If you saw Alaska’s press release yesterday, you’d think the airline was entering major expansion mode. Next year, the airline will add eight new routes and increase frequency on seven more. But what wasn’t mentioned in the press release is that Alaska will be cutting a ton of service to help fund these moves. It’s actually a fairly sizable shift for the airline away from east-west flying from California back toward the north-south flying with which it has succeeded over the years.
To illustrate my point, here’s a map of the new routes (green, except San Francisco – Anchorage which isn’t displayed), increased frequencies (light blue), canceled routes (red), and routes that will be reduced to seasonal service (orange).
Or in written form, here’s what’s new:
- Los Angeles – Boise: 2x daily
- Los Angeles – Missoula: 1x daily
- Los Angeles – Redmond/Bend: daily
- Los Angeles – Spokane: 2x daily
- San Diego – Redmond/Bend: daily
- San Francisco – Anchorage: 1x daily
- San Francisco – Redmond/Bend: daily
- San Francisco – Spokane: 2x daily
Here’s what going away:
- Boise – Reno
- Burbank – San Jose
- Los Angeles – Philadelphia
- San Diego – Albuquerque
- San Diego – El Paso
- San Diego – Kansas City
- San Diego – Minneapolis/St Paul
- San Diego – Omaha
- San Diego – St Louis
- San Francisco – Albuquerque
- San Francisco – Kansas City
Here is what’s canceled in the winter but returning for summer:
- San Diego – Baltimore
- San Francisco – Nashville
- San Francisco – Baltimore
- San Francisco – Philadelphia
- San Francisco – Raleigh/Durham
And these are the routes on which Alaska will increase frequency:
- San Diego – Boise: 1x daily to 2x daily
- San Diego – Boston 1x daily to 2x daily
- San Diego – Orlando: 5x weekly to 1x daily
- San Diego – San Jose: 4x daily to 6x daily
- San Diego – Santa Rosa: 1x daily to 2x daily
- San Francisco – Chicago/O’Hare: 1x daily to 2x daily
- San Francisco – Orange County: 6x daily to 7x daily
As you can see, except for a couple of increased frequencies on existing routes, all the growth is going north-south. Some of these are markets Alaska has served before — I’m looking at you, Spokane to LA — but now with the Embraer 175 in the fleet, they might make more sense.
The majority of the cuts, however, are going east-west. You can see the red and orange splashing across the Midwest on that map above. Some routes — like LA to Philly — were killed by Virgin America only to be brought back by Alaska post-merger. That didn’t last. Others were experiments started after the merger was completed as part of the frenzied growth that came out while uniting the two networks.
San Diego is seeing the biggest changes here. Alaska is canceling six routes between San Diego and the Midwest and Southwest. Further east, Baltimore goes seasonal. In place of that, Alaska will add four daily flights heading north. It also has found success in Boston where it will add a second daily flight along with two more weekly flights to Orlando. Those are the only two frequency increases in an east-west market save the one extra flight between San Francisco and Chicago.
Those three extra frequencies show that this isn’t entirely about culling east-west flying in favor of north-south. This is about getting rid of underperforming flights and finding new places to fly those airplanes. It just so happens that most of the underperformers happen to be flying east-west. There are a couple exceptions including Boise to to Reno and Burbank to San Jose, a long-time laggard in the intra-California market. But those are rare in this announcement.
There’s nothing wrong with trying new markets and cutting what doesn’t work. It’s just rather telling when there are such broad trends as we can see here. I’d imagine this will improve Alaska’s profitability as it plays to its strengths, even if it means that expansion opportunities heading east aren’t as good as they had hoped. That is good news for the bottom line even if it gives some concern about future growth potential.