Last weekend, SkyWest Airlines joined American, Spirit and Southwest in delaying and canceling a huge number of flights all at once. Mass flight cancelations this year have been catching countless travelers by surprise, including myself. Here’s what it’s like trying to find your way home through it all.
Last week I found myself in Bend, Oregon playing with the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness. The event concluded normally, and everyone was getting ready to head home in the morning. But this time was different, as those leaving before dawn received messages that their SkyWest Airlines flights out were canceled. Some heard that it was because of high winds while others heard storms. Later, SkyWest confirmed the real reason: a server outage.
If you’ve never heard of SkyWest Airlines before, you’re not alone, but it’s a pretty big deal. SkyWest is a regional airline that partners with mainline airlines including Alaska, American, Delta and United for service to various hubs and small airports. Its planes are often painted in the mainline carrier’s livery, with SkyWest printed elsewhere.
If you’re flying to an airport so small that you deplane right onto the tarmac, like Oregon’s Redmond Municipal Airport, chances are the plane you rode in on is operated by SkyWest.
SkyWest got its servers back online Thursday night, but the impact rippled through its schedule as planes and crews weren’t in position. It went on to cancel 700 flights that Thursday and another 600 on Friday, reports Airline Geeks. And hundreds of the flights that were still flying experienced delays.
The canceled flights added up to 25 percent of its schedule over the two days. That doesn’t sound that bad, but its huge for small airports that rely on SkyWest. Redmond Municipal says that some 30 flights depart from its field every day.
Sometimes a flight departing Redmond for a destination is the only flight headed that way, and having it canceled means being stuck without many options. This was the situation faced by some that day, and a few took a drastic measure: driving six hours north to Seattle to get on a flight with a mainline airline.
My afternoon flight wasn’t canceled, but delayed by an hour and a half. The delay meant that I’d miss my connection in Denver to get back to Chicago, but at least I was headed the right direction.
There was a lot of confusion and frustration in Redmond Municipal as the airport filled with stuck travelers. Meanwhile, gate agents announced freshly canceled flights for different airlines. Even the gate agents seemed overwhelmed as they tried to wade through the meltdown.
United Airlines also sold too many tickets for my flight. The agent announced that boarding would not begin when the plane arrived until two people volunteered to stay behind for $700. A number of people stepped up the counter willing to take free money to stay behind, but the $700 turned out to be travel vouchers. Considering that some on this flight had already missed a morning flight and had to cobble together a way to get home, it took a long time to find two people.
Eventually, the Embraer E175 for my flight landed. It was later than expected, initially parked in the wrong spot and had to be cleaned by the gate agent, but I wasn’t complaining.
I made it to Denver, then got on one of the last flights headed to Chicago. Others weren’t so lucky, having to stay in Redmond for an extra day or at a connecting airport for a day.
These events highlight how seemingly small things can derail an airline for multiple days. Thankfully, SkyWest recovered over the weekend and operations are back to normal.