Topic of the Week: What Do You Want to Know About Alaska Airlines?

I’ll be in Seattle next week for the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) 2011 Expo, and I’m excited. But while I’m up there, I’m going to take some time to go meet with the good folks at Alaska Airlines. Anything in particular you’d like me to ask about?


86 Responses to Topic of the Week: What Do You Want to Know About Alaska Airlines?

  1. Zack Rules says:

    Could you ask them if they have considered purchasing a few widebody jets? With a handful of 787’s, they could do reasonably well out of Seattle to places like Asia and Europe.

    • Todd says:

      To which they would surely respond, “No.”

      • Zack Rules says:

        That is what you would think. A few years ago, Dave Barger at JetBlue would have said the same thing but recently, he said that they would like the range to serve more of Latin America and that a widebody might be the answer. Granted, strange comparison to Alaska but considering their case, a strong largely unchallenged hub with some international widebody flights, it would not be so far fetched. Partnerships/interlines with other airlines, especially Delta, are an important first step towards flying one’s own metal.

        • Todd says:

          1. Unlike JetBlue, AS has extensive partnership with many long-haul carriers (i.e., most of oneworld and Skyteam) and has been doing so for many years.

          2. JetBlue still does not fly widebody aircraft (nor does WN, F9, FL or any other comperably sized US airline not based in the Aloha State).

          3. AS likes having a single fleet type.

          4. The DL partership and other codeshares are hardly a prelude to anything. AS has been codesharing on international routes for decades, but we’ve not seen any indication that they plan to start doing international long-haul flying themselvs.

          5. AS’s market cap is higher than every US-based airline except DL, WN, and UA. Why mess with a strategy that is working?

    • CF says:

      Hey guys – chiming in with answers to your questions courtesy of Alaska. Regarding fleet, it’s a very general answer. They’re very happy with the fleet they have right now, including Horizon and SkyWest. They love the 737 as well. So don’t look for any dramatic changes anytime soon.

  2. Chris says:

    How much more Hawaii growth do they plan on for 2012? Will their new 737s being delivered have the new Boeing sky interior?

    • CF says:

      No specifics on Hawai’i, but they already have announced a slew of new flights. It sounds like there’s more coming, at least that’s my take away. They didn’t say that directly.

      Didn’t get any info on the sky interior, sorry.

  3. Fred says:

    Are they going to keep growing mostly in Hawaii or are they looking to add destinations in the lower 48 as well (not necessarily specific destinations but more generally are they going to keep adding flights)?

    • CF says:

      It didn’t sound like there was necessarily much in the cards for the lower 48 at this point, but of course, they wouldn’t really answer that question directly.

  4. Shaun says:

    When will Alaska admit they have a preference for delta as a partner they are extremely cozy.

    • Todd says:

      They would prefer to have a similar relationship with AA for frequent fliers, but AA (being its slow-moving, conservative self) has been the hold up.

    • CF says:

      They don’t. They love having multiple partnerships – it’s all good for them.

  5. Jason H says:

    I can think of a few things I’d like to know.

    1 – Given the softening economy are they seeing a reduction in pre-booking anywhere in their system? Do they have a contingency plan to reduce ASM if the economy softens further?

    2 – Does Alaska see a value in the new Boeing Sky Interior? Any plans to take delivery of new 737s with said interior?

    3 – How does the new 737MAX line look to Alaska? Any thoughts on converting some of their outstanding orders into the MAX line?

    4 – Are there any plans on replacing the 737-Combi fleet anytime soon? I ask because I don’t want to miss my chance to fly on one!

    I’m fully aware they might not want to, or be able to answer these, but thanks for asking for our questions Brett.

    • CF says:

      1) Sorry – but I somehow missed this question and wasn’t able to ask. I’m sure they’re prepared if necessary.

      2) Didn’t really say anything about the Sky interior

      3) It’s early on MAX so the jury is out. They love big fuel savings, but it’s still early.

      4) Nope. They did say that they are planning on what the replacement will be. Those 737-400 Combis have at least a few more years but probably won’t soldier on for decades.

  6. Sanjeev M says:

    I would like to know what new codeshares they might develop.

    Would they codeshare with an Chinese or Taiwanese carrier at SEA (e.g. Hainan) or develop something at LAX?

    • CF says:

      They won’t talk about potential codeshare partners, but they’re always open if it makes sense. Nothing specifically on Hainan, but considering that Delta competes directly with Hainan, my guess is that might not be the top of the list.

