Social media spread word before company made official announcement
Social media from Valdez went into a frenzy late last week as customers of Grant Aviation, the regional airline that provided a competing passenger air service between Valdez and Anchorage, learned the airline was pulling out of the Valdez market this Friday.
“Right now, it’s the talk of the town,” Grant employee Richard Albright said Monday morning. “We just found out this weekend.”
That did not stop disappointed customers from discussing the issue on social media, most asking unanswered questions.
Tuesday morning, Bob Engebretson, the company’s Valdez manager, was making the rounds in Valdez, visiting business account holders, such as the Valdez Star.
“It’s been an intense couple of days,” Engebretson said when asked why commercial customers had not been notified of the airlines intention to cease operations in Valdez.
The Valdez Star has expedited its newspapers from Anchorage to Valdez through Grant Aviation for over a year. Like many commercial accounts, the Valdez Star heard about Grant’s abrupt departure through the Valdez rumor mill.
A quick call Monday to the Valdez office confirmed the rumor, but with little or no detail. Calls to the Anchorage office were not returned.
Engebretson said the reason commercial accounts were not contacted right away was due to the fact that he and Albright were overwhelmed over the weekend trying to assist the vast number of skiers and other private travelers with reservations for the heavily booked March ski season. Era Aviation, which also services the Valdez / Anchorage route, was also hopping.
“I don’t want to besmirch the travel industry in Valdez,” Engebretson said. “I made hundreds of calls yesterday and the day before.”
The move comes on the heels of the news that Grant had closed its Homer office, causing the rumor mill to speculate on further cuts in Alaska operations.
Engebretson defended the company’s solvency.
“These guys haven’t been around Alaska for 40 years for nothing,” he said, noting that Alaska’s regional air carriers face numerous obstacles and challenges in day to day operations. “Grant’s business is vital elsewhere.”
Engebretson pointed out that Grant’s Valdez competitor, Era Aviation, recently announced it would no longer provide winter air service between Cordova and Anchorage.
Grant began competing with Era Aviation in the tricky Valdez/Anchorage market in May of 2010.
Engebretson said Grant had come close – but failed – to achieve profitability in Valdez and was reallocating its resources to more lucrative markets.
On its website Tuesday morning, the airline still plugged its Valdez and Kenai runs, while publicizing that fact it serves 45 remote Alaska communities such as “Bethel, Cold Bay, Dillingham, Dutch Harbor, Emmonak and King Salmon.”