Alaska Airlines, the SeaTac-based air carrier, is reshuffling its schedule in Alaska to better utilize the planes in its fleet and that of its sister airline, Horizon Air.
The schedule changes also appears to be a defensive move by Alaska to counter moves by other airlines to connect Anchorage non-stop to vacation cities in the lower 48.
The airline announced this month that beginning in early March next year, it will use 76-passenger Q400 turboprop planes to fly between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Those planes will be operated by Horizon Air, Alaska’s regional airline subsidiary. Those flights, however, will be branded as Alaska flights.
The use of the smaller, more fuel-efficient turboprops on the Anchorage-Fairbanks shuttle and on one daily flight from Anchorage to Kodiak will free up the larger, longer-range Boeing 737s Alaska now uses on those flights inside Alaska.
The new service will be the first time Alaska has deployed Horizon turboprop aircraft to Alaska for passenger service. In the lower 48 states, Alaska uses Horizon Q400s to operate its shuttle services between Seattle and Portland and between Spokane and Seattle among other routes.
While the airline begins to deploy the Q400s to Alaska, it is inaugurating new jet service from Anchorage to Las Vegas and Phoenix. The Las Vegas flights will be operated year-round. The Phoenix flights will operate from Dec. 18 through April 19. The Las Vegas flights begin Dec. 19.
The warm weather destination flights will operate three times a week.
Other major airlines are already adding flights to Anchorage during the busy summer season. US Airways, for instance, flies non-stop from Anchorage to Phoenix, one of its hubs.
And both JetBlue Airways and Virgin America Airlines have added new flights to Anchorage from Seattle and San Francisco. Delta Air Lines has also inaugurated daily non-stop service from Anchorage to Las Vegas.
By operating the flights to Las Vegas and Phoenix on a less-than-daily basis, Alaska will follow a pattern successfully used by Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air whose claim to fame is connecting smaller cities to resort centers on a less-than-daily basis.
Las Vegas is one of Allegiant’s most popular cities. That airline hasn’t announced any intentions to serve Anchorage, but Allegiant has made Bellingham one of its busiest airports with flights to California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada.