"I need my children home:" Many Unalaskans Turn To Charters During Suspension Of Regular Flights

Oct 24, 2019

A Dash 8 airplane, photographed on the runway at Unalaska's airport. Having suspended regular service until the week of Nov. 4, Ravn is offering charter flights on its Dash 8s, while other companies do the same on other aircraft.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

Following last week's fatal plane crash, Unalaska will have to wait at least 10 more days for regular flights to and from Anchorage.

Ravn officials announced Thursday that the airline won't resume regular service until sometime during the week of Nov. 4. They also said they'll be flying their own Dash 8 aircraft instead of PenAir's Saab 2000s, which have served the route since 2016.

The news of the long suspension has left many people stranded and frustrated, including Unalaska resident Catina Shaishnikoff. Two of her three kids left the island on last Thursday's afternoon flight, the one before the crash.

"I wanted them to come home right away," said Shaishnikoff. "They have never gone on a trip without my husband or I. We sent them with their grandparents to go to the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention to learn about our culture."

In the week since the crash, Shaishnikoff has been trying to figure out how to get Laneah, 8, and Hayden, 10, back to the island.

She said she ruled out a charter flight that had seats going for $1,500 each, thinking she could wait until regular flights resumed. But she changed her mind when Ravn and PenAir announced the suspension.

"I need my children home," she said. "So I have no option besides getting them on the charter."

Shaishnikoff has found a less expensive option at $700 per seat. She said she's happy to pay it to see her kids, who are doing well in Anchorage and have a free place to stay with family.

"I'm so thankful for family," she said. "Car, housing, money — all of these things that not everybody has. My heart goes out to everybody that's involved in trying to get home or trying to go to medical appointments or trying to leave."

It's unclear how many passengers in total have been affected by the suspension of regular service.

But the number is undoubtedly high — considering regional residents trying to get to other Aleutian communities, fishermen and processors traveling for  Bering Sea crab season, and local people hoping to salvage their scheduled trips. 

"We understand this is a difficult time for the Unalaska community and seafood industry with the limited air service available," said an Alaska Airlines statement on Thursday.

Alaska Airlines markets the route between Unalaska and Anchorage on behalf of PenAir and Ravn, which is offering its own charter flights on its Dash 8 aircraft. 

To help spread the word about available charters and their prices, Unalaska resident Andy Dietrick has created a Facebook group called "Unalaska Plane Charter Coordination."

Other commercial options have emerged as well. Grant Aviation has announced a new route between the island and Cold Bay "in an effort to help the community of Unalaska." Alaska Travel Source and Security Aviation are also flying three flights per week between Unalaska and Anchorage. 

This is a developing story. Please check for updates.