Travel chaos returns as Alaska Airlines blames … the calendar?


After more than 15,000 Alaska Airlines passengers had their flights canceled Sunday and Monday, Alaska blamed the turn of the month.

Despite a massive scheduling debacle that began on April 1 — causing hundreds of Alaska Airline flight cancellations early in the month that ruined the travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers — somehow Alaska’s crew schedule planners didn’t foresee this coming around again on May 1.

“Month-to-month transitions can be challenging for several reasons, but particularly so when they fall on a weekend,” Alaska spokesperson Bobbie Egan said via email.

Will McQuillen, chair of the Alaska Airlines council for the Air Line Pilots Association union, said the problems run deeper than the calendar.

“I gotta tell you, there’s a month-to-month transition, literally every month,” he said. “The fact that April and May were such a problem, that really does point to the greater issue that they’re having with attracting and retaining pilots.”

The union and management are deadlocked in negotiations over a new pilot contract. McQuillen said that with flight-crew shortages industrywide, Alaska continues to lose pilots to other airlines, with four or five resignations a week — “a pace we’ve never seen.”

Alaska’s management attributed the April chaos to a shortage of pilots after the omicron virus surge disrupted its pilot-training program in the spring.

In response, Alaska cut its flights by 2% through June in an effort to ensure it had sufficient pilots to fly the schedule.

But on Sunday, the calendar turned over to May 1, and Alaska’s monthly transition fell apart again, at a less extreme level than in April but still bad enough. The airline canceled 53 flights on Sunday and 55 more on Monday.

“Due to our operational difficulties in April a significant number of our reserve pilots had already flown to their monthly limitation and were not available to be on call,” said Alaska’s Egan. “This, combined with a higher than usual absence rate, forced us into a short staffing situation and resulted in delays and cancellations.”

ALPA’s McQuillen doesn’t buy that explanation.

“This airline has always run too lean. We use the reserves much more aggressively than other airlines do to cover flying,” he said. “Other airlines are more adequately staffed to deal with the month-to-month transition.”

Working the reserve pilots harder increases Alaska’s productivity but leaves “no slack in the system,” McQuillen added.

“While that productivity may be nice for shareholders in the short term, it certainly has the opposite effect on passengers when flights are canceled,” he said. “They’re not getting ahead of the problem.”

Travelers on social media over the weekend offered glimpses of disarray in the airline’s response to the cancellations similar to that of a month earlier: One told of 10-hour hold times on the customer service phones and the online chat function down “due to high volumes.”

A poor customer support response

On Tuesday, cancellations continued, though at a lower level. Alaska canceled 33 flights, impacting another 3,790 air travelers across its network.

Of those, 15 were at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Alaska was the only airline with cancellations there Tuesday.

One traveler, who only gave his last name, Adhikari, to preserve his privacy, described the stress a flight cancellation can cause.

He flew from Columbus, Ohio, to Seattle for a family wedding with six relatives, then learned late Monday afternoon that their direct return flight early Tuesday was canceled.

With two aging relatives unable to travel alone, he spent three hours on the phone trying to sort something out but it proved impossible to accommodate all on the same flight.

The younger relatives left on Alaska for Philadelphia, where they had to switch to American for a flight to Columbus. Meanwhile, Adhikari and the two older relatives were flying United to Columbus via Houston on a new ticket he paid for.

“I had to waste half of my day yesterday figuring this out,” Adhikari said Tuesday. “We’ll get to Columbus around midnight.”

Stephen Robinson was booked to fly home to Portland on Monday evening from San Jose, California, with his wife and their 8-year-old son, who has mobility issues. Their direct flight was canceled Sunday afternoon, however.

Robinson was stunned when Alaska rebooked the family on “a completely undoable” itinerary from San Jose to Portland via stops first in Seattle and then in Spokane, a trek that made little sense and would have taken just over 12 hours.

When the Robinsons instead rented a car, drove to San Francisco, paid for a hotel there Sunday night and then caught an early morning Alaska flight to Portland, the airline charged them $330 in change fees because the switch to depart from a different city was “voluntary.”

“It was very disappointing,” said Robinson. “A fundamental customer service breakdown.”

Eight days ago, on April 25, Constance von Muehlen, Alaska’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, told staff in an email of “a new approach” intended to fix the scheduling problems.

