OPINION: Air carrier should offer more flexibility for residents of rural communities
I am writing to share my thoughts and concerns with our local flight options for our villages within the North Slope Region. The villages of Pt. Lay, Wainwright, Atqasuk, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik rely on RAVN for air transportation between our hometowns and the regional hub, which is Utqiaġvik (Barrow). RAVN is the only air carrier that flies into these villages on a scheduled basis; therefore, village patrons have the choice to either remain in their hometowns or pay the airfare price to get into Utqiaġvik or to another village.
Patrons from these villages pay increased amounts to fly into Utqiaġvik from their hometowns for many reasons such as medical, personal, and business purposes. As time passes, the price for airfare within the North Slope Region has increased. I remember paying $50 cash for a round-trip ticket, and I know those days are long gone. I understand the economy and how businesses fluctuate due to supply and demand. However, I believe that there should be other options and/or accommodations for the villages within the North Slope Region. I believe that because of the remoteness and limited options with air transportation within the region, the only local carrier into the villages, named above, should be willing to accommodate patrons when things occur that are beyond personal control. For example, patrons who cannot make a flight due to weather, should be able to make changes to their tickets (made with points) without penalty.
Many patrons utilize the program's rewards points earned to cover the fee for the regular-priced tickets to subsidize the high cost of purchasing a regular airfare seat. Points are earned by purchasing multiple regular fare tickets and flying the segments. Using the earned points, comes with the risk of paying for added costs to make changes to flight reservations, or lose the points when flight reservations are not completed, or pay more fees to recover points, or reimburse unused tickets.
When flying between our hometowns and the hub, personal circumstances can affect the mindset of the patron. For example, if a family member is being medically sent out to Utqiaġvik or Anchorage, the paying patrons' mind is on being there for their family, not the added fees to make reservation changes. Or, if the weather causes cancellations and the patrons are trying to figure out the next step to take when trying to make it to their next destination. When this occurs, patrons are experiencing many emotions. I believe that circumstances like these, the only local air carrier into the villages should be willing to overlook added costs to make reservation changes. Patrons are already paying an increased amount to fly out of and into their respective homes.
As a patron for many years, I have had many experiences with our local air carrier. Many phone calls have been made to make and/or change reservations (at a cost in most cases), to pay for freight from Utqiaġvik to Wainwright, to locate freight that has not arrived in weeks, and to get information about flight schedules. In many cases, the concerns have been resolved at my expense, but a few calls to resolve concerns have been a loss for me.
In addition, I have experienced flights that have remained on schedule, but sadly experienced more flight delays due to various carrier reasons (limited pilots, limited hours for pilots, and chartered flights take priority), which have affected my ability to make my next destination on time.
I believe there is a solution that can be agreed upon between competing air carriers to allow more air carrier businesses to possibly start up a business in the region. I believe paying patrons could be better accommodated when it comes to being more flexible and understanding when unforeseen circumstances occur when traveling within the region.
I know that I will continue paying the airfare cost to travel within my region. I could use a boat in the summer, or a ski-doo during the winter to travel to Utqiaġvik from Wainwright, but that would be riskier, in my opinion, as a traveler.
I ask that RAVN provide more flexibility to its patrons without financial penalties when making changes to reservations and provide a lower cost in airfare as we are already paying for a high cost of living expenses in our respective villages, which we call our home.
Edna Ahmaogak is a resident of Wainwright.