Alaska Airlines officials addressed members of the House Finance Committee and attendees from the public at Tuesday’s “Lunch and Learn” event at the Alaska State Capitol, touting advancements they said are intended to better serve Alaskans and hinting at the airline’s future plans.
Marilyn Romano, regional vice president for Alaska, said the SeaTac, Wash.-based airline will likely add new flight destinations this year, which she said will be “a very exciting year for us.”
“We are constantly evaluating where a good fit is for Alaska Airlines out of Anchorage or Fairbanks to where those destinations would be most beneficial to our customers, particularly when it comes to our customers making connections,” Romano said. “While I can’t divulge (which destinations may be added) right now, I can say that there probably will be some this year.”
However, asked whether new routes in and out of Juneau International Airport were being considered, Alaska sales and community marketing director Scott Habberstad said none are planned.
“There’s nothing currently on the books,” said Habberstad.
“That would be very difficult at this point for us to do, but it’s not something that we don’t consider,” Romano explained after the presentation. “Because we look at everything, but, you know, we have to strategically decide if we’re going to grow, where do we need to grow?”
Alaska Airlines announced last month that it will add a direct route between Fairbanks and Portland, Ore., starting this summer.
“That was the first time we’ve ever added any nonstop flight other than, out of the state, other than Fairbanks to Seattle,” said Romano. “So that was a big deal. And so, I never say never, but I also say that it takes a long time to make a change like that, or add an addition outside of Anchorage, just because of the size of the market.”
Although it seems Juneau will miss out on Alaska Airlines’ near-term expansion plans, the capital city’s airport did figure prominently in Romano’s presentation.
Romano talked about required navigation performance, or RNP — a system that helps guide airplanes on runway approaches. Alaska Airlines pioneered the use of RNP in the 1990s to improve approaches into Juneau International Airport along the Gastineau Channel, as shown in a video clip included in the presentation.
“Last year alone, I mean, this type of equipment — we had 654 flights that landed in the city they were supposed to land in, on time, because we had this equipment,” Romano said. “So just know that if for whatever reason you ended up in Sitka when you wanted to end up in Juneau, it’s when everything else was not possible. So the weather has to be really bad.”
In an apparent reference to Alaska Airlines’ service to various communities in Alaska where weather conditions are often harsh and airport facilities may be underdeveloped, Romano remarked, “We fly airplanes where a lot of other airlines would never attempt to fly.”
Throughout the presentation, Romano and Habberstad talked about what Alaska Airlines is doing to appeal to Alaskans, such as its “Club 49” program rolled out in fall 2011.
“Right now, as of this week, we have 309,000 Club 49 members in the state of Alaska,” said Romano of the program, which offers discounts, weekly sales and two free checked bags per flight to participating Alaskans.
Habberstad fielded another question about perceived high fares for flights in and out of Juneau. He conceded that fares to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are sometimes cheaper out of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport than they are from Juneau, which is closer to Seattle but sees much less traffic than Anchorage.
“Our structured fares from Juneau to Seattle are actually cheaper by about $50 than it is Anchorage to Seattle,” Habberstad said. “Where you do see the difference — and it’s not an illusion — there are times where there will be more sales and a sale fare from Anchorage to Seattle that is, at times, lower than what you can see in Juneau. That’s true. And that’s a function of, in the summer, 20 flights a day going Anchorage to Seattle and … basically just more capacity to sell.”
A one-way flight from Juneau to Seattle booked one week out, departing next Tuesday, starts at $368.60. By way of comparison, a one-way flight from Anchorage to Seattle for the same day starts at $411.
However, the current Club 49 fare sale offers one-way flights starting at $221.50 from Juneau to Portland, as compared to flights from Anchorage to Portland for $214 or more, starting April 9. The latter flights are nonstop, while the former flights include a layover in Seattle.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at email@example.com.