Traveling tonight? Be prepared for delays, at minimum

Weather, other factors trigger dozens of delays, cancellations at main Alaska airports and connections
Published: Dec. 26, 2021 at 7:59 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - If you’re headed out for travel anytime soon, be ready for crowds, delays, and in some cases, cancellations of flights into and out of Alaska.

On Sunday evening, airport tracker FlightView showed approximately 80% of flights out of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport as leaving “very late,” with around 10% of departures reported as on time, and another 10% or so considered “late.” Arrivals appear, via FlightView, to be mostly on time, with about 60% categorized that way.

Flights on Sunday were also known to be diverted. At least one, carrying hundreds of passengers from Chicago, was sent to Cordova when icy conditions on the airport runways triggered a temporary closure.

“Conditions on some of the runways are icy,” said airport spokesperson Megan Peters on Sunday, adding that field maintenance crews were out working on keeping everything operating smoothly. “I am told these conditions are not unusual, but we do watch it closely to make sure we stay on top of it.”

Some airports, however, appear to be facing even more challenges. Fairbanks International Airport had 100% of its departing flights listed as “very late” for Dec. 26, while about 75% of arrivals were listed as the same, and 25% of arrivals were said to be on time.

While the site’s chart for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport also shows 80% or so of the flights out of Sea-Tac as leaving “very late,” the other 20% are all down as “late.” The Federal Aviation Administration’s National Airspace System Status report also showed a temporary ground stop – slowing or halting flights inbound to the airport — at Sea-Tac for Alaska Airlines flights, among others.

Certain flights bound for Anchorage from Seattle and meant to be operated by airlines such as British Airways, Icelandair, Delta, American Airlines, Korean Air, Qatar Airways, WestJet Airlines and Qantas were among those cancelled or diverted Sunday evening, but Alaska Airlines was the operator for the overwhelming majority of cancelled and delayed flights headed to the city.

“Snow and wintry conditions are creating a bit of a ‘bah-humbug’ for our operations to and from Seattle,” wrote a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines in an email Sunday afternoon. “To adjust for the difficult weather conditions and impacts at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, we’ve had to cancel some of our flights that were scheduled to arrive or depart Seattle today.”

The same spokesperson said Alaska Airlines guests were being notified if their flights were canceled.

“We realize it’s incredibly frustrating when travel doesn’t go as planned,” they wrote. “The safety of our operations is our top priority. The pre-cancellation of flights eases congestion and allows all airlines to match the reduced number of aircraft allowed to land and depart.”

Alaska Airlines guests can also rebook their flights at their own convenience, and a flexible travel waiver has also been implemented. Those with travel scheduled between Dec. 22 and Jan. 2 can change their tickets online, with travel to be completed by Jan. 31, 2022.

Along with the chaos in Seattle, possible ground stops were also listed by NASS for general locations such as Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and Philadelphia International Airport.

While also suffering impacts from inclement weather, airlines have stuttered in the wake of COVID-19 case spikes across the country.

Starting Saturday, hundreds of flights were canceled on the Christmas Day holiday “because of staffing issues tied to COVID-19,” according to the Associated Press, which said airlines cited staffing problems and shortages were leading to many of the cancellations. While the issue happens to also further disrupt one of the busiest travel times of the year, AP added that FlightAware, an online, real-time flight tracker collating data from airports around the world, reported “nearly 1,000 canceled flights entering, leaving or inside the U.S. Saturday.” That was a jump from the nearly 700 flights canceled Friday, it said.

NBC News also reported that United, Delta, American Airlines and JetBlue said the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19 was a major reason for cancellations, as airline staffers who test positive had to go straight into quarantine.

Traffic in general has played a role, too. Numerous national reports have shown upticks in travel not only since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but even compared to before its start. For example, FlightAware showed the Anchorage airport with 457 arrivals and departures for Dec. 26, 20 more than the numbers for 2019.

As of Sunday evening, the main Anchorage airport website also showed that the Park, Ride and Fly lot was full. The parking garage, long-term parking, and short-term parking lots were quickly filling up, the site said, but additional parking was available at the North Terminal, including shuttle service and access by foot via the corridor connecting the north and south terminals.

Getting travelers to their destinations hasn’t been the only issue. Keep in mind that baggage can also be delayed or lost, so important items should be kept in carry-on bags when possible. Consider bringing — along with your identification and boarding pass — chargers for any needed devices, toiletries in case of extensive delays, important paperwork, any personal medications, a change of clothes and your own pandemic safety supplies.

If you run into an issue with baggage being delayed or damaged, you should file a report with your airline as soon as possible.

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