Foiled fliers take to seas

Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2002

Disgruntled air passengers, trapped in Sitka because of heavy fog in Juneau, hired a boat Wednesday to get them here.

Nearly 60 Alaska Airlines passengers, piled up from different embarkment points in sunny Sitka, some for several days, chartered an Allen Marine Tours catamaran for $60 each.

Allen Marine will offer sailings between Juneau and Sitka today, and will consider doing them on a day-by-day basis if the fog continues, said company President Rob Allen.

No Alaska Airlines flights arrived or departed in Juneau on Tuesday or Wednesday, and prospects for landings don't look good today because of the fog, said company spokesman Jack Walsh.

"It's been years since we had anything like this," he said. The airline didn't even try to fly passengers from Anchorage or Seattle to Juneau on Wednesday.

Passengers waved wildly, smiled broadly and applauded as the Allen Marine catamaran arrived at Auke Bay harbor at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

But they were less happy earlier in the day. Some had been through multi-day odysseys of flying to Juneau, only to be diverted to Yakutat, Cordova, Anchorage and Seattle.

"It's not like (the fog) was a one-day deal. This has been going on for at least a week," said Alaska Airlines passenger Yuri Lackey, who had been trying since Monday to get from Anchorage to Juneau for business and who helped organize the boat charter.

Alaska Airlines "should have sought a different route to get these people home. Some of these people are running out of money," Lackey said.

Walsh said Alaska Airlines, like other carriers, doesn't provide vouchers for food or lodging if flight delays are caused by the weather. He couldn't recall an instance when the carrier provided another form of transportation for its stranded passengers.

"As a courtesy, we may try to help them find some alternative arrangements. But as far as compensation for any expenses they accrue, we're not able to do anything there," he said. Passengers will get refunds for the unused portions of their trip, he said.

Delores Mazon was jumping up and down at Auke Bay harbor when the Allen Marine boat disgorged her daughter and granddaughter, who had been on vacation in Anchorage and spent three days trying to get home for Halloween.

"They've been calling," Mazon said. "They said they missed us and they want to come home. Everyone was crying at home."

Tracy Turnbull, one of the passengers who organized the boat charter, said she spent three days trying to get from Mexico to her Juneau home.

She caught a Monday morning flight from Seattle to Juneau, "overheaded" and landed in Sitka. The flight took off again for Juneau and ended up in Yakutat, Cordova and Anchorage.

An Alaska Airlines ticket agent in Yakutat took pity on the passengers and donated three bags of Tater Tots and a chicken sandwich for the flight to Anchorage.

"That's what they had in the office," Turnbull said. "They grabbed what they had and threw it on there."

Turnbull caught a plane from Anchorage at 8 p.m. - this is still Monday - overheaded Juneau and landed in Sitka at 11 p.m.

She had to be at the airport at 4:30 Tuesday morning in case a flight took off. Alaska Airlines loaded one plane for Juneau but then said it wouldn't try to land there. The airline wouldn't let those passengers get off the plane and go back into the Sitka terminal, Turnbull said.

"It's a guessing game," Turnbull said. "I thought, 'Thank God, I didn't get on that plane.' "

On Wednesday it looked to be same situation of waiting until flights were canceled, so she, Lackey and passenger Debbie Sis of Juneau arranged a charter boat with Allen Marine. Alaska Airlines declined to charter the boat itself, Allen said.

The passengers announced the plan over Alaska Airlines' public address system, drawing some passengers off a waiting plane, and called hotels. An Alaska Airlines employee drove a bus to the various hotels in Sitka to collect passengers for the boat.

"People were offering to pay for people if they didn't have money," Turnbull said.

Over the days of waiting, passengers formed a camaraderie and would buy meals for those who had run out of money, she said. Passengers with cell phone chargers shared the wealth.

Allen Marine today is running one boat each from Juneau to Sitka and from Sitka to Juneau. The boats were scheduled to depart at about noon.

For information about future Allen Marine trips during the fog, call 789-0081 after 8 a.m.

"We figure that as long as the fog stays, we'll look at it on a day-by-day basis," Allen said.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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