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Fairbanks tour of planes that will replace jets

Posted: September 11, 2013 - 12:01am

FAIRBANKS — Alaska Airlines officials plan to provide warm boarding for Fairbanks customers when the company makes the switch from jets to turboprop aircraft on flights to Anchorage.

Starting in March, Alaska Airlines will fly 76-seat Bombardier Q400s on most routes between Fairbanks and Anchorage. The change is expected to save money by cutting fuel costs and providing more flexibility, with eight daily round-trip flights planned, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. It also freed up 737s that will be used by Alaska Airlines for recently announced nonstop routes from Anchorage to Las Vegas and Anchorage to Phoenix.

The Fairbanks flights will be operated by the airline’s sister company, Horizon Air. A lone daily 737 flight also will remain on the route.

When the change was announced in June, it was met with some skepticism. While Fairbanks International Airport is equipped with jet ways to board jets, passengers expressed frustration that they would have to board the new aircraft from outside, saying they don’t want to cross an icy tarmac to board a plane when temperatures reach 40 below zero. There were questions, too, about how disabled passengers would board.

Horizon Air President Glenn Johnson said both issues will be resolved by the time service begins next year. He said a passageway will allow temperature-controlled access to planes and that several options are being considered to accommodate disabled passengers though no final decision has been made.

“We will make sure customers are warm and safe and dry,” Johnson said.

Alaska Airlines brought a Q400 to Fairbanks for tours on Monday. Visitors wandered the aisles, while employees handed out brochures.

Johnson said the move to the Q400s will cut costs by about 30 percent. He said the difference in flight time also will be negligible.

The aircraft are about 12 feet shorter than a 737-400 and hold about half as many passengers. The interior is noticeably smaller, with two seats on each side of the aisle. But Horizon officials said the space for a seated passenger is the same as in a larger plane.

Company officials said the planes won’t be a downgrade for passengers.

Perry Solmonson, director of flight standards and training for Horizon Air, said the planes feature technologies that will allow them to better avoid winter storms and limit vibrations. There will be two flight attendants on each route.

“You always wish you had your dad’s keys to the hot rod,” Solmonson said, gesturing to the plane. “This is that.”

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