If you’ve run out of isolated wilderness to explore in Alaska, there’s good news: flights from Anchorage to the remote interior regions of Russia are set to resume. Annual passenger service from Russian carrier Yakutia Airlines has continued to steadily grow, even as geopolitical tensions rise.
In July, Yakutia will enter it’s fourth season of offering weekly passenger flights from Alaska to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Or, for the more committed traveler, all the way to the Yakutsk, further into the interior of the Russian Far East.
The biggest chunk of their expanding customer base is sportsmen.
“50 percent of the travelers last year were fly-fishermen and hunters,” said Mark Dudley, who directs marketing and logistics for Yakutia in North America.
Families visiting relatives and tourists make up most of the remaining customers.
While overall passenger numbers are up, Yakutia has scheduled fewer flights than years past to better fill out planes. Dudley has worked with the tourism group Visit Anchorage to entice more Russians to come to Alaska. But sanctions stemming from international tension over the crisis in Ukraine have largely foiled those marketing efforts.
“The crash of the Rubble–losing 40 percent of its value–has happened just during the same period that we’d been building up over the last few years to really start receiving Russian tourists,” Dudley said by phone from his office in Seattle. “It was just bad timing.”
That’s not the only financial issue. Ticket prices can pack some sticker shock. The cheapest fare to Kamchatka costs $1,040, but is part of a promotional deal with a 16-day minimum stay. Round-trip tickets further on to Yakutsk hit $4,360 for premium fares.
The remote, isolated wilderness that draws adventure seekers also makes it difficult to achieve an economy of scale that would make for cheaper tickets.
“Kamchotka’s like Alaska was about 50 years ago,” Dudley said. “It’s a region that was always sort of intentionally kept secret and isolated, and it’s only in the last decade-and-a-half or so that they’ve started promoting it.”
Though carriers have provided regular service between Alaska and Russia off-and-on since the 70s, options petered out in the 2000s, and Dudley sees Yakutia trying to fill in that missing link.