“We have seen staffing or training challenges in virtually every group since we began the process of recovering our capacity back to pre-COVID levels,” von Muehlen wrote. “We need a sharper and more holistic look at capacity planning.”

She said she was centralizing crew schedule and staffing under a new resource planning team, led by Ryan St. John, who previously worked in financial planning.

“This centralized team’s work will include month-to-month schedule creation,” von Muehlen told staff.

Alaska’s Egan said this new team, which didn’t set up fast enough to flag the problems that hit May 1, will now work to “identify changes that need to be made so this doesn’t happen again.”

“The month of May will see our team continue to proactively cancel our flights eight or more days into the future,” she said. “We will be more resilient in June and beyond after we’ve re-built our schedules to better match the number of pilots.”

ALPA’s McQuillen said there may need to be a reassessment of whether the 2% schedule cut was enough.



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Southwest blames travel woes on hourslong shutdown at Orlando airport


ORLANDO, Fla. – Southwest Airlines issued a statement on Thursday about its recent travel woes, saying they were caused, in part, because Orlando International Airport was closed for seven hours late last week due to weather.

Southwest later amended the letter from airline President and COO Mike Van de Ven, saying OIA was closed for several, not seven, hours.

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Storms moved through Central Florida on Friday, but it’s not known if OIA was shut down for hours. News 6 has reached out to the airport for comment but has not yet heard back.

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The airline said it was unable to fly in or out of Orlando while the airport was closed.

“About a quarter of Southwest’s Crew assignments include at least one Florida city. One of our largest Crew Bases is at Orlando International Airport, and that airport was shut to departing and arriving air traffic for several hours on Friday—preventing the flow of aircraft and Crews into the network,” the statement reads.

Southwest canceled thousands of flights earlier this week, leading many to speculate that the airlines’ recent COVID vaccine mandate prompted a “sickout” from pilots and staff. The airline and the pilots union, however, dispute that claim.

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Five days after the cancellations began, the airline said it was mostly back on schedule.

No other airlines suffered any similar setbacks over the past week.

In its letter, Southwest apologized for the delays and flight cancellations and promised to make changes to avoid similar issues in the future.

Below is the full letter from Southwest:

I’d like to address the operational challenges we faced recently and offer an explanation of what happened. But first, let me begin with our heartfelt apology to everyone whose travel was disrupted by these events: we are truly sorry.

The operational disruption began on Friday and was initially created by weather and air traffic constraints that stalled our Florida operations for many hours. As a result, our aircraft and Crews were not in their pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday. Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and Crew resources created additional cancelations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday and Tuesday. Weather and air traffic constraints were not an issue beyond Friday, but it took us several days to re-set our network after the initial challenges.

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Despite widespread rumors and speculation, the weekend challenges were not a result of unusual Southwest Employee activity, and there simply is nothing in our data that indicates that particular reason. Our Employees worked heroically in the midst of these adverse conditions and many came in on off days, or flew additional trips, to help the airline recover. I offer my sincere thanks and appreciation for their tireless work and dedication to serving our Customers.

I’m sure you are curious as to why Friday’s challenges impacted Southwest more than other airlines. For starters, flying to and from Florida is a large portion of our schedule, and disruptions to Florida quickly spread throughout our network given our point-to-point flying. In fact, approximately 40-50% of Southwest’s aircraft fly through Florida on any given day.

Additionally, about a quarter of Southwest’s Crew assignments include at least one Florida city. One of our largest Crew Bases is at Orlando International Airport, and that airport was shut to departing and arriving air traffic for several hours on Friday—preventing the flow of aircraft and Crews into the network.

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We’ve said numerous times, the pandemic is unprecedented and extremely complex—it was messy going into it, and it’s messy as we fight to emerge from it. Going forward, our number one focus is to hire more people—with a goal of hiring more than 5,000 by the end of the year and with 50% of the goal already met.

Additionally, we continue to evaluate potential network schedule changes to mitigate operational risks as we head into the holidays. There is certainly more work to be done as we approach November, and our Teams are dedicated to doing that work to support a reliable operation.

Again, I fully realize that any attempt at an explanation falls short of our ultimate goal of delivering you to your destination on time with our typical Southwest hospitality. You expect and deserve better Customer Service from us, and we are committed to making necessary adjustments to deliver on that expectation.

