Dense smoke cancels flights at Fairbanks airport

Originally published Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 1:50 p.m.
Updated Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 3:29 p.m.

Tourists from Pella, Iowa, play the card game Tic while waiting for their seven-hour delayed departure from Fairbanks International Airport on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 6, 2009.  Poor visibility caused by smoke from surrounding wildfires has forced large numbers of delayed and canceled flights.  Clockwise from top are Sandy DeCook, Dorothy and Merlyn Vander Leest, Ileen Meppelink, Rob DeCook and Marv Meppelink.
Long lines form at the ticketing counter of Alaska Airlines on Thursday afternoon, July 6, 2009, at the Fairbanks International Airport.  Poor visibility caused by smoke from surrounding wildfires has forced large numbers of delayed and canceled flights.

FAIRBANKS -- Smoke has brought air traffic in and out of Fairbanks nearly to a standstill.

Pete Buist, a fire information officer, said Fairbanks has "serious smoke issues" because no matter what direction the wind blows, the town is downwind of large fires.

Most of the 30-plus flights slated to either arrive at or depart from Fairbanks International Airport since midnight have either been canceled or indefinitely delayed, airport spokeswoman Angela Spear said.

Smoke and falling ash from a number of Interior Alaska wildfires made it difficult to see across the region. Spear said visibility at the airport is hovering between one-half and three-quarters of a mile, low enough for the four airlines flying scheduled routes today to hit the brakes.

Alaska Airlines began diverting and canceling flights at Fairbanks International Airport starting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, a company spokeswoman said. That shutdown has continued into this afternoon, though the airline tried to reach Fairbanks with a few flights today, looking for breaks in the smoke, company spokeswoman Caroline Boren said.

“The pilots have reported back that, unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case, so they’ve turned around,” Boren said. If smoke clears, the company can resume flights immediately, she said, but currently the firm is hoping to add flights from Anchorage to Fairbanks to help customers diverted to Anchorage reach the Interior.

Poor visibility is to blame, but Boren also noted that ash is harmful to the aircraft. She encouraged travelers to check the company’s Web site,, for information before going to the airport.

Delta-Northwest, for example, has diverted two flights, originally bound for Fairbanks, to Anchorage and then used buses to bring passengers north, Spear said.

In addition, Alaska State Troopers are urging motorists to avoid traveling on the Parks Highway if possible.

The damp conditions are expected to give way to dry, warm weather again, so fire managers say crews are using the respite to strengthen fire protection lines.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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  1. outdoorsman
    8/6/2009, 1:58 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    great, my misses has been in Italy for 3 weeks for work, the one day she comes home the airport is closed...well one more day won't kill us.

  2. mushermommy
    8/6/2009, 2:27 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Well the Alaska Airlines website wasn't very helpful. Anyone know where to look? It said there were no advisories and tried to give me a map of the airport when I typed in questions.

  3. lakloey1
    8/6/2009, 2:33 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    musher you need to check flight status for the specific flight

  4. someguyinfbx
    8/6/2009, 2:35 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Flight statuses were showing no cancelled flights all day.

  5. aktreefrog
    8/6/2009, 2:46 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    someguyinfbx, I checked my husband's flight around 1:30pm and it showed that it was cancelled. Maybe you are looking in the wrong place?

  6. slider
    8/6/2009, 3:01 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    mushermommy - if you go to this site
    and put in ANC (for instance) and FAI you get all the flight numbers and times for today.
    Then go to this page
    and put in the flight number. The 1:10 flight was canceled. The 3:00 flight is delayed with an update scheduled at 3:55. They don't say anything helpful about flights after that.

  7. slider
    8/6/2009, 3:23 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    outdoor - Was your wife on the Condor flight? I wonder how many locals were suppose to fly out today.

  8. slider
    8/6/2009, 3:27 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    *supposed* to fly out....

  9. travelbug
    8/6/2009, 3:32 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    I'm a travel agent and we've been refunding tickets all day long. Yuck.

  10. FreeDarfur
    8/6/2009, 3:34 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Check the Anchorage Daily News web site they have a very good picture of the Rex Fire on their front page. Give you a good idea what these fires look like.

  11. gilf
    8/6/2009, 3:41 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    What smoke?

  12. glow
    8/6/2009, 3:43 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Maybe the airlines can book folks on the train to or from Anchorage. Parks Highway is a mess with the smoke and mist--very low visibility. The train seems much safer than buses on the highway.

