If you had to name one domestic airline that has mastered de-icing, who would you guess? If you guessed Alaska Airlines, you’d be wrong. While Alaska Airlines certainly operates in some of the country’s coldest climates, their de-icing processes are suffering from corporate cost cutting. This is leading to avoidable delays and cancellations and creating unnecessary safety risks.
The recent storms in Seattle caused unprecedented cancellations and delays in Alaska’s flight schedules. These delays could have been avoided if Alaska Airlines had not made the decision in 2017 to outsource all de-icing activity, taking that responsibility away from their own maintenance people. Alaska even went as far as to make de-icing the responsibility of customer service, removing maintenance from having any role in the process.
During the Seattle storms, the de-icing vendor Alaska contracted with was only able to deploy 7 de-icing trucks, versus the 20 that were contracted. This vendor failure was the largest factor in the delays and cancellations. The situation became so unmanageable that Alaska had to call in their own maintenance people, the people who were replaced by the outsourcing vendor, to help manage through the crisis.
In fact, the only Alaska Airlines airport where maintenance still controls de-icing is Anchorage, Alaska. You can probably guess why. In Anchorage, de-icing is essential for five months of the year and the challenges of de-icing, and the related safety issues, demand that highly skilled experts be in charge. Alaska Airlines acknowledged this fact, at least until recently. Today, despite the success of the Anchorage maintenance team, Alaska Airlines is actively working to undermine their own workers to justify outsourcing de-icing tasks there as well. The trucks and equipment are substandard, having been allowed to age and fall into disrepair. While this has been happening, outsourced contractors have been standing by, ready to take over when the internal resources can no longer get the job done.
In yet another example of airlines being penny wise and pound foolish, Alaska is evaluating its own de-icing capabilities on what they cost when they are not being used. We all know that when that is your benchmark, you will never be sufficiently prepared for when they are desperately needed. This, of course, compromises the airlines’ ability to “weather the storm,” creating delays, cancellations and safety risks the traveling public would rather avoid.
Please join us in sounding the alarm and applying pressure on Alaska Airlines to prioritize their de-icing capabilities and empower their internal maintenance people to lead and execute these duties. It is the only way to minimize the frustrating and unsafe situations the extreme weather can create for the flying public.