Delta touches down in Sitka

Delta landed it’s first flight in Sitka for the 2015 summer season. Daily flights will operate directly from Seattle and provide direct competition to Alaska Airlines. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)
Delta landed it’s first flight in Sitka for the 2015 summer season. Daily flights will operate directly from Seattle and provide direct competition to Alaska Airlines. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

Look out Alaska Airlines. Delta announced last fall it would begin operating non-stop flights from Seattle to Sitka for the summer season. And at 7:25 last Friday (05-15-15), KCAW’s Emily Kwong was on the runway.

We’ve all been there. Sitting in the parking lot. Radio humming. Waiting to pick up someone from the airport. Any minute now. The air is perfectly still and then, the runway lights turn.

Calloway underwent special training by Delta to fly in Alaska, which is notorious for variable weather and small airports with advisory services instead of control towers. But that’s not the thing that worried Calloway the most.

“Fuel was a big issue,” he said. “If we weren’t able to land here, of course we’d have to have a lot more fuel than we’d normally have to have for an alternate – where we’re landing in the Lower 48 [in] a city that’s usually within 100 miles of the airport – instead of having to plan for something further away.”

Jim McNickel flew in that day from Burlington, Vermont, to visit his daughter. He vouched for the smooth flight and when shopping for tickets, found a cheaper deal with Delta than with Alaska Airlines.

“The price was in the range of 500 and something vs. 800. 900. A thousand dollars,” said McNickel.

McNickel was also pleased by the flight’s efficiency, saying he and his wife left at 12:30pm EST and arrived in Sitka at 7:30 p.m. AKST time.

Delta has set up shop at Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport. Daily flights will be offered from May 15, 2015 until November 7, 2015, at prices that compete with Alaska Airlines. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)
Delta has set up shop at Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport. Daily flights will be offered from May 15, 2015 until November 7, 2015, at prices that compete with Alaska Airlines. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

This in part because Delta goes directly to Sitka, while the Alaska Airlines flight usually bobs, making a stop in Juneau or Ketchikan that eats up an extra hour.

As for the cost difference between the two airlines? It’s notable, but not enormous. About $80 to $100 for Seattle to Sitka flights in early June. These differences diminished in July and August.

But for one traveler, the greater appeal was his airline membership.

“I have status with Delta from all my past travels, said Mark McConnell, who has traveled extensively in South America. This is his first time in Sitka.

The Delta flight last Friday landed 2 minutes ahead of schedule and maneuvered the landing with ease, a feat when you consider that the runway at Sitka’s Rocky Guttierez Airport is trimmed with rocks and sticks out into the water like a tongue depressor.

Ryan Calloway, the pilot, is in Sitka for the first time. “We were so excited to pop up out of the clouds and see what a beautiful place this is,” said Calloway. “Hopefully get to come back again and again. It was great.”

Delta doled out slices of strawberry-filled cake to passengers. The cake was made at AC Lakeside. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)
Delta doled out slices of strawberry-filled cake to passengers. The cake was made at AC Lakeside. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

He and his fellow passengers were greeted by Delta crew and an enormous sheet cake, covered in whipped cream. It took McConnell by surprise. “I mean…it was another flight. (Laughs) It seems like it’s a big deal, which is funny, to me.”

For Delta, it’s a big deal.

With Seattle as its Pacific international outpost, Delta hasn’t been shy about expanding west. Last summer, Delta service in Seattle reached 25 destinations, including Juneau. This summer, it will hit 35.

But Alaska Airlines remains very much the king of the state, with operations in 20 Alaskan cities along. In April, they reported record net income in the first quarter and have continued with strong ticket sales and earnings, despite the increased completion.

On Friday (05-15-15), Delta also began operating one daily flight from Seattle to Ketchikan. The season will end on September 7th.