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Alaska Airlines Cancels Reservations Through May 2020; Existing Tickets To Be Rebooked With Ravn

Laura Kraegel/KUCB

Updated 11/18/19 at 1 p.m.

After weeks of confusion over the validity of tickets, Alaska Airlines has canceled all existing flight reservations to and from Unalaska through May 31, 2020. 

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the airline said it's automatically rebooking current ticket-holders through RavnAir Group, but any new reservations will have to go directly through Ravn.

Those announcements came in the wake of a fatal plane crash on Oct. 17 and a roughly month-long suspension of regular air service. Ravn operates Unalaska's flights to and from Anchorage, while Alaska Airlines has long served as a marketing partner, setting prices and selling tickets for the route. 

The airlines' partnership, however, was specific to the Saab 2000 aircraft, which Ravn chose to suspend until it can perform unspecified safety checks on the plane.

"Ravn Air Group has decided to halt service of the Saab 2000 aircraft pending a full investigation into the circumstances of the incident," said the statement by Alaska Airlines.

"We respect and support that decision and are presently conducting our own assessment," the statement continued. "It could be several months before that process is complete. Accordingly, all flights marketed by Alaska Airlines to and from Dutch Harbor through May 31, 2020 have been canceled."

"I think they've let us down. I feel like Alaska Airlines really just doesn't care about us," said resident Gary Jirschele on Thursday, waiting to board the first regular flight since the accident. 

Ravn resumed commercial service on DeHavilland Dash 8 aircraft on Thursday, Nov. 14. Airline officials have said they'll fly the smaller, slower plane on a temporary basis until they reinstate the Saab 2000.

It's unclear when that'll happen, and it appears Ravn and Alaska decided against extending their partnership to the Dash 8. 

Unalaska resident AnnaMarie Ammons said her family is affected by Alaska Airlines' decision.

Her son has been stationed with the U.S. Navy in Virginia for three years, and he was supposed to come home for Christmas. But while rebooking his tickets, Alaska Airlines couldn't find a reservation that would allow him to report back to work on time.

"We're sad because we haven't spent Christmas with him since he went to the Navy," said Ammons. "This was supposed to be his first time coming home."

Ammons said her son will probably have to cancel his trip, and she and her husband can't leave to go visit him. With Alaska Airlines out of the picture for at least six months, her family and other Unalaska travelers won't be able to book flights using Alaska miles.

"I used to leave here at least four times a year," said Ammons. "Now, I think we're just going to go out once a year, if it's going to be that expensive— to get out without using miles."

In its statement, Alaska Airlines said that "travel to and from [Unalaska] booked on Ravn will not accrue Alaska Mileage Plan miles."

While Ravn is encouraging Unalaskans to sign up for its own rewards program, many island residents have relied on Alaska Airlines miles to lessen the financial sting of purchasing tickets to and from Anchorage. Round-trip reservations frequently cost more than $1,000. 

"Due to the high cost of living here, a lot of families depend heavily — heavily — on those miles," said Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson. 

Airline officials previously said Ravn and Alaska were trying to work out an agreement that would allow travelers to use Alaska miles on Ravn flights to and from Unalaska. The statement did not explain why the airlines did not come to an agreement.

Former mayor Frank Kelty said it's "unconscionable" for Alaska to step away from the route for so long.

"The cost to a family of five just to get to Anchorage round-trip is enormous," said Kelty. "It's $5,000 for a family of five — two adults and three kids."

In addition to higher costs, Kelty said travelers will have to deal with slower flights, more bumped baggage, and more restrictive luggage allowances with Ravn and the Dash 8.

"Alaska Airlines has made millions and millions of dollars on this route over the years," said Kelty. "Just to walk away, with hardly any explanation, is not right." 

The City of Unalaska isconsidering legal action against the airlines.

RavnAir Group and Alaska Airlines are expected to hold a community meeting on the island sometime in early December.

Neither Ravn nor Alaska Airlines spokespeople have responded to KUCB's requests for further information and interviews. 

KUCB's Laura Kraegel contributed reporting.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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