Kodiak fliers are used to weather delays, but it wasn’t clouds or fog that left hundreds of disappointed travelers over the weekend. Instead, technical upgrades were what grounded Era Alaska’s fleet of 12 planes.
“We had some equipment issues over the weekend,” Era spokesperson Steve Smith said. “All Era Aviation flights were grounded. We are slowly, but surely coming back from that.”
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration determined cockpit voice recorders on Era flights did not meet federal regulations. The oversight was discovered during an investigation after an Era plane dropped 5,000 feet during a flight from Anchorage to Homer on Sept. 6, Smith said.
The equipment issue wasn’t a safety problem, but Era grounded all planes on Saturday and Sunday to begin the necessary upgrades. Smith said around 712 passengers on Saturday and 965 on Sunday were affected by the statewide grounding.
Era also said bad weather in the Gulf of Alaska played a role in the groundings.
As of 1 p.m. Monday afternoon, three of the 12 planes had been upgraded. The upgrade doesn’t take very long, but the process to get the aircraft certified is what causes delays, Smith said.
“At this time I can’t speculate how long it will be,” Smith said. “Some aircraft may take an hour and others may take a day.”
Passengers who were scheduled to fly Era have been switched to Alaska Airlines flights or have had their flights rescheduled.
Era Kodiak station manager Charles Bona said Era employees are working to get people in Kodiak the first flights out that they can. Around 100 people in Kodiak were affected by the grounding over the weekend, he said.
“People have been pretty understanding,” Bona said. “We’re doing what we can, keeping them informed and letting them know what the earliest flights are.”
Some passengers were frustrated with the delays because they were missing work.
“The first story we got was not the true story,” said traveler Paul Ritch, who was headed to New Orleans, La. on Sunday. “At first they said it was for weather. We all missed extra days at work and had to stay another night. It was very discouraging.”
The first Era flight into Kodiak arrived around 3 p.m. Monday afternoon. Several travelers who had been checking on flights continuously with the Era staff were able to get on the outgoing flight.
Chyri Henderson was in Kodiak for her 15-year high school reunion and was scheduled to fly back to Anchorage on Sunday.
“We had called to check on the flight and that’s when they told me the flights were cancelled,” Henderson said. “I called about five times in the last 24 hours. I kept calling and calling.”
Henderson called about an hour before the Era flight was scheduled to arrive in Kodiak and was able to get a spot on the plane.
In response to the delays, Alaska Airlines has tried to accommodate as many of the Era passengers as possible.
“We are increasing availability,” said Keri Smith, manager at Alaska Airlines in Kodiak. “We’re bringing in aircraft with more seats.”
On Monday, Alaska Airlines brought in a plane with 140 seats, as opposed to the 72-seat plane that originally scheduled. Alaska Airlines expects to have two flights today with increased seating.
Era Alaska passengers scheduled for flights can get up-to-date information by calling 1-800-866-8394.