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We are doing our best to proactively reach out to Customers whose travel plans were impacted to offer our apologies and invite them to give us another chance to earn their business. If Customers require assistance from Southwest, they can use one of the airline’s self-service options for convenience or Contact Us via one of the methods listed on Southwest.com.

I want to thank our People, and especially our frontline Employees, who have worked around the clock to help Customers impacted by these challenges. They are our true heroes.

Finally, I want to offer my sincere apologies once again to every Customer affected over the past week, and I humbly invite you to give us another chance to make it up to you on your next trip.

Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.





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WTTC blames UK government for slow tourism recovery | News


The World Travel & Tourism Council has argued the year-on-year recovery in the UK may only claw back a third, while international travel spending continues to plummet.

Latest research from the body shows the recovery has been severely delayed by the lack of spending from international visitors.

WTTC blames strict travel restrictions, such as the destructive ‘traffic light’ system, for wreaking havoc on the sector.

Now, despite its highly successful vaccine rollout, the UK is set to record further losses in inbound visitor spending than the previous year, during which international travel ground to an almost complete standstill.

At the current rate of recovery, WTTC research shows the UK sector’s contribution to the nation’s economy could rise year on year by just under a third (32 per cent) in 2021, broadly in line with the global average of 31 per cent.

However, research conducted by the global tourism body goes on to show the increase has been primarily spurred on by the recent boom in domestic travel, with domestic spending growth set to experience a year-on-year rise of 49 per cent in 2021.

While this surge in domestic travel has provided a much-needed boost, it will not be enough to achieve a full economic recovery and save millions of jobs still under threat.

The research reveals that international spending is predicted to plunge by nearly half on 2020 figures – one of the worst years on record for the tourism sector – making the UK one of the worst performing countries in the world.

While other countries, such as China and the United States, are set to see a rise in inbound international travel spending this year, the UK lags behind and continues to record significant losses.

Severe travel restrictions, ever-changing policies, and barriers to travel to the UK, such as the current requirement for visitors to take an expensive day two PCR test after arriving in the country, have had their toll.

Julia Simpson, WTTC chief executive, said: “WTTC research shows that while the global tourism sector is beginning to recover, the UK continues to suffer big losses due to continuing travel restrictions that are tougher than the rest of Europe.

“Despite government announcements the UK still has a red list, costly PCR tests and a requirement for day two tests which simply put people off travel.

“Just as the world opens up the UK has more requirements for the double vaccinated than our neighbours.”





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Airbnb lost $1.2 billion in 1st quarter, blames European lockdowns



Associated Press

Published 7:40 a.m. ET May 14, 2021

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Thirteen years after its founders first rented air mattresses in their San Francisco apartment, Airbnb is making its long-awaited stock market debut. Airbnb raised $3.7 billion in the initial public offering.  (Dec. 5)

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Airbnb reported Thursday that its first-quarter loss more than tripled, to $1.2 billion, as travel remained depressed by the pandemic and the company was weighed down by costs from past borrowing.

However, revenue topped the same period in 2019, and Airbnb recorded billions in new bookings as the rollout of vaccines against COVID-19 raised hopes for a travel boom.

The home-sharing business said in a letter to shareholders that travel is starting to return, “and we expect a travel rebound unlike anything we have seen before.”

Still, Airbnb expressed concern about travel restrictions and lockdowns in Europe, a key market for summer rentals. The San Francisco-based company said it is too early to predict whether the pace of the travel recovery will continue in the second half of the year.

Pandemic-related restrictions are cutting into Airbnb revenue, particularly in Europe. The company has seen growing demand for travel in the U.S., however, with particular interest in rentals in beach and mountain locations. Bookings in cities, which were a strength before the pandemic, have not recovered.

Cancellations have eased from 2020 but remain higher than before the pandemic, although company officials gave no figures.

CEO Brian Chesky predicted that even after the pandemic more people will work outside central offices, providing a ready supply of future guests. He said 24% of Airbnb customers now book stays of at least 28 days, compared with 14% before the pandemic, which he suggested would give home-sharing an advantage over hotels.

“The longer you stay somewhere, the more you are inclined to stay in a home,” he said on a call with analysts.

Airbnb’s first-quarter results were hurt by losses related to debt repayment and an adjustment in the value of stock warrants issued in connection with money it borrowed last year during the depths of the pandemic downturn in travel.

The loss equaled $1.95 per share. Wall Street expected a loss of $717 million, or $1.07 per share, according to a FactSet survey of 27 analysts.

