A cargo jumbo jet facing the camera silhouetted in night sky with smoke from fires creating red background.

The Pacific Northwest is shrouded in smoke from dozens of wildfires burning in Oregon, Washington and California. It’s a huge economic, ecological, safety and health disaster for millions of residents. Every aspect of life is impacted, including the freight transportation sector.

On Monday, Alaska Airlines suspended operations for 24 hours between Monday and Tuesday afternoons at Portland International Airport (PDX) in Oregon, and Spokane, Washington. Visibility was terrible, less than half a mile in some areas, but that wasn’t why Alaska and its Horizon Airlines subsidiary shut down. The primary reason was concern for employee and customer safety.

“The 24-hour suspension of flights allowed us time to implement a new safety protocol that directs our employees to work a reduced number of hours outside when there’s poor air quality. … Our employees’ exposure over the course of their shifts will be limited to keep their air intake below unhealthy levels. To help keep them safe, they will have access to personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks,” the airline said on its blog.

Air quality readings in the Portland metropolitan area are rated as extremely hazardous, giving the region the dubious distinction of having the worst air pollution in the world. 

Alaska Air’s decision to curtail exposure for employees is similar to the Portland IKEA store shutting down so workers didn’t have to brave the poor air getting to work and Waste Connections canceling trash pickup in Vancouver, Washington, for three consecutive days. Meanwhile, Amazon, FedEx, UPS and U.S. Postal Service drivers are making their rounds.

Transportation and delivery companies are mostly managing through the situation with little disruption, but a couple of cargo flights at PDX were diverted, and areas in fire zones aren’t reachable for parcel delivery.  

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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