Nonstop flights are really important for travelers. This is especially true for vacationers who are coming to Alaska. For Alaskans traveling Outside, it's not as crucial, as we are more accustomed to changing planes to get somewhere.
Recently, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced there is a working group to develop nonstop service between Alaska and mainland China. This would be a big boost for Chinese travelers who want to come to Alaska — both in the summer and in the winter.
But it's not an easy puzzle to solve, according to Mark Dudley of Interpacific Aviation and Marketing. Dudley, who has negotiated charter flights from Japan to Alaska in the past, says there's currently not enough demand to operate a scheduled flight.
"If someone will pay us to operate the flight, we can arrange it," said Dudley. For the last six years, Interpacific has arranged for Yakutia Airlines to fly nonstop between Anchorage and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky during the summer (between July 16 and Sep. 3, 2018).
For years, Dave Carlstrom worked to market the Fairbanks airport. One of his big projects was getting Condor Airlines to start service from Frankfurt. Now, the German carrier flies from Frankfurt to Anchorage, Fairbanks and Whitehorse.
"To get scheduled service to China is a pretty steep hill to climb," he opined. "First, there has to be a demonstrated demand. Then you need to find an air carrier that's willing to put substantial skin in the game," he said.
"That said, it's become standard for airports and communities to incentivize a carrier to sweeten an economically-marginal proposition," he added.
The payoff for local travelers, of course, would be the chance to fly nonstop back to China.
But, while Gov. Walker and the working group sort out the thorny financial and regulatory issues, travelers should appreciate the nonstop options we have today.
Let's review our options:
Anchorage-Frankfurt on Condor Airlines. Condor is an Alaska Air partner and flies to Frankfurt starting May 19. The one-way flights start at $440. One of the flights stops in Fairbanks each week to pick up travelers there.
Anchorage-Reykjavik, Iceland on Icelandair. Icelandair also is an Alaska Air mileage partner, with twice-weekly flights to Iceland and connecting service to Europe. The Iceland flights start at $570 round-trip on Monday, May 14.
Anchorage-Los Angeles on Alaska Air. Alaska offers daily service during the summer, but cuts back to five-times-weekly in January. You have to be a dedicated traveler to grab this flight though, since it's a red-eye in both directions. But at $265 round-trip, it's a real bargain (for travel in mid-January). We Alaskans are used to red-eye departures. This flight leaves Anchorage at 11:35 p.m., arriving at LAX at 5:57 a.m. But the return flight is tough: it leaves LAX at 11:42 p.m., arriving into Anchorage at 4:20 a.m. Of course, there are connecting flights at more reasonable hours — they just cost a little more.
Anchorage-Minneapolis on Delta. This is another flight that runs daily in the summertime. But Delta is cutting back on the nonstops in January. If you can grab one of the nonstops , prices are as little as $345 round-trip. Again, there are connecting flights for a little more money via Seattle.
Anchorage-Chicago on Alaska Air or United. After the Christmas break, both United and Alaska end their nonstop flights until March. That's too bad, since I want to fly there in January! The extra stop in Seattle (or Denver on United) adds several hours to the trip. The least-expensive tickets for travel in March are around $450 round-trip.
Aside from its frequent flights to Seattle, Alaska Air also offers nonstop flights from Anchorage to Portland, Las Vegas and Phoenix. The Portland flights operate each day, but the Las Vegas and Phoenix flights only operate a couple of times each week — so you have to hunt for them. But right now, you can get flights for around $300 round-trip to one of these destinations. That's a great deal. Their nonstop flights to Hawaii in the winter (Honolulu, Maui and Kona) are very popular. Honolulu runs every day. The Maui flight goes several times each week. The Kona flights are twice a week.
United offers year-round flights to Denver. Usually (but not always), it's cheaper to get a connecting flight. During the summer, United also offers daily nonstops from Anchorage to San Francisco and Houston, plus a once-a-week nonstop to Newark. During the peak holiday travel period between Dec. 20 and Jan. 7, United also flies a daily Anchorage-San Francisco nonstop.
Delta also flies from Anchorage to Seattle year-round. Salt Lake City used to be a big destination — now there are just a couple of flights each week during the summer. Daily service to Atlanta starts on May 24.
Domestic summer-only airlines include American Air, with flights to Phoenix, Los Angeles and Dallas starting in late May. JetBlue will return on May 25 with daily flights from Anchorage to both Seattle and Portland. SunCountry will offer nonstop flights to Minneapolis starting May 18. Air Canada will fly from Anchorage to Vancouver, B.C., starting May 11.
Correction: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that Alaska Airlines' Anchorage-Kona flights operate once per week. In fact, the flights operate twice each week on Fridays and Saturdays, through Friday, April 6, 2018.
Further, a previous version of this column stated that United Airlines flies nonstop between Anchorage and San Francisco in the summer. In fact, United also flies nonstop Anchorage-San Francisco flights between Dec. 20 and Jan. 7, 2018.