Wildfires force Alaska Airlines to suspend some Oregon, Washington flights

Wildfires in Oregon; Oregon DOT service vehicle in foreground.

Worsening smoke conditions prompted Alaska Airlines (NYSE: ALK to suspend all flights for 24 hours in Portland, Oregon, and Spokane, Washington, beginning at 3 p.m. on Monday.

Otherwise, airline and parcel delivery networks have experienced limited disruption from the devastating wildfires that have impacted millions of people on the West Coast, according to airports and carriers operating in the region.

“Across the West, fires are creating thick smoke and haze, causing very poor air quality conditions in the Portland and Spokane areas. We made the difficult decision to stop our operation so that our employees and guests can remain safe,” Alaska Airlines said on its blog. 

Alaska Airlines, along with its regional carrier Horizon Air, has canceled dozens of flights in Portland and Spokane until at least 3 p.m. on Tuesday. 

Alaska and Horizon have also canceled flights at smaller airports due to fire and smoke. Those airports include Eugene, Medford and Redmond/Bend in Oregon, and Pasco and Walla Walla in Washington.

Improving weather conditions in the coming days could begin to dissipate smoke in Portland and Spokane. However, other airports in the West could be impacted by drifting smoke, Alaska Air said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Monday issued a dense smoke advisory for visibility of one mile or less in the Portland area, which it warned posed hazardous driving conditions. 

At Portland International Airport (PDX), located less than 25 miles from the closest blaze, limited visibility led to several flight cancellations and the diversion of at least one cargo jet. 

Alaska Airlines canceled three flights on Sunday and 12 flights on Monday, according to the PDX website. Mexican airline Volaris has also canceled a flight scheduled for Tuesday. 

Delta Air Lines has so far canceled 55 flights, mostly to smaller airports in Oregon, operated by regional partners under the Delta Connection brand. No mainline aircraft were affected, a Delta spokesman said.

Parcel carriers

The only impact so far on UPS (NYSE: UPS) was the diversion of one flight from PDX, UPS Airlines spokesman Mike Mangeot said.

UPS is not making pickups and deliveries in 45 ZIP codes in California and Oregon where it is not safe to operate or where the fires have displaced businesses and homeowners.

“We will make every effort to resume service in those areas as soon as safety allows,” he said. “Customers with questions about their shipments can track them at UPS.com.”

In disaster situations, UPS typically holds onto shipments in areas where it will be able to quickly return, Mangeot said. In cases where permanent or lasting damage makes deliveries infeasible, packages are normally returned to the shipper.

The smoke has not materially impacted Amazon Air (NASDAQ: AMZN) operations, a spokesperson for the company said in an email.

“As for delivery stations, out of an abundance of caution we have closed some stations (and reopened when safe), and continue to closely monitor air quality to ensure the health and safety of our drivers and associates. None of the closures have had material impact to operations,” the Amazon official said.

FedEx could not be reached in time for publication.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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