Alaska Airlines consolidates routes, adds tag flights to maintain service to all its destinations

Apr 7, 2020

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Alaska Airlines is going back to the future to maintain its route network, dusting off the old strategy of tagging 12 destinations together to maintain service to all of its cities as the novel coronavirus pandemic takes a bite out of demand.

The carrier will end nonstop service between its Seattle (SEA) base and six cities: Baltimore/Washington (BWI); Charleston, South Carolina (CHS); Columbus, Ohio (CMH); Helena, Montana (HLN); Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH) and Santa Barbara, California (SBA), from April 10 through April 30, Alaska spokesperson Ray Lane told TPG.

The six cities will instead be served one-stop from Seattle as tags on six other routes:

  • Baltimore/Washington via Pittsburgh (PIT)
  • Charleston via Raleigh/Durham (RDU)
  • Columbus via Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP)
  • Helena via Kalispell, Montana (FCA)
  • Houston via Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Santa Barbara via San Luis Obispo, California (SBP)

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“Our team worked to solve a unique challenge of providing service to as many communities as possible, as efficiently as possible,” Lane said. “A tag flight is beneficial because it streamlines the use of our resources – aircraft, fuel and crews – to serve more destinations.”

Tag routes are nothing new for Alaska. The airline operates a so-called “milk run” from Seattle to Anchorage (ANC) with stops in several small communities in southern part of the state of Alaska. In addition, the carrier used tag routes when it first expanded south along the West Coast in the 1980s, for example it added service to Burbank (BUR) via Portland, Oregon (PDX) in 1981.

The streamlined approach to maintaining service also allows Alaska to meet the requirements of the CARES Act, or the government aid package that includes the airlines. The bill requires airlines to maintain service to all of their U.S. destinations determined reasonable by the Department of Transportation as a condition of accepting any of the $50 billion in aid.

Carriers are allowed to offer as little as one weekly flight depending on their prior schedule, according to the DOT. In addition, they have the option of serving destinations in either their summer or winter schedule.

Related: Airlines will have to meet these schedule requirements to get coronavirus aid

Alaska has applied for some of the $25 billion in staff compensation grants available under the CARES Act. Raymond James analysts estimate the airline could receive around $1 billion in funds, which would help extend the nearly seven months of available cash in its bank accounts.

The carrier will reduce capacity by 80% in both April and May, the airline said in a securities filing on April 6. The cuts are in response to an at least 80% drop in demand for air travel.

As part of the capacity cuts, Alaska has parked more than 25 aircraft, according to Atmosphere Research data. Some Airbus jets have been stored in Greensboro, North Carolina (GSO).

Related: Alaska Airlines extends elite status, companion certificate validity due to coronavirus

While consolidating some routes in the contiguous U.S., Alaska continues to serve all of its destination in the state of Alaska. The airline provides vital air service around the state, including to many communities that have no other connections to the outside world.

The commitment follows the bankruptcy of RavnAir, the largest regional airline in the state, on April 5. RavnAir shut down after bookings plummeted up to 90% and operating funds needed until CARES Act money becomes available dried up, the carrier said in its Chapter 11 filing. The Anchorage-based airline hopes to secure funds under the aid package that will allow it to resume flying.

In response to RavnAir’s bankruptcy, Alaska Airlines has committed to serving several communities in its namesake state. It will maintain flights to Kodiak (ADK), begin seasonal service to Dillingham (DLG) and King Salmon (AKN) earlier than its originally planned June start. It’s also working to add flights to Cold Bay (CDB). All of the cities would be served from Alaska’s Anchorage hub and replace service previously offered by RavnAir.

Alaska Airlines route map in the state of Alaska, including codeshare services operated by RavnAir, in March 2020. (Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines route map in the state of Alaska, including codeshare services operated by RavnAir, in March 2020. (Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

 

“We believe these are important steps that Alaska Airlines can take to support the infrastructure of the state of Alaska and ensure the people and communities of the state remain connected during this incredibly challenging time,” said Alaska CEO Brad Tilden.

RavnAir is the third U.S. regional carrier to shut down as travelers stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Both Compass Airlines and Trans States Airlines will or have closed their doors completely as business has dried up.

Related: How long will US airlines’ cash last? Between 4 months and a year

Featured image by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

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