On another day, travelers looking to fly to or from the Seattle area have faced cancellations, delays, lost luggage, unexpected hotel stays, and growing frustration with the way airlines faced – or did not face – winter conditions and staffing issues related to the pandemic.
Since snow began to fall on Sunday, more than 1,000 flights to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport have been canceled and hundreds more have been delayed. With another storm forecast for Seattle later this week and staff shortages across the airline industry unresolved, many travelers braced for days of delay and disappointment.
“It’s just amazing,” said Jason Maddocks, a Seattle resident who has been stranded with his wife, Amy, at a Houston hotel at their own expense since their Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle was canceled on Sunday. – and hope to be on a modified flight. Wednesday.
As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, airlines had canceled 251 flights to or from Sea-Tac Airport, about a quarter of all flights scheduled for Tuesday, according to the website. FlightAware.com. 107 other flights scheduled for Wednesday were also canceled, according to the flight tracking site.
“We were going to meet family in Puerto Rico,” said Jeff Wilcox, who had to cancel the trip he and his girlfriend had planned after realizing their red-eyed Sunday flight had been delayed too long. to establish their connection in Atlanta.
Tacoma resident Monica Alexander spent two days waiting for her bags after her Alaskan flight to Las Vegas was canceled on Sunday – only to learn Tuesday that her bags had left for Vegas.
âSo first of all, we can’t make our trip – and second, I have a new job: chasing my bags,â said Alexander, who had hoped to go to Vegas with her husband for his 60th birthday.
Holiday air travel around the world was plunged into chaos last week as a wave of coronavirus infections left many airlines understaffed as they delayed and canceled thousands of flights.
At Delta, a shortage of ground workers at Sea-Tac contributed to the delays, said a Delta flight attendant who asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job. A spokesperson for Delta declined to comment on the claim.
But airline staff problems have been compounded by snow and record temperatures at some airports, including Sea-Tac. As heavy snow fell in the Puget Sound area on Sunday, airlines reported more than 360 cancellations, or about 30%, of all flights at Sea-Tac Airport, according to FlightAware. Airlines called off another 279 fights on Monday, representing about 25% of all flights that day.
Alaska spokesman Bobbie Egan said it took up to 30 minutes to “defrost a single plane.” The Seattle-based airline has recorded more cancellations than any other carrier, with about 145, or 40%, of its Sunday flights canceled, according to FlightAware. Horizon, SkyWest and Delta were also hit hard by cancellations and delays on Sunday.
Sunday’s mass of cancellations created a “domino effect” as airlines struggle to book passengers on future flights while facing staff shortages, said Kate Hudson, port spokeswoman from Seattle.
Not only did stranded passengers rush to find new flights, but the cancellations also meant that many planes and flight crews were not at the airports they were scheduled to depart from. âIt will literally take several days to get people and planes back into position where we can get them back into rotation,â Egan said.
Delays and cancellations often meant that flight crews “expired” or exceeded federal limits on the length of their service, which meant that subsequent flights for which those crews were scheduled also had to be canceled.
âAirlines are working very hard to catch up with changing passenger reservations and reuniting passengers with their luggage, but personnel issues could cause further delays,â said Hudson.
Although the snow has since subsided in Seattle, the National Weather Service is forecasting several new inches by Thursday.
The cold snap has also increased concerns for travelers to the Seattle area.
âWe just want to come home because we all have the pets at home, and we’re worried about the pipes in our house,â said Paul Redman, a Seattle resident who was stranded in Florida with his wife and children. three children for two days. after their flight back from Alaska to Seattle was canceled on Sunday night.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Redman was happy to announce that he and his family were finally boarding a flight home, via Philadelphia – but not before forking out an additional $ 700 in hotel, taxi and baggage fees.
Many affected passengers acknowledged the challenges posed by the pandemic and inclement weather – but have often criticized airlines for not preparing for weather issues or for not communicating with stranded travelers.
Many said they received little help finding alternative flights or were forced to find (and pay for) hotel rooms while waiting for delayed or booked flights. Most said they were unable to speak to an actual customer service representative.
“Last night I was on hold for three hours,” said Miles Mahon, a Seattle resident whose flight home from Boston was canceled and who was given an estimated wait time to speak to an agent. of Alaska by 21 hours and 33 minutes.
Egan, the spokesperson for Alaska, admitted that the airline had not been able to answer questions from passengers within a reasonable time.
Despite âworking around the clockâ to answer calls, âthe number of affected guests far exceeds our ability to handle them as quickly and in a timely manner as we would like,â Egan said. “It’s not our best time and we feel bad about the situation.”
Delta spokesman Joe Warpinski said “we apologize to our customers for the delay in their trips,” but declined to comment on specific customer complaints about long wait times.
Not all the anger of the passengers was directed at the airlines.
Nancy Cook, of Astoria, Oregon, said her flight to Seattle from New Orleans arrived as scheduled on Sunday – minus her luggage. But when she tried to book an Uber in Tacoma, where she had parked her car, the price she was offered was almost $ 350. âIt was pretty crazy,â said Cook, who ended up taking a bus to Tacoma – for $ 3.25.
Yet many concerned travelers and potential travelers were trying to keep things in perspective.
“It could be a lot worse,” admitted Alexander, the Tacoma woman whose flight to Vegas was canceled. Despite her missing luggage, she was not stranded or living in a hotel.
âI consider us lucky that we don’t have these situations,â she said. “I just want to get my things back.”