Letter from CEO: Returning to operational excellence; our commitment to you and our guests

By Ben Minicucci, Alaska Airlines President & CEO

I’m writing today to give you an update on where we are and where we’re going since you last heard from me at the Q1 all-employee webcast.

Since April, we have canceled too many flights, disrupted too many plans, stretched our teams too far and haven’t taken care of you or our guests in the way we intend.

Our operational challenges come down to not having enough pilots to fly our spring schedule.

There are no excuses. The leadership team and I take responsibility and we’re executing a plan to get this right and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

How did we get here?

We started April and May with 63 fewer Alaska pilots than we needed to fly our schedule. 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.

This shortage is having a continued ripple effect. Of the 1,200 flights that we operate every day, we’ve been canceling about 50 of them, roughly 4%. 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.

We will continue to see these cancels through June 1st. We are working to manage these to reduce the impact as much as possible on you and our guests.

What’s the plan?

To get this right, we must get staffing right. This is critical. We recently centralized staff planning under one team to ensure that with the complexity of staffing in this post-COVID world, we have the right number of fully trained people in all workgroups to meet our schedule. We’ve also prioritized hiring, training and recruiting across every workgroup to ensure we have the right number of people to support our operations.  

Even with these changes, it takes some time for a complex operation to turn the corner. Here’s what you can expect through the end of summer:

June – Relief in sight

  • For June, we have reduced block hours to 70k, which is about what we flew in April and less than what we flew in May.
  • Meanwhile, an additional 114 pilots will be available to fly the line in June.
  • We will also continue to graduate new flight attendants. This will enable us to reduce the line average for flight attendants to ensure greater flexibility and better schedules. For June, the line average will be 75 TFP, with a 25% reserve ratio, compared to 82.77 in April and 82.1 in May.

July and August – Back on track

  • By July and through the rest of the summer travel season, we should be back to flying a reliable and well-staffed operation. 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 we have reduced our flight volumes for this summer, we are not reducing our hiring plans. Our goal is to have significantly more staff on board before we look to accelerate growth again.

My commitment to you and our guests

Returning to operational excellence is imperative, and I am dedicated to making sure we accomplish that goal. Here are my top priorities: 

  • Getting back to running the safe, reliable schedule for which we are known and trusted.
  • Reaching a deal that’s good for our Alaska pilots. I want to be clear – our pilots are not on strike.
  • Ensuring a successful transition to single Boeing and Embraer fleets for our mainline and regional operations.
  • Setting the company up for sustainable growth in 2023 and beyond. 

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me personally. I hear every day from employees, friends, neighbors and guests about how disruptive this has been. Just like all of you, I feel this deeply, and I am committed to getting this right.   

I’m grateful for each of you who are working so hard to take care of our guests and our operation through this incredibly tough situation.  We have the knowledge, the people and the experience to get back on track to realize the bright future ahead of us.

Thank you.