Monday night, 2008 November 17, at 2100h I left Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport aboard Alaska flight AS-119 bound for Anchorage, Alaska (depart at 2100h; scheduled to arrive at 2340h). About 2 hours after the plane took off from Seattle the pilot, thoughtfully and thankfully announced that he was making an unscheduled stop at Yakutak airport,northwest of Juneau, Alaska to take on fuel. The pilot, in announcements to the passengers from “the flight deck” repeatedly said that the plane was taking on fuel because of weather conditions (fog) in Anchorage. According to an April 2008 MSNBC article entitled, Pilots claim airliners forced to fly with low fuel; Cost-cutting measures create serious risk for fliers, flight crews complain,, at least some of the major carriers are flying aircraft with a fuel load below or precariously close to the FAA required minimum. It seems to me, based on my experience Monday night, that Alaska Airlines might be a guilty of flying with too little fuel. Quoting from the the MSNBC article:

“FAA regulations are precise: A plane must take off with enough primary fuel to reach its destination and then its most distant alternate airport based on conditions. It must carry a reserve of 45 minutes’ worth of fuel on top of that.”

I’d be curious to know, and will be investigating further, how many times Alaska Airlines flights en route to Anchorage have stopped in Yakutat to refuel in the recent past?

It seems to me that Alaska Airlines is being rather cavalier. After all, flying to and from Alaska is not an inexpensive proposition and now, in addition to the price of the fare, I have to worry if Alaska Air has loaded enough fuel onto the plane to get me home safely. Because Alaska Air may not have sufficiently fueled the plane I was on, I and a Boeing 737 full of passengers (there was not one empty seat on the aircraft), more than 250 souls, had to arrive at our final destination 2-hours late so that the Airline could provide us with the safe travel that we should have been guaranteed when the plane left the ground in Seattle. Seriously, the thought of a winter rescue operation, at night, somewhere between Anchorage and Fairbanks (the alternate airport) is beyond my comprehension – hmmmm. Hmmm indeed.

PS I wonder if the pilot got any flak from Alaska Airlines management for his decision to stop and take on fuel in Yakutak?