Alaska Air’s Flight Cutoff Time Shortened

Sam Grainger-Shuba

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Illustration by Eddy Vazquez

Whitman College students will no longer be able to catch flights last minute out of Walla Walla, which may cause frustration during the end of semester rush to return home. Effective on Oct. 30, Horizon/Alaska Air of the Walla Walla airport changed its cutoff time for checking into a flight from 30 minutes to 40 minutes, specifically targeting passengers without checked baggage.

Brian Dohe, Whitman’s director of annual giving, heard the announcement while waiting for a flight in the Walla Walla Regional Airport. It prompted him to send a notice to campus in hopes of avoiding frustration in the impending holiday season.

“I suspect that for students and staff, [the change] could cause people to miss their flights,” said Dohe.

According to Horizon/Alaska Airline’s Greg Sullivan, the change has been a long time coming.

“We have actually been at a 40-minute cutoff for checked bags for over a year now, but we had kept our counter open until 30 minutes prior. We had been letting those passengers know that they were late and in the future they wouldn’t be allowed to check bags with a 40-minute cutoff,” he said.

He also commented that the change has only been made to standardize check-in times, thus minimizing delays and making sure all passengers and bags get on the airplanes.

Dohe has noticed that more passengers tend to carry bags on the plane, rather than check them, possibly due to the fee for checked luggage. The increase in carry-on bags has led to congestion at the security checkpoint, which he speculates could be the reason for the change in cut-off time.

“One of the days I flew out recently, they left six people behind who had not yet cleared security,” said Dohe. “They’re not joking around about this.”

For students, the effects of this change can depend based on where they are flying and for how long. Though it may seem intuitive that the change might negatively affect those who live further from Walla Walla, that may not necessarily be the case.

“I hardly ever fly without checking bags,” said first-year Molly Coates, a native Pennsylvanian.

Dohe suggested that the change might have more of an effect on students, faculty and staff flying for short trips, to places such as Seattle.

“If a student is checking a bag, he or she may plan on arriving early enough to check that bag and get through security,” he said. “But if you’re flying without any checked baggage, you’ve printed out your boarding pass on campus, and you think you’re ready to go to the airport whenever, that will not be the case anymore. You might have missed that 40-minute window to get to the airport. Sometimes I see Whitties, Whitman staff, faculty and townspeople that I know showing up [at the airport] with minutes to spare.”

Coates agrees and points out that transportation also plays a role.

“It’s hard to finagle when to get your flight, depending on when the buses go. So if you have to get to your flight 40 minutes ahead of time, but the bus only gets you there 30 minutes ahead, you’ll have to rearrange your whole plan,” said Coates.

First-year Kyla Foreman agrees to an extent, but suggests that the change might have a more dramatic effect on long distance travelers.

“Since I live in California, it means being awake all day and having to wait longer than necessary,” said Foreman. “The farther you are from Walla Walla, the more bothersome it is. Being in an airport really early and having a long flight home is no one’s cup of tea.”

Dohe hopes that by being aware of the change in requirements, students will be able to plan ahead better and will not have any trouble getting home during the holidays.

“I thought this needed to be shared within the Whitman community and announced broadly on campus to minimize any disruptions for students, faculty and staff when they’re flying in and out of Walla Walla,” said Dohe.

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