Cheaper Turboprops Lower Some AK Jet Fares

Cost-cutting on an Alaska Airlines Railbelt route is lowering fares in Southeast.

The airline began flying smaller, turboprop planes between Anchorage and Fairbanks earlier this year. They also flew summer routes between Anchorage and Kodiak.

A southbound Alaska Airlines jet takes off from Petersburg’s airport Sept. 13, 2014. Some of the airline’s fares have been reduced and other price cuts may be coming. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)
A southbound Alaska Airlines jet takes off from Petersburg’s airport Sept. 13, 2014. Some of the airline’s fares have been reduced and other price cuts may be coming. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Alaska Vice President Marilyn Romano says they’re cheaper to operate.

“It’s a cost savings because you’re not using a jet that’s designed for a longer flight, and running it back and forth on a very short segment,” she says. “And so by doing that, then you take it to the next level. Our ultimate goal was to bring down our costs. Then we could, at the same time, look at bringing down fares.”

Romano says some cheaper fares went into place last spring and more are coming. She says they’re separate from steep discounts on summer Seattle-Juneau flights that came after Delta Air Lines began competing on that route.

It’s fairly difficult to pin down those discounts, because of the large number of factors affecting fares. Our own comparison showed some current prices lower and some higher than last fall, winter or spring.

Airline officials were reluctant to release such details, but did provide a few examples.

They say a one-way fare from Juneau to Anchorage purchased two weeks in advance has dropped around 10 percent. Ketchikan to Sitka is down about 12 and a half percent. And Juneau to Seattle was discounted by about a third.

It’s part of a larger effort to make sure Alaskans stay with the airline, if they’re booking a route where they have a choice.

“We have over 500,000 mileage plan members in the state of Alaska. And of that number, we’re over 330,000 Club 49 members,” she says.

The new Alaska Alaska Airlines Recaro seats include plug-ins for phones, computers and similar devices. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)
The new Alaska Alaska Airlines Recaro seats include plug-ins for phones, computers and similar devices. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Alaska Airlines is also adding new interiors to more jets flying in its namesake state.

The airlines’ three larger models have new seats by designed byRecaro, which also makes racing-car seating.

Romano says they’re thinner with the same comfort level and allow for more leg room. Industry observers say they also allow airlines to put more passengers on planes. But they have another feature: They include outlets than can power laptops, tablets and cell phones.

Those seats are mostly on flights traveling longer routes, such as Juneau-Anchorage. They’re not being put on smaller jets, such as “combis,” which fly to smaller communities. Combis carry passengers and freight.

But Romano says smaller aircraft are getting recycled interiors from larger jets with the new seating.

“You’re going to see some newer seats, even on Combis. We’re switching out some of the older seats and putting in newer seats. They’re not Recaro seats, but they’re newer,” she says.

She says smaller communities may occasionally see more recent jets when larger passenger loads are expected.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.