  7. Why do they still have a Eskimo on their plane? While their name may be Alaska, they fly to more places outside of the state. Do they still see the value of having a giant Eskimo head on their airplanes in Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, etc?

    • Steve says:

      AS tried to alter/remove/eliminate the eskimo several years ago and were might by howls of outrage. It is part of the iconic brand – as it is, so shall it be. LOL

    • Fred says:

      I like the eskimo…
      Besides, it’s as interesting/unique/good-looking if not more than the tail on other airlines’ aircraft.

    • CF says:

      We had a long talk about the eskimo. It is something that has come up time and time again – starting with when they first pushed deeper south away from the Alaska origins. They say that the eskimo is an important part of what Alaska does. The state is very important to the airline and this represents that well. They also like the human face on the tail because it provides such a strong message about the airline being about people. I’ll write more about this in a post down the line.

  8. Eric says:

    Please ask them to go on record for their plans to remain a stand alone carrier. I know they have said it in several earnings calls…but I am curious about their biz plan going forward. Plus…I hope this puts an end to those $^# “when will AS merge with DL/AA/B6/HA/YV” threads on some other sites.

  9. Is there some special reason that Alaska (and Allegiant) can earn 10% + on invested capital when other traditional airlines can’t seem to?

    Can other airlines (specifically the major legacies) match Alaska’s stellar financial performance?

    What are the main philosophies, initiatives, policies, etc. that produce Alaska’s stellar returns?

    In this world of mega mergers, is Alaska’s smaller size is an asset and why?

    Is there a potential dowside to being smaller?

    • I thought of another related question. Did Alaska’s management do anything special to encourage employee buy in?

      Some of this was addressed at the Dahlman Rose conference last week (the potential downside of Alaska’s smaller size wasn’t), but as the analysts love to say, “could you provide some more color?”

      Given the financial history of airlines, what Alaska is doing is nothing short of remarkable.

    • Come to think about it, maybe these aren’t the best questions for a passenger experience expo. On the other hand, a good passenger experience can engender loyalty and contribute to the bottom line. The airlines that seem to perform the best financially also seem to be the best at delivering what they promise.

    • CF says:

      President Brad Tilden touched on this with the “small is beautiful” line during his talk at the conference. They like being small and nimble. They like being able to work with multiple partners if it makes sense. They have a very strong affinity for the Pacific Northwest, but they aren’t afraid of jumping on opportunities – like Hawai’i when Aloha and ATA went under. They simply have a very strict standard of what needs to happen to be profitable on plan. It’s probably a lot easier as well because they have a smaller more nimble network. It’s easier for them to move things around.

      I’m sure they won’t comment on other airlines.

  10. Anon says:

    What are their plans for seat power? No permanently installed IFE is fine, but with more and more long flights (e.g., to Hawaii & East Coast), battries don’t necessarily last the length of the flight.

    • Frank says:

      AS people will tell you that their plans for seat power have been the same for years: rather than make that investment and take on that weight, they’re going to wait for the market to catch up with longer-lived devices. And I’d say they’ve been right on that score. My wife’s MacBook Air will last for an entire Hawai’i or transcon flight, and my iPad 2 will almost last for a round-trip.

    • CF says:

      No plans, but it’s not ruled out. Sounds like there might be some consideration of gate power.

  11. Columbia says:

    Definitely interested in hearing about expansion plans, particularly Asia.

    • Sanjeev M says:

      737’s definitely don’t have the range for SEA-Asia. They could codeshare with more international carriers like they do already.

      I doubt a scissor hub in ANC or something would be possible let alone profitable.

      • Fred says:

        However, I do think ANC-NRT on a DL 757 would work quite well. DL has plenty of flights and capacity to Asia via NRT, and would create extra options if nothing else to the Northwest and Alaska ofc.

    • CF says:

      I don’t believe there’s an interest in that type of long haul expansion. That’s why they have partners. They just focus on doing what they do well.

  12. Anon says:

    Any plans to codeshare and frequent-flyer partnership with JAL? They already codeshare with most of the other oneworld (and Skyteam) airlines that have a significant presence in the Western US (e.g., AA, BA, LAN, Qantas, Cathay). It seems odd that JAL is not in the mix.

    • CF says:

      Nothing to say on this, but remember that Delta operates a hub in Narita. I can’t imagine JAL would be welcomed by Delta.

  13. Frank says:

    What are their expansion plans for Hawai’i? Is the general plan to continue to add new routes between their West Coast cities and all the islands? What about SFO and LAX?

