Travelers delayed by airline cancellations in Dutch Harbor

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

UNALASKA (AP) -- Alaska Airlines has canceled half its Dutch Harbor flights in April, as well as flights to other hubs of Bush Alaska.

The airline last week canceled its afternoon flight to and from Dutch Harbor for the rest of April, stranding dozens of fishermen and processing plant workers who want to get out of the fishing hub.

Bruce LaLonde, the company's Alaska director of station operations, told the Dutch Harbor Fisherman newspaper that the company is also canceling regular flights to Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow and Bethel to catch up on maintenance.

After the crash of flight 261 in February, he said many routine upkeep chores were delayed while resources were poured into the investigation. Now the company is working to catch up, in Alaska and Outside.

''Frankly, we just got behind the curve on our maintenance,'' he said.

Unalaska's travel agents accept the explanation, but say the move couldn't come at a worse time. With the end of opilio Tanner crab season Saturday, hundreds of weary travelers are piling up in Unalaska. Every seat departing Dutch Harbor is filled through April 21.

''There are just not enough seats,'' said Jan Newkirk, an agent at Sea 'n Air Travel. ''A lot of the fishermen are just frustrated because they pay a lot of money for those tickets.''

To add to the grumbling, Alaska Airlines instituted a sudden price hike on its fares from Dutch Harbor to Seattle. A one-way ticket now costs $603, compared to $585 a few weeks ago.

The problem figures to get worse next week, when many employees at local processing plants will begin trickling out of town. Seafood companies are accustomed to buying huge blocks of airline tickets for their departing workers, but that simply isn't an option this month.

More flights could emerge to pick up some of the travelers. Pen Air has scheduled an extra afternoon flight for the rest of April, adding 16 to 30 seats per day.

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