Wherefore Art Thou Sky West?

Yesterday I said some pretty nice things about Rapid City, and today I would likely to partly qualify that by talking about why it is that I got up at 3AM this morning to get ready and to go the airport and why it is that I am now scheduled to arrive at Portland some eight and a half hours later than had been the case, and why this would be the third route planned so far for my trip back from Rapid City to Portland. A few months ago, when my mother and I originally booked this trip, we were going to fly into Montana on the way to Rapid City, but that route was dropped, and from what I can see from the flights in and out of Rapid City there are no regular flights through that city whatsoever at present (there certainly are not any of them today [1]).

In looking up information on Rapid City, I saw that it was not a base for SkyWest, and this appears to have caused at least some difficulties with its flights. I can imagine that if you are, say, a pilot on reserve at Dallas, Chicago, and Phoenix (the three bases for Sky West in association with American that have direct connections to Rapid City, or Charlotte, which is a base for American but not for Sky West), that it might not be an easy thing to get to Rapid City in a pinch, and since all the pilots here would be commuting pilots, I can see how it would be rough to get pilots there early enough in the morning to leave at just after 6AM. Apparently that was a problem, because the flight we were supposed to be going on has been delayed for four hours, thus dramatically changing our own plans accordingly, as we have been routed now through Phoenix and then on to Portland.

Why would Rapid City in particular present such problems for Sky West and other regional carriers to adequately cover? Looking at the airport arrivals and departures website again, of all of the flights currently scheduled that flight we were supposed to make for Dallas was delayed for four hours, and another flight, a United Express flight into Denver that was scheduled for an hour and a half from now as I write this, was cancelled altogether. Two further arrivals, a United Express flight from Chicago and a Delta Connection flight from Minneapolis, are already going to be late long before they arrive. This is a hazard that comes from being a regional airport that is not a base, and that is that one is at the mercy of the logistics of the flight industry, and frequently it can be imagined that those airports which are served from more remote bases find it hard to get replacement crews in case of sickness, injury, or absence from a flight crew that had stayed overnight in the city and was now being called upon to leave.

As a traveler who is interested in how regional pilots live–and who has viewed people talking about their experiences as line or reserve pilots going to and staying in remote locations, it is easy to ponder how it is that flights sometimes fall through the cracks. For someone to be able to crew a 6AM flight from a city that has no base for an airlines would require the pilots and cabin crew to have been in the city the night before from a previous flight–either one they were working on or a repositioning flight from somewhere else. Given how crowded flights are for American Airlines at present from my traveling experiences, it would not be a surprise to find out that the lack of room for enough jumpseats might make it impossible to get a full crew present in Rapid City to fly out on the morning flight, thus making for a cascading set of difficulties for American Airlines as flights are re-arranged throughout the day as people struggle to make it back home.

And, let us not forget, that struggle is real. While I was sitting near the check-in and using my computer, I saw a woman talking on the phone and deeply frustrated because the delay of her flight–she was scheduled to be on the same 6AM flight that my mother and I were supposed to be on–which has especially difficult consequences for her. The 6AM flight to Dallas was apparently the only one that allowed her to make a connection back to Jamaica, and given Jamaica’s rather serious rules about covid testing when traveling, that could be a very serious matter, given the difficulty of finding flights there. I know, speaking from personal experience, that both flying to and from Jamaica and dealing with the covid-related restrictions there on testing are by no means easy matters, and my thoughts and prayers are certainly with the stranded traveler, who was hopefully able to find a way home sooner than two days.

[1] According to the Rapid City airport arrivals and departures website, here are the cities from which one can get to on a day like today from Rapid City directly:

Minneapolis (5)
Denver (5)
Chicago (4)
Dallas (3)
Charlotte (1)
Newark (1)
Phoenix (1)

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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