AK Airlines tries to fill its seats

No Southeast flight cuts planned; airline works to restore passenger loads after attacks

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Regional carrier Alaska Airlines reports its operations are running smoothly under stricter security guidelines imposed in the wake of the terrorist attacks two weeks ago.

Now, officials say, the focus is getting consumers back into the habit of air travel.

"There are fewer people traveling than previously that's where the challenge is now," said Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Walsh.

Alaska Airlines should be operating at 85 percent system-wide by the end of this week, Walsh said from his Seattle-area office. Within Alaska, operations are nearly 100 percent, with a Fairbanks-Barrow flight the only in-state cancellation.

Last weekend the carrier ran 80 percent of its flights, Walsh said, with a passenger load at 63 percent of capacity on Sunday.

None of the canceled Alaska Airlines flights directly involve Juneau or other Southeast Alaska communities, though 36 flights departing Seattle, including a new route to Washington, D.C., and three flights from Anchorage to Seattle are affected.

The updated fall schedule for Alaska Airlines, with a complete list of canceled flights, can be accessed on the company's Web site at http://www.alaskaair.com.

With revised schedules formulated and employees trained to handle new security procedures and protocol, Walsh said reviving the air travel market is a new priority.

Walsh said the arrival of Alaska Permanent Fund dividends may spur some travel, but an aggressive ad campaign to encourage that business is not likely in the near future. For now, he said, things will stay low key.

"It's just not appropriate at this time for a lot of flashy advertising, but this week we are going to start some advertising," Walsh said.

Walsh also said there are some "phenomenal" discounted fares available on the Internet.

Mario Lim, owner of Glacier Travel in Juneau, said he has noticed some extremely low fares on airlines around the nation, particularly for those customers flying on short notice.

At Goldbelt Family Travel, manager Amy Carabajal said the current number of discounts is typical for a time when travel markets are down, but does not appear to be unusually high.

"There seem to be some discounts, but not a major rush," she said.

Lim and Carabajal said most of their clients are not shying away from air travel.

"Some of them are saying it's the best time to travel because security is tight," Lim said.

Carabajal said some clients chose to delay travel immediately after the attacks, but now are going ahead with their trips. She also said airlines have been very accommodating to changes in travel plans.

Although many delays and long lines have been lessened, both Walsh and Lim said those planning air travel still should allow extra time at the airport to clear security.

Lim recommends his clients arrive two hours prior to departure from Juneau, and three hours early if they have lots of luggage. Alaska Airlines recommends allowing two hours for check-in.

While other carriers and airline-related industries continue to announce staffing cuts, Walsh said Alaska Airlines has no plans for layoffs. A large cash reserve left the airline in better condition than most of its competitors, and Walsh said the financial picture is starting to look up.

Alaska Airlines employed 10,738 people system-wide in the year 2000, according to the carrier's annual report.

Stock prices for Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines, rose more than 4 percent in Monday's trading. In addition, the company stands to receive approximately $100 million in federal aid.

"Things are definitely improving over what they were," Walsh said.

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