Airbnb’s revenue rose 5% from a year ago and 6% over the same quarter in 2019, to $887 million. That topped the analysts’ forecast of $721 million.

The value of new bookings recorded in the quarter jumped to $10.3 billion, up from $6.8 billion a year earlier and more than $4 billion higher than in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Airbnb released the results after a day in which the shares fell 3.2% in regular trading. They fell less than 1% in extended trading.

The shares have fallen 37% since their Feb. 11 peak, dropping below where they closed after their stock market debut on Dec. 10.

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Australia news live updates: Scott Morrison blames ‘supply problem’ for slow Covid vaccine rollout | Australia news









Australia Post’s submission to the same Senate inquiry clearly indicates it doesn’t resile from the position she stood aside.

It said:


On 22 October 2020, Ms Holgate agreed to stand aside from the role of group chief executive officer & managing director of Australia Post pending the outcome of an investigation by the shareholder departments and any further actions taken by Australia Post. On 2 November 2020, Ms Holgate resigned with immediate effect and advised that she was not seeking any financial compensation from Australia Post.

The submission also quotes the Maddocks review of the incident, which it said contradicts Holgate by finding that:

  • The “former Chair’s position is that he did not” approve the provision of the watches to the watch recipients
  • There was “contradictory evidence as to whether the former Group CEO & Managing Director informed the former Chair that it was her intention to purchase the Cartier watches”.

Australia Post said it considers current chair, Lucio Di Bartolomeo’s, evidence to the Senate “to be accurate” but that is after “incorporating the subsequent clarification provided on 21 December 2020”.

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Former Australia Post chief executive, Christine Holgate, has lodged an explosive submission to the Senate inquiry into her sacking for the decision to award executives Cartier watches as bonuses.

“It is almost five months since the events of October 22nd, 2020, when, for no justified reason, I was humiliated in Parliament and then unlawfully stood down by the Australia Post Chair from a role I was passionately committed to,” the submission begins.

In the submission, Holgate doubles down on her claim she never voluntarily stood down and accuses Australia Post chairman, Lucio Di Bartolomeo, of unlawfully standing her down and alleged “he lied repeatedly to the Australian people and to their parliament about his actions”.

”Time after time he has made statements that I had agreed to stand down when I had done no such thing.”

Holgate said she offered to resign, but alleged Australia Post then leaked the letter to the media, before sending a counter-offer which is “itself confirmation that no agreement had been reached”.

Holgate said the gift of Cartier watches was “legal, within Australia Post’s policies, within my own signing authority limits, approved by the previous chairman, expensed appropriately, signed off by auditors and the CFO, [and] widely celebrated within the organisation”.

Holgate accused Di Bartolomeo of “seriously misleading” evidence to the Senate on 9 November, including about his knowledge of a BCG report into the incident.

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Travel agents and hotel operators have welcomed details of the two way travel bubble with New Zealand, but have warned “there will be very little real benefit” for the sector in the short term.

This is because most of the initial travellers from 19 April are expected to be low-spending tourists visiting family and friends, as Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive, Margy Osmond, told the Guardian.

Accommodation Association of Australia has backed that prediction up, with its chief executive Dean Long reigniting calls for post-jobkeeper wage support for CBD hotels in Melbourne and Sydney that are still reeling from a drop off in international tourism and business travel.

The Association said Sydney is currently the worst performing city market in Australia with revenue declines of 67% and forward booking rates of less than 10% for the next 90 days and that Melbourne is similarly decimated.

Long said:


The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction but the reality is while it’s good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there’s very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels. With the end of jobkeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia’s international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them is negligible. There’s no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence but it doesn’t erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it’s great news for our travel sector but not so good for tourism.

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chair Tom Manwaring said many of his members were already seeing “increased interest in booking NZ albeit primarily to visit friends and family”.

Manwaring said:


It’s not a massive increase in business and our sector still desperately needs support but it is a much needed step in the right direction.” However, we urge both the Australian and the New Zealand governments to do all they can to ensure now the corridor is open that it stays open. This is important both in terms of consumer confidence in booking travel and from a workload perspective for travel agents who are still working hard on repatriating the outstanding $4bn still owed to Australians by airlines, hotels and tour operators on Covid-impacted travel and managing re-bookings and cancellations as a result of state restrictions.

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PNG man dies of Covid in Queensland hospital

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