Alaska Airlines

What is freezing rain and why is it so challenging for air travel?

Captain Bret Peyton is Alaska’s managing director of standards, fleet and operational control as well as the FAA-designated director of operations. He has been flying for Alaska for 22 years.

As everyone at Alaska is working hard to get our guests to their holiday destinations, our forecasts are calling for freezing rain in the next few days. I want to explain why that’s so challenging for our operation.

First of all, safety is our highest value at Alaska Airlines, and we never operate a flight unless we know it’s completely safe.

Now to the freezing rain. Let me explain how freezing rain occurs and why it impacts our operation so much. Freezing rain occurs when warm, moist air overrides colder air at the surface. This is called a temperature inversion. The temperature inversion causes super cooled water droplets to adhere to any surface like an aircraft wing or even power lines and tree branches.

The effects of a freezing rain storm in 2012.
We’ve all seen those pictures of power lines with icicles on them. Can you imagine if that was an aircraft wing? Clearly, we cannot operate in those conditions.

Traditional deice methods can combat freezing rain, but only in light conditions. Moderate or heavy freezing rain produces conditions that are almost impossible for any airline to operate in.

Because the forecast is so variable over the next couple days, we’re unsure how much freezing rain we’re going to get in Seattle and Portland, but we do anticipate having at least some freezing rain in these two main hubs.

Our pilots at Alaska Airlines are very well-versed in operating in wintertime conditions, and we will not operate an aircraft unless it’s safe. Suffice it to say if the aircraft is moving, it’s safe to do so.

Be assured, everyone at Alaska Airlines wants to get you to your destination safely this holiday season. We’ll do everything in our power to get you where you need to go. In the meantime, keep your eye on the forecast, check on your flight before you leave for the airport, and take advantage of our flexible travel waivers if you can. From everyone at Alaska Airlines, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season.

Images: Ingrid Barrentine, Alaska Airlines