.”

For most travelers in the state, Alaska Airlines is the airline of choice. For many, this is the only option. At least here in Anchorage, there are some competitive options heading south to Lower 48.

In his video title, Alaska CEO Minicucci acknowledges that rebooking during peak travel time can be challenging. An elite-level traveler was heading to St. Louis to give a presentation when his flight from Seattle was cancelled. At the last minute, he could buy a replacement ticket for $2,500. That was too much, so he canceled the presentation and Alaska got his ticket back.

If you really need to get to your destination, call and buy another ticket. You have 24 hours to hold the ticket, during which time you can redeem it without penalty. Save and sort your receipts with Alaska Customer Service later. It’s always a good idea to have the name of the customer service agent helping you, along with the time and date.

Consider travel insurance. I have a travel insurance policy with Allianz, mostly for lost baggage and accidents. Certain cancellations may be covered under the “travel delay” portion of the policy, including accommodation, meals and transportation. My credit card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, has a solid travel insurance package. It includes flight delay insurance and expenses for lost or delayed baggage. There is also a category for alternative tickets, but there are limits to the benefits. There is no way to know exactly what is covered without reading the lowercase letters.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic, travel insurance has become more and more common.

If Alaska Airlines rebooks you and other Alaska flights don’t work, ask the agent to book you on another airline. Airlines do this every day, but sometimes you have to ask. Also, if your new flight requires a long layover, be sure to ask for assistance with accommodation and meals.

Many travelers are concerned that Alaska Airlines pilots will go on strike, due to the media strike that took place last month. The pilots are not on strike. This month, the Airline Pilots Association, or ALPA, is holding a vote on authorizing the strike. While the pilot negotiations are a separate and separate issue from the current pilot shortage, there is still a connection. That’s because some pilots leave Alaska Airlines to work for other airlines. The federation has made its own video to highlight this issue.

All airlines are looking to bring in new pilots, so hiring is very competitive. Alaska Airlines is working hard to recruit and train new pilots, booking agents and flight attendants to accommodate the surge in travel this summer. We hope that the airline will succeed in reducing the number of canceled flights and affected passengers. In the meantime, passengers should be prepared for a “sporadic flight”.

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