Alaska Airlines takes aim at new startup with latest route addition

Apr 16, 2021

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Alaska Airlines is putting up a fight on the West Coast.

On Friday, the Seattle-based carrier announced that it’ll expand service with a new route and additional frequencies to Santa Rosa, California (STS), right in the heart of wine country.

Starting July 1, Alaska will debut Burbank (BUR) to STS service on a 76-seat Embraer 175, and later this summer, on Sept. 8, the carrier will add frequencies to STS on both the Orange County (SNA) and San Diego (SAN) routes.

Altogether, this latest boost means that Alaska will serve Sonoma County from six West Coast destinations, with up to 13 peak daily departures by early fall.

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Adding flights to Sonoma County aligns with the carrier’s pandemic-era network strategy of boosting service to outdoor-friendly destinations, like beaches and national parks. Leisure travelers are returning to the skies, and many are looking for places with plenty of built-in social distancing. California’s world-renowned wine country fits the bill.

There are no middle seats on Alaska’s Embraer 175s (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

But there’s seemingly another motivation to adding flights to Santa Rosa now.

Two brand-new U.S. airlines are gearing up to start operations this year, Avelo Airlines and Breeze Airways. Avelo will be first when it launches on April 28 with daily flights between — you guessed it – Burbank and Santa Rosa. With fares starting at $19, Avelo hopes to capture the local O&D market, with “the idea to make it as easy and convenient as possible to fly,” according to the airline’s founder Andrew Levy.

Reading between the lines of Alaska’s press release, it seems clear that the airline is trying to position itself as the carrier of choice for those traveling to Santa Rosa.

“Alaska was the first commercial airline to resume service to Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in 2007. The airline has long been the airport’s largest carrier. In 2019, three out of four passengers to Santa Rosa/Sonoma County flew on Alaska,” it read.

More about Avelo: New budget airline Avelo will begin flying April 28

Coupled with Alaska’s wine flies free program (frequent flyer members can check an entire case of wine for free), the carrier isn’t about to let Avelo just walk into one of its markets without putting up a fight.

In fact, Alaska’s spat with Avelo isn’t the first time the carrier has defended its home turf.

Last month, the carrier put out a press release for a brand-new weekend-only route from Anchorage (ANC) to Mineappolis-St. Paul (MSP). Unless it’s a brand-new long-haul service or another major announcement, individual routes don’t typically get their own press release.

Yet the MSP news was different.

It followed exactly one week after partner-turned-adversary Delta Air Lines announced a sweeping expansion across five cities in Alaska, adding new routes and upgauging aircraft from many of its mainland hubs to ANC, Fairbanks (FAI), Juneau (JNU), Ketchikan (KTN) and Sitka (SIT).

Delta’s expansion seemingly reignited the competition between the two rivals, which started out as partners in the early 2010s. By the middle of the decade, however, the partnership frayed as Delta moved instead to build its own hub in Seattle, ultimately competing head-to-head with Alaska on many of its most lucrative routes.

Related: Delta makes big play for Alaska, adds several new routes amid pandemic pivot

Interestingly, Alaska isn’t the only incumbent to take aim at Avelo recently. Of Avelo’s 11 destinations, just two include daily service from its Burbank base, Santa Rosa and Phoenix-Mesa (AZA).

Over the weekend, Cirium schedules show that American Airlines added flights between BUR and its Phoenix/Sky Harbor (PHX) hub — seemingly aimed at Avelo’s new service. Beginning in September, AA will fly the route five-time daily (up from four), and it’ll also upgauge all flights from being operated by a regional CRJ-900 to a mainline Airbus A319.

Featured photo by Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

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