Alaska has long been something of a tweener in the hyper-competitive Los Angeles market. While American, Delta, Southwest, and United all battle it out, Alaska has lived life as a large number five, a place it solidified after taking over Virgin America. That’s not the most desirable place to be, but Alaska has a strategy, and seven new destinations announced today are part of that plan.
As Brett Catlin, Managing Director of Alliances and Capacity Planning for Alaska told me yesterday, Alaska has a long history of serving leisure destinations well from LA, starting with Mexico and — after acquiring Virgin America — expanding into Hawai’i and Florida to a lesser extent. It will launch four new routes in that same vein this winter:
- Fort Myers – 4x weekly starting November 20
- Kona – 3x weekly starting December 17
- Lihu’e – 4x weekly starting December 18
- Tampa – 1x daily starting November 20
I find nearly all of these fascinating. Fort Myers seems like a stretch. No airline flies that, and I don’t think any airline ever has. But Brett mentioned to me that it had over 100 daily passengers each way, and I couldn’t believe it. Sure enough, in Q1 of 2019, there were 110 according to Diio by Cirium. This is a winter route, but if it does well, it could stretch into the summer.
Meanwhile, LA to Tampa is much bigger with 420 per day in Q1 2019 but it also has competition already flying the route. For now, it’s just Delta with a single daily flight, so this is less competitive than previous attempts to serve bigger markets.
Then there’s Hawai’i. Even though San Francisco to Kona didn’t work, Alaska is hopeful this will work from LA. In San Francisco, Brett said that the Oakland and San Jose service worked well, but they have nothing in the LA area to either airport, so this is different. I assume that this is also attractive because Southwest isn’t going to add Hawai’i service from LAX for some time. Might as well try to escape the competition if you can.
Beyond these pure leisure markets, there is Alaska’s version of the heartland strategy that it is rolling out in full effect. Alaska has a ton of loyalty in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s not just Portland and Seattle. It’s also the smaller cities, and Alaska has been trying to connect more of them to big cities in the West like Los Angeles. The three new routes being announced today are:
- Bozeman – 1x daily starting November 20
- Eugene – 1x daily starting October 1
- Medford – 1x daily starting October 1
This follows a clear pattern. In January, Alaska started flying to LAX from Redmond/Bend (Oregon) and Spokane. In March, it brought in Boise and Missoula. On September 1, Fresno starts. Ok, that’s a bit different but it’s still that same north-south strategy of connecting smaller cities to big ones.
To me, it’s Bozeman that stuck out on this list. Is it a coincidence that JetBlue just announced it was moving its Bozeman flight from Long Beach to LAX? I’m sure not, but all Brett would say is that they’ve had this market on their list for some time. Enjoy that move, JetBlue.
According to Brett, Alaska doesn’t need to cancel any flying to be able to run these flights from LAX. They are a bit tight because there are a couple gates down for construction now, but they have room to expand as needed. This winter, you’ll see business markets take more of a back seat while leisure markets grow thanks to the pandemic, but Alaska is committed to all its markets in some form.
Where this gets most interesting is when you consider partnerships. Brett told me that they’re really focused on hub structure in LA. That means turning it into something that connects better. A place like Fort Myers can benefit from all those people connecting from north of LA, for example. But Alaska is also joining oneworld by the end of the year, and it has its strategic partnership with American for international connections. Alaska sees its place in oneworld as providing strong feed options to all the member airlines, and these moves should help strengthen opportunity in LAX.
Now that American is pulling back from its Pacific hub in LA, does it need to keep flying to Fresno and Eugene and Medford on its own? Those were potentially on the chopping block anyway. But now American loyalists will be able to fly Alaska on these routes and still earn miles. That benefits both airlines greatly. Alaska can now step right into the role of feeder at LAX for all oneworld partners.
This is good news for Alaska, good news for oneworld partners, and yes, good news for American which wants to pull back in LA without losing the ability to get its loyalists where they need to go. American and Alaska can’t coordinate, but in this case, what’s best for each of them individually just happens to benefit the other.
As if this isn’t enough, there’s more good news for American this morning. That, however, I can’t talk about just yet… you can read the post about American’s partnership with JetBlue here.