Seattle-based Alaska Airlines is usually in the news for flying fish, but this week they had one public relations nightmare after another. Is their usual reputation for high customer satisfaction in jeopardy?
The company's hell week was chronicled by David Parker Brown, a local airline business blogger. It began last Friday when a disabled passenger in Redmond, Oregon—trying to board a flight operated by Horizon, a part of Alaska Airlines—encountered trouble with airline staff. Another passenger used social media to vent about how the man, who he said had Parkinson's disease, was ignored by workers he called "the worst of humanity."
The airline apologized and refunded the passenger's ticket, but shared an interesting bit of information: Passengers must inform airline staff that they have a disability before they can get services like wheelchairs and extra assistance. "The law says the passenger has to self-identify,” says Eric Lipp of the advocacy group Open Doors Organization, according to Harriet Baskas of NBC News.
But that wasn't the end for Alaska; news broke that on July 28, a passenger on a Burbank-to-Seattle hop noticed a note scrawled on the wing outside his window: "We Know About This." An arrow pointed to a missing wedge on the wing; it looked like Cookie Monster had taken a bite out of the flap.
Brown reports that "It was a proper repair, the plane was safe to fly and this is a nonissue." Still, the airline had to release a statement that the note "was not appropriate and did not follow company procedures."
Then yesterday, a flight from Ontario, California, to Seattle had to make an emergency landing after a sudden manual pressurization. Alaska had to answer questions about what went wrong (multiple electrical problems), why oxygen masks never dropped (no actual loss of pressurization), and why their flight attendants were so freaked out (natural human response?). Topping it off was an unrelated $1,005,000 fine that Horizon will have to pay the FAA for noncomliant rivets on certain turboprop planes. Oops.
So is our hometown airline just having one of those bum weeks? Time will tell whether passengers still feel safe and/or respected on Alaska and Horizon flights, but Brown says the airline is known for "handling things quite well" and expects the run of bad PR was just a fluke.