Alaska Airlines adds new California route even as it warns of flying, staff cuts

Jun 11, 2020

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Alaska Airlines is adding a surprising new intra-California route even as the coronavirus pandemic has it planning to fly just a fraction of its planned schedule and is warning staff of cuts to come.

The Seattle-based carrier will connect Fresno (FAT) and Los Angeles (LAX) beginning Sept. 1, according to the Fresno Yosemite International Airport on Thursday. The two daily flights will be flown on Embraer 175 jets with 76 seats.

The route addition comes just days after Alaska president Ben Minicucci told The Seattle Times reporter Dominic Gates that the airline only planned to fly about half of its 2019 schedule in August. His comments came after the carrier warned staff that it would likely have to shed some 3,000 jobs — or 13% of its work force — due to the pandemic.

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“Things will likely not go back to pre-COVID levels in the next 12 months,” Minicucci said. “We see a smaller company in 2021. We see a smaller industry, in fact.”

However, he told Gates that if the airline saw an opportunity, “Alaska will grow.”

In the Fresno airport’s statement, Alaska director of network planning Michael Britman said the carrier has “seen positive performance in our secondary, intra-California markets including our other flights to Fresno.”

Related: Alaska retires 12 Airbus jets, pivots towards Boeing during crisis

Fresno is considered the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Airlines have reported more new booking for travel to destinations near national parks and other large open spaces, including those in the Rocky Mountains.

Yosemite began a phased reopening on Thursday. However, visitors must make a reservation for one of just 1,700 vehicle entries allowed on any given day.

Alaska’s new route is the latest signal that airlines are adapting by adding targeted flights where travelers want to go. Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines have both announced new routes even as overall passenger numbers remain well below 2019 levels owing to the pandemic.

Related: Everything you need to know to plan a trip to a national park


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American Airlines and United Airlines have had a lock on the Fresno-Los Angeles route since at least 2004, according to Cirium schedules. Both airlines suspended the route in May and June during the depths of the crisis, with United planning to return on July 6 and American on Aug. 5 — though August schedules are not yet finalized.

At just 209 miles, about 80% of flyers on the Fresno-Los Angeles route use it to connect on to other destinations via LAX, U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics data for the fourth quarter of 2019 shows.

Alaska maintains a small hub in Los Angeles that averaged 75 departures a day in 2019, Cirium data shows. The airport was its fourth-largest base after Seattle (SEA), Portland, Oregon (PDX), and San Francisco (SFO).

Related: Why Alaska Airlines is returning to its routes in the West

Prior to the crisis, Alaska was adjusting its network with a focus on adding routes in its core north-south market along the West Coast. Plans included new nonstop flights between Los Angeles and Boise (BOI), Idaho; Missoula (MSO), Montana; Redmond/Bend (RDM), Oregon; and Spokane, Washington (GEG).

Alaska is scheduled to fly all four of the new routes from LAX in July, according to Cirium.

The airline also serves Fresno from Portland, San Diego (SAN) and Seattle. Alaska plans to fly all three routes in July.

Related: State-by-state guide to coronavirus reopening

Featured image by Edward Russell/TPG.

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