Alaska Airlines Apologizes. And I Like It.

Alaska Airlines had twice the usual number of baggage handlers call in sick since Friday morning, though the airline says this is not part of a coordinated job action. As a result many bags didn’t make it to their destination. That’s frustrating for customers, of course.

What’s notable to me, though, is the Alaska Airlines apology. There’s nothing mealy mouthed about it. There’s no hedging. It’s not offered in the third person (no ‘we apologize if, mistakes were made’..).

First off, we sincerely apologize to our guests who endured considerable inconvenience and understandable frustration at Sea-Tac Airport over the past two days. With many different factors working against us, we dropped the ball, and by doing that, created an awful holiday travel experience just when people rely on us the most.

Put simply: a severe staffing shortage during a very heavy travel period, as well as difficult weather conditions, unleashed a cascade of problems for us, and – unfairly – for our guests. A large number of workers who support our baggage operation had called out sick.

Starting Friday morning, we did not have enough ramp workers in place to successfully handle the holiday volume of baggage. A backlog quickly took shape and that prevented many bags from being loaded on flights ultimately causing our guests to arrive at their destinations without their checked bags. We simply did not have enough people to do all the work. This caused us not to operate our gates efficiently and kept our aircraft out on the tarmac waiting until gate space opened up. We have called in many management employees from across the company to assist with the baggage backup and recovery.

Alaska Airlines explained what happened, took responsibility for it, and acknowledged the harm they caused. The piece goes on to explain what passengers can do. Adults hold themselves accountable for failure. It’s too rare that we see airlines, or any large businesses, doing that.

Unmentioned is that the credit card you used to pay for your ticket may cover baggage delay with up to $100 a day for necessary expenses. Save receipts and file a claim promptly.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Class act.
    As you say unique in today’s management style.
    Give people a reasonable explanation and they will stick with you.
    Avoid the issue and customers walk or rub your nose in it for years.

  2. A picture of managers loading bags into planes would’ve been a funny touch to add … and I think actually gone over well (though the apology was well done already)

  3. Sorry Gary, but I do not believe the sickout was not intentional. I know it’s a bad flu season, but I have a relative who was flying with his family and got caught up in this. He took the time to go over and talk to employees during his wait for his luggage.

    He was told in no uncertain terms by multiple employees that this was a deliberate attempt to screw McGee Aviation to get better pay.

  4. Talk is cheap. Fork over some cash to people who didn’t get their bags and refund bag fees. Right now. No questions asked.

  5. I received a voucher last month from Alaska as compensation for a delayed flight and lost bag. I went to redeem it this month and it has restrictions. Way to go Alaska!

    I hope these folks don’t get those vouchers too. Miles is probably better.

  6. So far this year I got 21k skymiles from delta on 3 delays (2.5hr, 2.5hr, 1.5hr), 7.5k AAmiles from 1 delay (4 hrs).

    I am okay with delays now, as long as I get miles out of it.

  7. I would also suggest when you pay baggage fees with a credit card file a dispute with your credit card company!

  8. I was also caught up in this. Waited almost two hours for a gate – and we landed at 1145pm. Felt bad for the Alaska employees. I also believe this was some sort of labor action – the timing was just too perfect.

  9. @Danny — Maybe you’re just lucky and I’m not, but off the top of my head, I cannot think of a single voucher I have ever received — REGARDLESS of carrier — that did *not* come with restrictions. Credits to my travel back are unrestricted; I can use those credits for anything. But in my experience, vouchers always come with some restriction(s).


    @dhammer53 — I agree! Alaska will pay out 2,500 miles if you don’t received your bags within 20 minutes (from aircraft door opening to first bag drop). The problem has been, for me, that Alaska’s baggage handlers are (when they aren’t sick) too damned good! ;^) I’ve only received the points twice in flying Alaska — once, they missed it by a mile; the other, missed by less than 90 seconds, but I got the miles both times.

  10. @Gary — With a couple of “glitches”along the way, I have to confess that I have been by and large favorably impressed with Alaska management since their takeover of Virgin America. There are things I’m not happy about (e.g.: getting rid of seatback IFE systems — why should I have to buy a tablet?!?), over all I find they have been forthcoming, informative, and — yes — “adult-like” in their dealings. I still miss VX, but overall AS could have handled the merger much worse — like AA or UA, for example.

  11. This was not limited to SeaTac. We had the same issue, same day, same airline at SFO. Total delay was three hours as the flight was late, no gates were available upon landing, and the baggage wait was awful.

  12. I flew Alaska Airlines from San Diego to San Francisco in September, three months later I still don’t have my suitcase. Alaska Air gave me some money, not nearly enough to cover valuable, irreplaceable, personal belongings and all of my clothes. I was told the suitcase never reached SFO. There was also a fraudulent check for a large amount of money written from my checkbook stored inside the bag. A heartbreaking, time consuming nightmare experience. My first time flying with them and definitely the last.

  13. We too were caught up in this. Our flight PDX>LAS was cancelled after we were fully boarded due to “no pilot”. We had to deplane and wait in a huge line to try to get rerouted. Offered a flight for 2 days later. Ultimately had to cancel an anniversary trip that was planned back in July. Spent a total of 8 hours at the airport trying to get it fixed. I understand things happen but this had union negotiations written all over it.

  14. Anyone who has an issue with Alaska should call customer support. It’s a dedicated number and unlike other airlines is staffed by people who have the brains and authority to generally make things right.

    I have no connection with Alaska or than being pretty happy with them having abandoned AA (where I’m a lifetime 2MM flyer) and UA ( lifetime 1M flyer) after one too many episodes where a simple issue turned into a major problem simply because neither airline seems to trust their people to make decisions on their own.

  15. @Jeffrey

    A lot of bag handlers are 3rd party/contract workers. Alaska may not have done the best to compensate you for the situation, but a lot of times it could happen to anyone no matter who the airline is…

  16. @Steve —>. Agreed. I have found Alaska’s customer service AND their executives not only very responsive and helpful, but very open and forthright as well.

    Just for the record…I, too, have no direct connection with AS other than as a passenger/consumer, and while there are parts of AS that still “bother” me and/or I wish would be different, I am overall a very satisfied customer.

  17. This is symptomatic of a much larger problem. They are perfectly willing to give you a phony apology and throw a hundred dollars or some miles at you but the problems persist. Their three biggest problems are blatant employee misconduct, with no consequences, lack of actual customer service and being pathological liars, to both their customers and themselves. They have gotten to big, to fast and sooner or later it’s going to catch up with them. Honestly many in Alaska would like them to change their name. They are not based here, continue to cut more flights to and from Alaska and in general are an embarrassment to the state. It’s going to take much more than a fluff piece in the media to get me back on one of their planed.

  18. How about pass out some pink slips for christmas? Oh, the unions! Forgot. Thanks for keeping things real.

  19. sweet, now they can work on apologizing to their frequent flyers for changing their frequent flyer flight benefits 9 months ago and not informing anyone of these changes. I have seen them sell 1st class tickets to people on standby an hour before the flight when their website stated that MVP gold had the rights to premium class if available up to 72 hours prior to departure and 48 hours for MVP. Around a week ago their website changed and It does not state that anymore.

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