In an open letter to customers on Thursday, Alaska Airlines President and CEO Ben Minicucci took responsibility for the company’s recent surge in flight cancellations and vowed to get the airline “back on track” by July and August.
Last month, KIRO 7 reported on Alaska’s flight cancellations, with the airline canceling 73 flights on Sunday, April 3. Alaska said that the cancellations impacted more than 37,000 travelers from April 1 through April 3.
On April 8, the airline announced it was reducing flights by 2% through the end of June amid more cancellations and a pilot shortage.
“We started April and May with 63 fewer Alaska pilots than we needed to fly our schedule,” Minicucci said in the letter. “By the time we recognized we would be short, April and May schedules were already bid by our pilots and flight attendants. So, even though we cut block hours, which is the metric we use to calculate how many pilots we need, there was no way to completely close the gap between the number of block hours on the schedule compared to pilots available to fly.”
Of the 1,200 flights that the airline operates everyday, about 50, or roughly 4%, have been canceled. Minicucci says that these cancellations will continue through June 1.
“This is coming at a time when flights are already full, so rebooking options are limited and many of our guests have experienced extraordinarily long hold times to get the help they need, putting strain on literally every team in the organization,” Minicucci said.
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In the letter, Minicucci laid out a plan for the airline to get “back on track” by the end of summer.
In June, Alaska plans to reduce block hours to 70,000, which Minicucci says is about what they flew in April and fewer than what they’ll fly in May. The airline will also have 114 more pilots available to fly come June.
The airline also continues to graduate new flight attendants, ensuring greater flexibility and better schedules for those workers.
“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. This will allow us to increase block hours to 76K in July and August, which is still less than what we originally planned to fly this summer.”
While Alaska will still have reduced flight volumes for the summer, the goal is to have “significantly more staff on board before we look to accelerate growth again.”
Minicucci also said in the letter that Alaska pilots are not on strike, and that reaching a deal that is fair for them is one of his top priorities.