Heavy fog crippling life in Juneau

Posted: Friday, November 01, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- It's desperation time for fog-blinded Juneau.

People were chartering boats to get to Juneau this week as heavy fog continued to ground flights. And the only mail moving was electronic.

Air passengers stranded in Sitka hired a boat Wednesday to get them to Juneau. Nearly 60 Alaska Airlines passengers chartered an Allen Marine Tours catamaran for $60 each.

Allen Marine planned to offer more sailings between Juneau and Sitka Thursday, and would consider doing them on a day-by-day basis if the fog continues, said company President Rob Allen.

No Alaska Airlines flights arrived or departed in Juneau on Tuesday or Wednesday, and landings weren't likely Thursday, said company spokesman Jack Walsh.

''It's been years since we had anything like this,'' he said. The airline didn't even try to fly passengers from Anchorage or Seattle to Juneau on Wednesday.

Passengers waved wildly, smiled broadly and applauded as the Allen Marine catamaran arrived at Auke Bay harbor at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

But they were less happy earlier in the day. Some had been through multi-day odysseys of flying to Juneau, only to be diverted to Yakutat, Cordova, Anchorage and Seattle.

''It's not like (the fog) was a one-day deal. This has been going on for at least a week,'' Alaska Airlines passenger Yuri Lackey told the Juneau Empire.

Alaska Airlines ''should have sought a different route to get these people home. Some of these people are running out of money,'' Lackey said.

Walsh said Alaska Airlines, like other carriers, doesn't provide vouchers for food or lodging if flight delays are caused by the weather. He couldn't recall an instance when the carrier provided another form of transportation for its stranded passengers.

''As a courtesy, we may try to help them find some alternative arrangements. But as far as compensation for any expenses they accrue, we're not able to do anything there,'' he said. Passengers will get refunds for the unused portions of their trip, he said.

Mail delivery was also affected by the fog.

''We haven't seen any planes in the last three or four days,'' said Andy Ritzman, manager of Aero Services, which handles the loading, unloading and distribution of U.S. Postal Service mail from planes at the Juneau Airport to post offices in town.

Evergreen Airlines, which transports mail from the Lower 48 to Ketchikan, Sitka and Juneau, has been leaving Juneau's mail in Sitka, Ritzman said. Authorities with the Juneau Postal Service said 41,000 pounds of mail destined for Juneau was waiting at the Sitka airport.

If the weather remained unflyable Thursday afternoon, postal authorities in Sitka planned to put Juneau's mail on the evening ferry, said Juneau Postmaster Kent Eriksen. Usually, the Postal Service uses the ferry system only during the busy Christmas season.

Once planes can resume flights into and out of the Juneau, the mail system will be running on schedule in a few days, Eriksen said.

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