Alaska Airlines cuts 2 transcon routes in route-map shakeup

Feb 4, 2021

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By the end of the pandemic, airline route maps will look a whole lot different than they did in 2019.

As carriers boost service to leisure markets in the Southeast, many business routes — especially those to secondary cities — have seen significant pullbacks.

The latest route-map readjustment comes from Alaska Airlines, which dropped two transcon routes through 2021, per Cirium timetables and later confirmed by a carrier spokesperson.

The two routes — Philadelphia (PHL) to San Francisco (SFO) and Newark (EWR) to San Jose, California (SJC) — were both scheduled to resume in March 2021, but they’ve now been suspended for (at least) the year.

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The former was last flown by Alaska in November 2019 and the latter was cut in April 2020 at the outset of the pandemic.

The odds of the routes returning likely depends on the trajectory of the recovery in demand for travel. Until there’s widespread herd immunity that facilitates a meaningful recovery in travel demand, these flights may not operate again.

The Philly to San Francisco route has had an interesting history. Virgin America first entered the market in April 2012 with twice-daily flights in each direction. Roughly one year later, the route was downgraded to once daily, before being cut altogether in October 2014.

Other airlines: United suspends 3 LaGuardia routes, boosts other Florida flights

In September 2017 — about a year after the Alaska Airlines and Virgin America merger was announced —  Virgin restarted once-daily PHL to SFO flights. Alaska took over the route once the acquisition was complete and flew it until November 2019.

Although San Francisco is an Alaska Airlines hub, the route’s performance clearly wasn’t good enough to justify flying in winter 2019 and beyond. (In fact, U.S. Department of Transportation data provided by Cirium shows that the route was in the lowest quartile of profitability for both the SFO hub and network in general in 2019.)

And now, with Alaska on the cusp of joining Oneworld, loyal flyers can choose one of American Airlines’ Philly to San Francisco flights — and still earn miles and enjoy elite-status benefits during the journey.

In addition to Oneworld membership, Alaska and American Airlines are forming an alliance, but codeshare flights are primarily limited to routes from both Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle (SEA).

More: American, Alaska Airlines outline reciprocal elite benefits, upgrades

As for Newark, Alaska announced a “significant expansion to the New York City area” back in 2016, which included three new routes, including the San Jose connection.

Historically, Alaska has seen limited competition on the EWR to SJC route — United flew it daily from March 2017 to October 2018. But, with coronavirus cases flaring on both coasts, there doesn’t seem to be enough demand to warrant flying between Newark and the carrier’s San Jose focus city.

Alaska isn’t just cutting two routes; it’s also making a host of other schedule adjustments to its transcon flying, as reported by Cranky Flyer and confirmed by Cirium data.

Flights between Chicago (ORD) and Los Angeles were originally scheduled to resume in March 2021. Now, the carrier intends to restart flights in the fall.

Alaska is making a seasonal adjustment to its Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to San Diego (SAN) route, which was originally scheduled for year-round service. Flights will now end in April 2021 and resume in October.

Separately, the carrier’s Washington/Dulles (IAD) to San Francisco service will now resume in May 2021, two months later than previously scheduled. Alaska is also downgrading the frequency to once daily throughout the summer.

Featured photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

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