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Saturday, January 21, 2012 - Page updated at 09:30 a.m.

Sea-Tac open, but many flights canceled

By Carol Pucci
Seattle Times travel writer

All runways at Sea-Tac Airport reopened Friday as ice and snow turned to slush, but many travelers, especially those booked in Alaska Airlines, will find that their flights have been canceled again today.

Seattle-based Alaska which, along with Horizon Air, handle about half the passenger traffic in and out of Seattle, made a decision Thursday night to cancel 50 flights out of Seattle on Friday, and plans to operate only about 60 percent of its 120 departures. Horizon Air will operate 89 percent of its flights, said spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.

Due to the unusual icing conditions Thursday, Alaska said it was taking one hour to deice each aircraft — four times longer than normal — and required quadruple the amount of deicing fluid.

Faced with changing weather forecasts, the airlines made their best guess on what to do, Egan said.

"Last night we were getting forecasts for light freezing rain and freezing temperatures in the morning hours which combined certainly could have had a significant impact on our ability to launch any flights."

As a result, she said the airlines decided to "take a slow and measured approach" to restarting operations.

Passengers raised questions about the cancellations on Alaska's Facebook page, and complained of being kept on hold or not being able to get through to reservations agents by phone to rebook flights.

"We feel awful about this," Egan said, adding that hold times Thursday could be as long as 45 minutes even though the airlines ramped up reservations-agent staffing by 35 percent.

Passengers booked on canceled flights to or from Seattle between Jan. 17 and Jan. 22 can request a refund of the unused portion of their ticket through Wednesday, or the airline will rebook them on another flight with no change fee.

While refund requests can be processed online, rebooking must be done on the phone. At one point on Thursday, 750 calls made to Alaska's reservations center were on hold at one time.

Alaska and Horizon canceled 310 flights to and from Seattle by early Thursday evening affecting 29,000 passengers. Only 15 of Alaska's 114 daily flights and one Horizon flight had departed Seattle by that time as the ice storm hit.

Other airlines canceled some flights Friday, and passengers are urged to check their airline's website on flight status before heading to the airport. Among the cancellations were United flights to Denver and Chicago and Southwest flights to Dallas and Las Vegas.

Carol Pucci: cpucci@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @carolpucci.

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