Alaska Pulls Back in July

Alaska Airlines

I mentioned yesterday that Alaska’s completion factor in the last week had suffered because it had pulled back from operating capacity it recently added. Specifically, spokesperson Ray Lane told me this:

There are a few different factors driving [Alaska and Horizon] completion rates below where we’d like them to be as we make the transition from our June to July schedule. In general, it’s linked to capacity we had recently added across a handful of markets that we ultimately ended up pulling back. This will flow through stats over the next couple of days.

This got me thinking. If there has been a last minute pullback on capacity for June/July, then the changes that bleed into July should show up as a schedule change since it’s further out. I dove into Diio by Cirium schedule data and sure enough, they do. In the last week or two, Alaska has cut back flying significantly in July.

Overall, Alaska was planning on having 25,110 flights operate next month. In the last week or two, it cut that back down to only 20,191. That’s a 20 percent decrease in flights but also a 24 percent decrease in seats and a 31 percent decrease in available seat miles, indicating longer flights are going away. Let’s take a look at what’s happening.

The Obvious

Some of these changes are rather obvious and don’t tell us much. For example, 304 flights were cut from the Hawai’i schedule. That makes all too much sense because the mandatory quarantine was extended through July. Now, the only Hawaiian flights that Alaska will operate are 2 daily from Seattle to Honolulu.

Also, 100 flights up to Canada are canceled since that border remains closed. There is only a single daily flight from Seattle to Vancouver operating.

Those are all expected and due to external impacts, but there’s plenty in here that may tell us more about where demand is failing right now.

The Portland Pulldown

Red are gone, yellow are reduced
PDX Cut map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

It looks like Portland ended up getting a sizable whacking. All flights to Billings, Bozeman, Kalispell, Missoula, Oakland, and Orlando disappear in July. Montana seems odd since that’s one area where COVID cases are lower and has been hot. Maybe Alaska just got too excited about the market and realized it overreached.

Orlando is telling in that airlines were counting on the bottomless pit of mouse-related revenue. But Alaska is seeing that isn’t stretching to the opposite coast. Not only is Portland to Orlando gone, but so is San Diego.

Beyond this, there are markets that are seeing reductions in frequency including big markets like Los Angeles and San Diego. Overall, Portland saw flights decrease by 21 percent. The only market where flights increased were to Seattle, presumably to improve connecting ability into all these markets where nonstops went away.

Seattle Goes Down

Red are gone, yellow are reduced, green are replaced with one stops
SEA Cut map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Seattle was a much different story. Other than Hawai’i and Canada, Seattle saw no routes disappear. It did, however, see big decreases in several markets around the country, both short and long haul.

Most notably, I want to point you to three green lines on the map. Those cities were scheduled to regain nonstop service to Seattle, but now they will revert back to the short-term plan to be served as a tag. Indianapolis will be served with a stop in St Louis, New Orleans with a stop at Dallas/Love Field, and Baltimore via Pittsburgh.

Overall, even though it sees fewer market cuts, Seattle still shows 17 percent fewer flights in July than previously planned.

Mexicuts

There has been bullishness around flying to Mexico in general lately, primarily because it’s one of the few countries in the world that will still allow American visitors. Those beach destinations should be hot, but again, Alaska seems to have gotten too excited here.

  • Cabo San Lucas – San Francisco canceled, Los Angeles and San Diego dropped from 2 daily to 1, San Jose still at 1 daily
  • Guadalajara – San Jose canceled, Los Angeles still at 1 daily
  • Ixtapa/Zihatanejo – Los Angeles dropped from thrice weekly to Saturday-only
  • Loreto – Los Angeles dropped from thrice weekly to twice weekly
  • Manzanillo – Los Angeles dropped from twice weekly to Saturday-only
  • Mazatlan – Los Angeles dropped from 5 weekly to Saturday-only
  • Puerto Vallarta – San Diego and San Jose canceled, San Francisco dropped from daily to Saturday-only, Los Angeles dropped from 2 daily to 1

These are sizable cuts showing that any international travel demand may be tenuous, even in a market like Mexico.

No Love for the Northeast

Another area with big cuts is the northeast US. This may not be a surprise since it was hardest hit by the virus early on and has shown limited signs of recovery in demand, especially to the West Coast. Here’s what’s happening there.