    What is their current thinking on expanding service to more cities in Mexico? What about Central America beyond Mexico? SJO? LIR?

    It seems like it has been a while since they’ve added a new transcon flight. Any thoughts about further expansion to the East Coast?

    Gold certs have become increasingly devalued over the past couple of years. They’re impossible to use to Hawai’i, nearly impossible on transcons, and only moderately useful on midcons. Do they plan on doing anything to correct this? Or to get rid of the certs? Or simply allow the current situation to continue?

    • CF says:

      They say that if they see a good reason to go into SFO and LAX, they will. I still think they just don’t want to go up against Delta and American there, but they certainly didn’t say that to be the case.

      Didn’t really get much on Latin or East Coast.

      I’ll touch more on the FF program in a post, but it doesn’t sound like there were any changes they were willing to talk about in the works.

  14. Steve says:

    I’d like to know if it is true that they are going to replace their 400 type aircraft with 900ER. If so, does that mean more direct flights to Lower 48 destinations from ANC, or will we still have to stop in SEA.

    Someone asked about the Combi 400s. AS recently (within the last 5-6 years) replaced their 200 Combis with the 400, so I don’t think they’re going to go away any time soon; too valuable for in-state flying.

    • CF says:

      If they wanted to do more long haul from ANC, they could. I don’t think that’s tied to the current situation with the -400. No specific plans to report on the -400s, but those have to be the first to be retired when the time comes, I would assume.

  15. How about an update on their “airport terminal of the future” concept from a couple years back? They were trying to change the check-in and terminal experience, making it more open and modern. Has it been successful? Enjoy Seattle!

    • Fred says:

      I think it has. I read an article or two online (can’t remember which) but also in my experience it works very well.

    • CF says:

      Yes, it’s been successful and I spent a lot of time with them on this. Look for a future post on the airport of the future, which is now in Seattle and Anchorage with LAX underway and Portland in the planning stages.

  16. anon says:

    Any merger talks with Delta?

  17. Tony says:

    Any plans to introduce regional turboprop service into Mexico from LAX?
    Most specifically Tijuana, Hermosillo, Chihuahua, and Los Mochis.

    Any plans to introduce service into Central America?
    Most specifically El Salvador, Costa Rica and Belize.

    Why no Portland to Newark and/or Washington National?

    • Todd says:

      Horizon turboprops already do fly to Mexico (e.g., La Paz, Loreto).

      PDX is a much smaller market than SEA, and there are already 3-4 daily flights to NYC on CO, DL, and B6. DCA to PDX would require obtaining a perimeter exemption.

    • CF says:

      Nothing specific on these or any route decisions. But the National thing is a big issue as Todd says, in terms of slots so it can’t even be considered. Newark slots aren’t easy either.

  18. John Matthewson says:

    There is over 150 passengers going from Seattle to New Orleans everyday. It seems like the next logical nonstop for them. My business along with many others would benefit by this flight as I work in the oil industry. I work in the Gulf of Mexico and literally a day later I might be in the Gulf of Alaska. I’m not alone. These would be high last minute business fares for them.

    Thanks Cranky.

  19. Phygue says:

    After the initial success of non-stops from Austin to Seattle, will there be more flights and destinations out of one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. ?

    • Tony says:

      How about a ‘nerd-bird’ between the Bay Area and Austin?

    • CF says:

      Again, no specific route info from Alaska but as Todd says, there was a nerd bird and it didn’t work. I would imagine that Austin won’t be seeing much more unless it’s additional frequency on existing routes, if they perform well enough.

  20. Ask if the reason they codeshare with so many airlines is because they know their name hinders them since most of their flying is outside Alaska and people wouldn’t think to look at Alaska Airlines to fly around the lower 48/Mexico. Codesharing must get them more business then using their own name as people would think to check AA/DL/etc.

    • CF says:

      I don’t believe that has anything to do with it. The partner strategy is one they love because it helps them to provide an expanded network to their frequent fliers. They do what they do well, and they realize there are limitations to what they can and should be doing. The name has nothing to do with it – if it did, they wouldn’t have a ton of flights into Hawai’i.

  21. Jim says:

    To eliminate all the animosity and hard feelings between Alaska and Horizon why doesn’t Alaska just merge Horizon in with them and make everyone happy?

    • bill says:

      There really aren’t any hard feelings or anything between Alaska and Horizon. Besides, they are owned by the same company and have absolutely no reason to merge.

