flight delays

Bad day for Alaska Airlines

We all know how irritating it is when our the internet signal goes down in our home or office.

Magnify that feeling times a bazillion and you probably won’t be anywhere near what Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air and their customers across the country had to deal with when the the connection to the ticketing system was lost at around 7:30 a.m. PT on Monday morning due what turned out to be two severed fiber optic lines in the Sprint network.

Sprint provides the airlines with connectivity to SABRE, the system the carriers use for reservations, to check in passengers and to purchase tickets,” the airline explained.

It took a while to figure that out, but right away what that meant for travelers at more than 60 airports – especially Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where about half the flights are on those airlines – was long lines, hours of waiting, flight delays, cancellation and more waiting as airline staff tried to figure out what they could get done by hand.

Here are some of the photos Sandy Ward, from the Future of Flight sent from her vantage point this morning at Sea-Tac airport:

Manual ticketing was the order of the day. Anyone remember the days when the airlines had little stickers that represented your seat assignments?

There was one upside of the Alaska Airlines internet outage: because no one could check in for their flights, there was a short line at the security checkpoint.

Alaska Airlines said its internet service was restored by early afternoon, but the damage had already been done: as of noon, Alaska and Horizon had already canceled 70 flights and disrupted the travel day of more than 6,000 passengers. And, the airline said, although more than 130 flights had departed by noon, some of those flights were up to four hours late.

It’s understandable that travelers are upset. Especially those who missed important connections, meetings and social events and those who stood around for hours without accurate information about what was going on.

Alaska Airlines says it’s going to try to make it up to them. On the Sprint Network Outage page on its website, the airline is offering to waive change fees for those with tickets for travel on October 8th and 9th. And in an apology to travelers, the airline is encouraging those whose plans were significantly disrupted to get in touch with the Customer Care Team where, we might assume, some reparations will be made.

Let’s hope thing get back to normal on Tuesday.

Sailboat delays flights at BOS; birds invade PHL

Courtesy UW Digital Collections, via Flickr Commons

In the past, flights have been delayed and airport runways closed by everything from weather, turtles on their way to lay eggs  and a flamingo named Ringo.

But on it’s Facebook page Monday, Boston Logan Airport alerted travelers that delays were being caused by a sailboat…

An unmanned 37-foot sailboat broke free from its Winthrop mooring and ran aground off Runway 27, resulting in a closure of Runway 9 for departures. As a result, planes are taking off and landing on Runway 4R and flights arriving and departing Logan may experience delays. Crews are working to free the sailboat.

An hour later, the airport posted a status update:

Runway 9 is back in use; the mast of the sailboat is no longer an obstruction to aviation.

Diversions of a different kind are now taking place at Philadelphia International Airport.

The Academy Takes Flight,” is an exhibit featuring 54 bird mounts from the ornithological collection of more than 200,000 bird specimens at the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University.

Passengers can not only see the birds – they can hear them: buttons activate bird calls from 6 distinct species: the Lyrebird, Rufous Hornbill, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Cooper’s Hawk, Great-horned Owl, and Laughing Kookaburra.

Find the birds on the walkway between Terminals C and D through November, 2012.

NY-area airports want to fine unruly passengers for flight delays

Here’s an intriguing idea: the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK, LaGuardia and Newark International airports, wants to sue unruly passengers who cause major flight delays.  This is the story I wrote Monday for msnbc.com.


Unruly airline passengers at any of the three New York area airports (JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty) may soon have to go to court and pay for the cost of delaying a flight.

“On a regular basis we’re having issues where planes have to come back to the gate because of disruptive passengers,” said Steve Coleman, spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three airports. “We’re looking to cut down on the number of incidents that require police response and reduce the amount of time and money airlines lose because of these incidents.”

Coleman said the airport authority is embarking on a campaign that will include the use of social media, posted signs and other methods to strongly remind passengers to behave and follow the instruction of airline crewmembers.

“Our lawyers are also looking at ways we can take civil action against the most egregious cases,” said Coleman.

The cost per hour to operate a U.S. passenger airline is $5,867, according to Airlines for America (A4A), the airline trade association. “So any delay represents a real cost to an airline’s bottom line,” said A4A spokesperson Steve Lott. If the new policy is enacted, the Port Authority might sue passengers responsible for a delay to pay for the related costs.

In 2011, there were 1.3 million flights at the New York area airports and Port Authority and police responded to close to 400 incidents involving disruptive airline passengers. “Most of those were due to people who wouldn’t turn off their electronic devices, which is a federal law,” said Coleman. Many other incidents were related to smoking and passenger disputes.

“And it’s not just a New York thing,” said Coleman. “This resonates with airports across the country.”

Research conducted by the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) shows that passengers often blame the airport for airline-related delays. “So, certainly the discussion the Port Authority is having is likely to prompt other airports to think about this,” said Debby McElroy, ACI-NA’s executive vice president, policy and external affairs.

The incidents-to-flights ratio at the New York area airports and elsewhere “is actually quite low, but any effort that helps enforce the message of what the laws are will help,” said A4A’s Lott.

Brandon M. Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, said he applauds efforts to reduce airline delays, but it seems somewhat unfair to single out airline passengers for systemwide problems. “There can be numerous reasons why passengers might be responsible for delayed flights, including what happened two weeks ago when a family was escorted off the plane because their daughter wouldn’t stop crying.”

Passengers who interfere with the duties of a crewmember and engage in unruly behavior can be fined by the FAA or prosecuted on criminal charges. Reporting incidents to the FAA is at the discretion of crewmembers, and in 2011, as of October, the agency had taken action on 127 incidents nationwide.

“The Port Authority has not contacted the FAA. So we are unaware of their plans,” said FAA spokesperson Alison Duquette. “The bottom line is that people should know if they behave badly on an airplane they can go to jail or be fined.”

What do you think? Should airports be able to levy fines on unruly passengers who cause airplanes to return to the gate?