  • Baltimore – Seattle nonstop canceled, replaced with stop in Pittsburgh
  • Boston – San Francisco canceled, Seattle drops from thrice daily to twice daily
  • Newark – Seattle second daily flight resumption canceled, Los Angeles and San Francisco still 1 daily
  • New York/JFK – Seattle and San Francisco second daily flight resumption canceled
  • Philadelphia – Seattle second daily flight resumption canceled
  • Washington/Dulles – San Francisco canceled, Seattle second daily flight resumption canceled
  • Washington/National – San Francisco canceled, Seattle second daily flight resumption canceled, Los Angeles still 1 daily

These are very hefty cuts for the month. I found the cancellation of San Francisco to National particularly surprising, but San Francisco seems to have been hit hardest.

The Rest

Throughout the rest of the network, there have been cuts in many places. Anchorage was hit hard with Los Angeles and San Francisco flights suspended while other markets saw frequency cuts. There were a fair number of frequency reductions on intra-California markets, and San Diego to Sacramento goes away entirely for the month.

Overall, this feels like an airline that saw early booking numbers, felt bullish, and then realized it was wrong. Things must have been so bad that Alaska felt it necessary to cancel a number of flights in late June as operational cancels, very close to departure.

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13 comments on “Alaska Pulls Back in July

  1. Thanks, CF.
    As usual, great analysis.

    The changes don’t bode well for the fall for the entire industry. We’ll see.

    1. “The changes don’t bode well for the fall for the entire industry. We’ll see.” I agree. If this is the canary on the runway, then once October rolls around things could get ugly fast & of course that’s when real jobs could be on the line.

      Also California has a spike in CV cases & it may result in either a pause in reopening or a reversion to closure. That’s why demand looking forward looks dicy.

  2. Thank you for this great article. I found it as Alaska Airlines made a schedule change just 2 days before my trip.

    My connecting flight in Seattle now departs 4 hours (!!) before my first flight arrives in Seattle (both are on Alaska Airlines).
    Same for my return trip, where I have just 10 minutes for the connection, making it impossible.

    So now I have to cancel my whole trip as they made it totally impossible to complete, and lose a lot because of that.

  3. Interesting analysis and easy to digest compared to the big 4. Unfortunately it just reads like more bad news. Not even a hint of work related travel on my horizon and while I really want to go on vacation what’s the point when 99% of places are closed or limiting capacity in some nature.

  4. Phase 2 of coronavirus is here now that we’ve tried “reopening” without solid safety precautions. And it’s looking worse than phase 1. It’s going to be a rough rest of the year.

    1. Believe it or not Aaron, it’s still phase one. And that being the case should give right minded people pause about flying as some states such as NY, NJ & CT are requiring 14-day quarantine from 16-states & growing. This requirement is regardless of mode of travel though. So even driving in you are required to self isolate, but I wonder how that will be enforced. I worry what will happen with a second wave in the fall considering how poorly we responded to the current one.

  5. Is there data on how far in advance people booking are booking flights now?

    I would guess that most existing long-term plans travel plans until at least Thanksgiving and probably longer aren’t going to happen, so flights will be filled with people making recent travel arrangements. And if most of those are waiting until a week or two before to book travel to begin with it’s not that problematic to cancel flights a week or two in advance.

    1. I hear that ULCCs are mostly getting their bookings close=in (like within 1 or 2 weeks of flight). Looking right now at a week from now, NK is advertising all of its flights on EWR-MCO at $18 and F9 at $24. That seems to be less than even the CPE. And even UA is at $49 across the board. I can’t see that level of discounting unless airlines are anticipating a lot of close-in bookings.

      Things after July 4th weekend are looking pretty bad. I anticipate we will have strong TSA numbers this weekend. After that, giant bloodbath.

    2. I have booked one speculative vacation trip for October, but only because of the change/cancel fee waivers currently in place. It was booked with Travel Bank money that AS already had captured from me, so no new cash outlay from me. I might book some speculative holiday trips, perhaps as awards (redeposit fed waiver), but realistically I don’t think we are going to head anywhere this year for discretionary travel.

  6. “These are very hefty cuts for the month. I found the cancellation of San Francisco to National particularly surprising, but San Francisco seems to have been hit hardest.”

    Translation : AS spent all that for Virgin America just to dismantle it faster than speed of light.

  7. The Mexicuts are not a surprise to me actually. Even though it is a location that is open to Americans, the Covid cases in Mexico are out of control. They have stated that they are not doing widespread testing due to costs. Therefore, the cases down there are under reported and I think this may be scaring away some travelers.

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