    • CF says:

      There are no plans to merge them. They wouldn’t comment on that kind of thing anyway.

  22. Todd says:

    What’s the plan for Horizon? Will Horizon ever fly in the state of Alaska (or, to be more far-fetched, Hawaii)? Will Horizon again do flying for another airline (like it once did for Frontier)?

    • CF says:

      I think Horizon in Alaska is one of those things that’s always talked about but we probably wouldn’t hear about it until (if) it actually happens. So, nothing to report here.

      Also, Alaska also talked about the respect they have for Hawaiian as a competitor. Not sure that going into the interisland market would be the best plan.

  23. Jim says:

    Any truth to the rumor that AS is buying 14 of their own Q400s to use for interstate flying in Alaska. These will be owned and maintained by AS?

    • Chris says:

      q400’s seem like a great fit for State of Alaska. Would work well for rural flying and may bring down the cost of travel with possiblity of increased frequency to destinations. I could really use more ‘shuttle’ type flight between ANC and FAI. The SE Alaska markets seem like they would work great as a hub operation out of Juneau/Sitka

    • CF says:

      I don’t see why they’d do that when they could just have Horizon do it. But nothing to report on that.

  24. Jiang says:

    When will they have a new Mileage Plan Shopping partner/portal available? I have heard September, but maybe you can get more up to date information when? Thanks.

  25. Michael says:

    I would wonder if they would start service to Hilo as its only served by United at LAX and SFO from the mainland and with their increasing presence in Hawaii?

    Also are they looking at more flights to Hawaii to compete with Allegiant when they begin Hawaii service eventually?

    Are they going to expand more to the Midwest and East Coast routes?

    Then are they considering the 737 Max?

  26. Eric says:

    What are there plans for growth and utilization of the regional jet fleet now that it isn’t restricted to Horizon? Are they considering the CRJ-900? Any possibility of moving to a two-class configuration?

  27. Jan says:

    Horizon service from LAX to Eugene and Medford OR has decreased over the last 4 years. No more nonstops. For Eugene no more no change of plane flights. Is the market so poor? Did Horizon really have to reduce service to allow Allegiant to get a foothold? Or does everyone just drive to their destination in CA or to Portland if they still fly?

    • Jim says:

      Jan,
      All of Horizon’s routes and scheduling is and has been set by Alaska airlines for some time now. I f we stop a certain flight or route it is their decision.

    • CF says:

      Sorry, didn’t get specifics on this market and they probably wouldn’t have told me much anyway.

  28. Steve says:

    Hi I’d love to know if the codeshare/interline agreement with V Australia is working well as well as do they have plans to introduce self checking for luggage and other technology innovations in the pipeline

    • CF says:

      I think they’re generally happy with all their partnerships. They are working on a self bag tag process but it has to go through the feds. They’re hopeful on it.

  29. Chris says:

    What is the cost of maintance per year on a 737 averged out? Are the 800’s really much cheaper to maintain than the 400’s or is the savings mostly fuel…

    • CF says:

      Didn’t get exact costs, but yes, the 400 costs more to maintain mostly just because they’re older and older airplanes needs more.

  30. I don’t understand the “prayers” they leave with you on your tray with food service…what are they a right wing conservative fundamentalist, christian….makes it uncomfortable without knowing what their agenda is….don’t think they get too many atheists on their planes…don’t get me wrong, I’m all for prayers, just not from an airline..it’s not the business they are in or is it….what’s the point of it all or what was the point of it if they still do it?

    • CF says:

      Great question. This one apparently was a marketing effort by a VP some 30 years ago or so. He thought it would make people feel better while flying, and it’s just stuck. It’s something that they do pay attention to, but for now, it just continues. Obviously, it’s no longer in coach since they don’t have meals but it’s still up front.

  31. Greg McCarron says:

    Do they have any plans for QX at SNA. They have them on the waiting list but seem to pass up the the service when they get a change. Please break up the continuous flow of Southwest in to the airport.

  32. johnny0 says:

    SFO-YVR prices skyrocketed when they pulled out a few years back. Any plans to move back in and take money from UA/AC?

    Also, I’d love to see some competition on the SFO-YYJ route. UA charges $400-$700. I can almost get to Europe more cheaply than Victoria.

  33. Itan2Much says:

    Just returned to Maui from LAS/PDX/OGG route First Class. Any plans in updating their First Class seating? Need more incline and footrests for the 5 1/2 hour trip. Also, an upgrade on their food would be nice.

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