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Alaska Airlines is leaning towards an all-Boeing 737 fleet after the coronavirus

May 05, 2020
3 min read
Alaska Airlines is leaning towards an all-Boeing 737 fleet after the coronavirus
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Alaska Airlines entered the coronavirus pandemic at a major fleet crossroads: Airbus or Boeing? A decision the crisis may have made for the carrier.

The Seattle-based carrier began the year weighing what to do with the 61 Airbus A319s and A320s it inherited from Virgin America in 2016. On the table was either replace them with more A321neos — the airline operates 10 — or with additional Boeing 737 MAX orders.

At the heart of the decision was whether to return to Alaska's "Proudly All Boeing" marketing or maintain the dual fleet it has flown for four years. At the end of 2019, It flew 71 A320 family and 166 737 family jets.

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Now, with capacity down 80% due to COVID-19 and no expectation of an immediate recovery, the carrier is pivoting back to its 737 roots. Alaska has permanently retired 12 aircraft, all 10 of its A319s plus two A320s, and is re-training some Airbus pilots on the 737 as a result of the crisis.

"It's probably safe to assume that the fleet decision is being made in real time," asked Deutsche Bank analyst Michael Linenberg during Alaska's first-quarter earnings call on Tuesday.

Alaska executives, unsurprisingly, demurred from confirming a pivot back to Boeing. The airline continues to weigh many "factors" when it comes to its future fleet, said president Ben Minicucci in response.

“A dual fleet does have higher costs for us, that is a factor we’re going to consider," he said, adding that no fleet decision has been made. He did emphasize that low costs are a priority for Alaska as it emerges from the crisis.

Related: Alaska Airlines weighs Boeing or Airbus to replace Virgin America fleet

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But the writing appears on the wall. The airline retired the A319s, all of which are leased, even though its 11 comparably-sized 737-700s are older. And any potential future replacement of the 12 retired planes will come from its orders for 32 737 MAX 9 jets, Alaska financial chief Shane Tackett said during the call.

There is still time to fly on one of Alaska's Airbus jets. Leases on the remaining A320s run through 2025, and on the A321neos through 2031. Those return dates can be renegotiated but all of the planes will not be returned at once.

And, for those fleet purists out there, Alaska's regional subsidiary Horizon Air continues to fly both the De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400 and Embraer 175.

Alaska has parked more than half of its mainline fleet, totaling 153 jets, due to the pandemic. It has also parked 21 regional aircraft.

Related: Alaska calls Boeing a ‘fantastic partner’ in decision between A321neo and 737 MAX

Featured image by SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023