Alaska Airlines might reduce flights to Bethel this winter

Passengers traveling in and out of Bethel can expect changes to the daily Anchorage flight schedule this year. The airlines plans to announce the new schedules soon. (Katie Basile / KYUK)

Alaska Airlines might cut some of its flights between Bethel and Anchorage, just in time for the holidays. Management confirmed that their flight schedule will change a few weeks before Thanksgiving and remain in effect until a few days after New Year’s, but it’s still unclear what those changes will be.

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The only thing known for sure about Alaska Airlines’ winter schedule is that the version they’ve published online is incorrect. YK Delta residents who tried to book a flight this week may have noticed that the early morning flights connecting Bethel to Anchorage have disappeared from the airline’s November and December calendars.

According to Regional Vice President Marilyn Romano, that scheduling change was rolled out by mistake and a corrected listing ought to be out by the end of the week.

But while Alaska Airlines isn’t planning to cut all of Bethel’s morning flights this winter, Romano confirmed that there might be some reduction in flights to the community. Alaska Airlines is upgrading. They’re trading in their aging combis for newer planes with more seats, and it might not be cost effective for them to fly larger planes into Bethel three or four times a day. According to Romano, too many seats could be empty.

“There’s going to be more seats in the market than Bethel currently utilizes,” Romano explained. “We want to be very thoughtful in our approach, knowing how important those flights are particularly, in some instances, for people’s ability to do a day trip.”

Day trips are just one of the ways in which Bethel depends on flights back and forth to Anchorage. Cutting the community’s early morning flights could make it difficult for YK Delta residents to commute to Anchorage for meetings or conferences – and vice versa.

And that’s not the only potential change to the flight schedule that concerns Bethel residents. At a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce last week, airline Station Manager Michael Trulin assured locals that the changes shouldn’t impact the noon flight. Travelers from the villages sometimes rely on that connection to get to Anchorage as soon as possible, when time is of the essence.

“Our noon flight is a lot of YK and Medicaid travel,” Trulin told Chamber of Commerce members. “We would have no trouble filling that flight up at noon, because they’re always desperate to get patients into the hospital.”

The winter schedule due out this week is still under review. While the number of Alaska Airline flights in and out Bethel might decrease, Trulin and Romano both noted that the number of seats available to passengers with the new planes will stay the same. It might even go up.

And while the winter schedule is still in flux, Alaska Airlines’ summer schedule to Bethel is in full swing – with a few minor changes. According to manager Trulin, the midday flight to Anchorage now departs at 11:30 a.m.