Alaska Airlines will exit the nation’s most premier route, shift NYC strategy

Jun 28, 2021

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Alaska Airlines is throwing in the towel on one of the most hotly contested domestic routes.

Over the weekend, the Seattle-based carrier removed flights between New York-JFK and Los Angeles (LAX) from Oct. 7 and onwards, per Cirium schedules and first flagged by Cranky Flier.

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The airline later confirmed to TPG that it is indeed exiting the New York to LA market, saying that it’ll redeploy aircraft on markets where it can better compete.

In a statement, a carrier spokesperson shared,

“In the wake of the pandemic and our recovery from it, Alaska Airlines has reassessed our network strategy. We’re focusing our resources on where we can best compete and provide the most consistent, superior service to our guests.”

Calling it quits on flights between New York-JFK and Los Angeles is a big deal. With every major airline operating flights on the route, save for Southwest, this 2,475-mile transcon is one of the most hotly contested in the entire industry.

Alaska Airlines jets in Seattle (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

As two of the largest cities in the country, there are plenty of daily travelers trekking across the coasts. In fact, Department of Transportation data shows that, on average, nearly 4,300 flyers took to the skies between JFK and LAX each day in 2019.

But not all demand is created equally. While there might be plenty of flyers, the business travelers in the pointy end of the jet, especially those with valuable corporate contacts, are typically the most profitable.

To better compete for the business and deep-pocketed leisure travelers, the major U.S. carriers offer their top products on these lucrative — and competitive — routes. Passengers sitting in biz (and even in first on American Airlines) will be treated to an exclusive ground experience, lie-flat seats, multi-course meals and more.

Related: A look at premium transcon service by airline

United even relaunched transcon flights to JFK earlier this year, fixing a “strategic mistake” that it made when it pulled out in October 2015. When United consolidated its premium transcon flying to Newark, it lost valuable corporate contracts to other carriers that remained at JFK.

For Alaska, however, it could never compete head-to-head for that premium demand. The carrier doesn’t have lie-flat pods on any of its jets, and its biz cabin was woefully uncompetitive for the premium market.

Alaska’s first-class cabin (Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

Of course, the airline’s business-class fares were often the least expensive to compensate for the subpar product, but that seemingly wasn’t enough to keep the route going, especially as the industry emerges from the pandemic.

Alaska inherited the premium transcon route from Virgin America when the carriers merged in April 2018. Virgin America originally started flying the route in August 2007 per Cirium schedules, and at the time, the carrier flew a more competitive biz product with angle-flat seats.

After the merger, Alaska decided to retrofit the legacy Virgin America jets and remove the plush, white leather seats upfront.

Virgin America’s first-class cabin (Photo courtesy of Virgin America)

Andrew Harrison, Alaska’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, recently defended the move, telling investors during the carrier’s fourth-quarter earnings call that “we are very thankful that we maintained a non-lie-flat position. We think our first-class seats are spot on for the demand environment.”

A strategic shift to NYC flying

Though Alaska is exiting the premium transcon market, the carrier isn’t giving up any of its valuable JFK slots (which give landing and takeoff rights to the airline). Alaska will also continue to operate its lounge in JFK’s Terminal 7.

Beginning this winter, Alaska will offer 12 daily transcon flights from four of its West Coast gateway cities to New York-JFK, including the following routes:

  • Portland (PDX) — JFK, two daily nonstops
  • San Diego (SAN) — JFK, two daily nonstops
  • San Francisco (SFO) — JFK, four daily nonstops
  • Seattle (SEA) — JFK, four daily nonstops

In Newark (EWR), the carrier will offer 13 daily transcon flights during the winter season, as follows:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) — Newark, four daily nonstops
  • Portland (PDX) — Newark, one daily nonstop
  • San Diego (SAN) — Newark, one daily nonstop
  • San Francisco (SFO) — Newark, three daily nonstops
  • Seattle (SEA) — Newark, four daily nonstops

Alaska will continue to fly from Los Angeles to the New York City area via Newark, a “convenient” alternative option according to the airline.

Related: JFK vs. LaGuardia vs. Newark: Which NYC airport should I fly into?

As for the other markets, Alaska will refocus on flying from its largest West Coast focus cities, many of which have less competition from the other major airlines.

Altogether, Alaska’s 25 daily nonstops from the West Coast to the New York area will allow the airline to offer a broader range of flights on four top routes.

As for Los Angeles, however, you can either fly Alaska to Newark or choose a competitor.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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