  13. alaskastoryteller
    8/6/2009, 4:04 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    It was terrible driving in from Two Rivers. I'm surprised they were not closing more roads. But here in Fairbanks life goes on as usual no matter what.

  14. outdoorsman
    8/6/2009, 4:08 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    no she came in from paris to NY to st. paul to seattle, to anchorage, to FAIRBANKS....wait never mind turn it around back to anchorage.

  15. alaska4obama
    8/6/2009, 4:15 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Why doesn't the burro do something about all these cancelled flights? It's our right to fly, they can't do this.....

  16. justasking
    8/6/2009, 4:25 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    you call this haze and pollution?...fbks has nethier much smog and NO traffic jams or such problems.

  17. 4wutitsworth
    8/6/2009, 4:28 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Glow, the train would be a good idea if it wasn't strictly tailored for the tourist trade, not for people commuting between ANC and FAI. Have you ever look at their schedule?
    It's another one of the Alaskan things not designed for Alaskans.

  18. some_guy
    8/6/2009, 4:40 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    the "check flight status" feature on the website is "out of order"

  19. anotherAlaskan
    8/6/2009, 4:42 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    My mom is stuck in the ANC airport trying to get up here. Best website I found was the website for FAI Airport. I found this website the best:

    It lists departing and arriving flights from FAI and seems like all the airlines keep them scheduled until the time passes, but looking at all flights today from AlaskaAir have been cancelled... my mom just told me they boarded flight 189 in ANC to come to Fairbanks a few minutes ago, but according to the website its nit airborn yet.

  20. some_guy
    8/6/2009, 4:45 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Here's a good link to check flight status:

  21. anotherAlaskan
    8/6/2009, 5:01 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    There's a flight on way up right now from ANC (AK Air 189), its going to try to land, if it can't will return to ANC.

  22. hilgeinak
    8/6/2009, 5:34 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    AK Airlines 189 just landed in Fairbanks.

  23. SnowShoeHair
    8/6/2009, 5:56 p.m.
    Suggest removal

  24. pixyfae
    8/6/2009, 6:07 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Hope this all clears up by next Friday, my son is flying back in and then most of the guys in iraq will start coming back the end of the month. Bad enough they are being delayed on their end from sandstorms, we may have to worry about smoke on this end too. I won't complain though, I just want them all home safe!

  25. SpiritofAlaska
    8/6/2009, 8:52 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Kudo's to all the customer services agents working these last couple of days dealing with all the flight cancelations!!

  26. Barks
    8/6/2009, 9:34 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    On Chena Hotsprings road it seems that most have had to slow down to at least sixty . Come Moose or Hereford Heifers , reduced speed , just barely .

  27. Barks
    8/6/2009, 9:39 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    4wutitsworth , Check who owns the rail passenger cars that haul the people from Anchorage to Fairbanks , and back .

  28. chopperchaser
    8/6/2009, 9:53 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    business as usual now at the far
    sitting here now
    thanks for the website, anotheralaskan

  29. 1AkFox
    8/6/2009, 9:59 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    I see a lot of flights up/down CHSR have been delayed.

    Fog is thick! Visibility less than 50' in spots.

    Tulle fog from California.

    Fog is bad when you open the door to look down to find the yellow strip.

    Any old timers remember this kind of fog?

  30. robir8
    8/6/2009, 10:23 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    I worked through most of 2004 up slope. I fought fire for years but even on the line most of the time it wasn't like this. But I'm old and memories are fleeting. Was 2004 this bad? How long was the smoke in town?

  31. spud
    8/6/2009, 10:29 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Us old timers brains are full of smoke,yes in 2004 it just as bad.or even just worst, iam useing two masks, one on top of the other, and smoke still comes year you people will enjoy this smoke with out me this has been my home all my life,but can"nt stay tho no more.

  32. 1AkFox
    8/7/2009, 6:25 a.m.
    Suggest removal


    8/6/2009, 10:29 p.m.
    Suggest removal

    Us old timers brains are full of smoke,yes in 2004 it just as bad.or even just worst, iam useing two masks, one on top of the other, and smoke still comes year you people will enjoy this smoke with out me this has been my home all my life,but can"nt stay tho no more.


    GET A P-100 rated mask.

    They tend to leak around the nose fitting.

    Full face masks are spend-y but don't leak.

    Saw, two kids who fetch shopping carts wearing a face mask.


    By the way, wonder what you get when you mix smoke, ash, creosote, some dust and water?

    There must be some chemical name for it.

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