SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Alaska Airlines Fails to Live Up To New Moto, "North of Expected"
By Russell Thomas


September 21, 2009
Monday PM

Before Alaska Airlines rolls out another catchy slogan to adorn its uniforms and promotional material, they ought to spend some time talking with their team about how it might actually be implemented. Yesterday I watched as nearly twenty of their customers were left in the Ketchikan lobby because, although they had been in line for more than hour, they checked in too late for the flight. Although most of my 45 clients and their bags made the 6:15 a.m. ferry, the ferry was too full to allow our last van (carrying some of the luggage) to board the ferry. When the last van did arrive the lobby was stilled packed with people and fish that had arrived on the 6:15 a.m. ferry. The people whose luggage arrived on the 6:45 a.m. ferry lined up behind the others who were already patiently waiting in line.

In fairness to Alaska Airlines, TSA's screening process was worse (and slower) than Alaska Airlines' check-in. Although Alaska Airlines caused much of the check-in delay itself as each passenger was charged baggage fees and had to wait while their credit card was processed, a receipt was printed, and the credit card slip signed, TSA was painstakingly slow in their processing of the baggage. This caused a backlog of baggage behind the check-in counter that made a very slow check-in process even slower. About twenty minutes before scheduled departure the shift lead realized they were not going to be able to process all of the people and baggage in time for an on-time departure. She instructed the rest of the agents to mark all remaining passengers' bags as "late check-ins" and to inform them that should their bags not make the flight, they would be required to clear back through security, reclaim their luggage, and rebook their trip.

In the meantime I spoke with the lead, insisting the customers had waited in line for over an hour and Alaska Airlines should not make them responsible for the delay in checking in passengers and screening. I was finally put in touch with Ketchikan Station Manager Rich Gray, who stated emphatically that the airplane would not wait for passengers or their bags as they had not arrived at the airport in enough time to check in. When I pressed him on allowing the passengers to fly without their bags, knowing that most of them would rather be home and have to go back to the airport for their bags then spend a day or two waiting for alternate flights, he refused. His reasons included Alaska Airlines not wanting to be accept responsibility for bags that didn't travel with their owners, his feeling that a delay in Ketchikan would cause other problems and delays in Alaska's system, and the fact that my clients' bags arrived too late to the airport. He did not address the fact that he failed to adequately staff the counter for such a large check-in, that Alaska Airlines' new policy of charging for baggage requires an extra credit card or cash transaction for each check-in, or TSA's inability to screen baggage at the same rate of counter check-ins. Apparently Alaska Airlines' clients not only get high ticket prices and fees but also all of the responsibility, even for things that are completely out of their control.

Eight of my clients (I think about twenty people total) were denied boarding and forced to reschedule their flights. Most had to wait another day before being able to find flights that could accommodate them. The final straw came when one of my clients was denied boarding because he "couldn't fly without his luggage". It was after he made his way down to the counter, rebooked his flight, and went to reclaim his bag that Alaska Airlines agents realized his bag had been sent on the flight after all!

I understand that circumstances would often require the plane to leave on time. The repercussions to other flights and passengers could be substantially more costly and frustrating than dealing with 20 angry customers in Ketchikan. It was Alaska Airlines' refusal to make any accommodation, including allowing the passengers to travel without their luggage, that disappointed and frustrated me more than anything. I sent their corporate office a letter. Half of me expects a courteous response from a company official, full of references to company policy, government regulation, and airline industry protocol. The other half of me hopes (naively, perhaps) that the response will be a genuine one, void of policy manual verbiage and full of realistic approaches to legitimate problems -- the kinds of approaches that keep customers happy and loyal, not only to Alaska Airlines, but to the lodges and resorts that bring so many people to Ketchikan every summer.

Alaska Airlines built a strong, competitive airline with service and accommodation that was truly "North of Expected" long before it was ever their slogan. Hopefully Alaska Airlines' reflection on the way they treated customers in the past can mean a bright and prosperous future for their customers for many years to come.

Russell Thomas
Ketchikan, AK

About: "Life-long Ketchikan Resident"

Received September 20, 2009 - Published September 21, 2009


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Ketchikan, Alaska