Did you hear about Alaska Airlines’ newest destination? It’s Cold Bay, about 650 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula.
Home to the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, the area is a mecca for hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts. It also happens to have a nice 10,000-foot runway.
Alaska Airlines began planning for the Cold Bay service after Ravn Alaska halted flights on April 3, 2020. Twice-weekly service — Wednesdays and Saturdays — service starts this weekend, according to Marilyn Romano, Alaska AIr’s regional vice president. The flights stop on the way to and from Adak, which is another 615 miles out on the Aleutian Chain.
Last week, a crew of about 20 people flew out on an Alaska 737 to put the finishing touches at the terminal and to unpack the essential supplies that came by barge from Seattle: air stairs for the 737-700, a belt loader for baggage, two baggage carts, a ground power unit, or GPU, and a van.
Harold “Hap” Kremer is Cold Bay’s airport manager, which is owned by the State of Alaska. “Alaska Airlines has put together the station in about a month. The TSA folks actually are in my office right now. They said it usually takes between 12-18 months for approval,” he said.
Alvin Osterback is the Mayor of the Aleutians East Borough, which includes Cold Bay. The borough paid for the construction of the new terminal in Cold Bay. “Under the direction of Anne Bailey, we worked hard with Alaska Airlines, Grant Aviation, the Department of Transportation and the TSA to get Cold Bay up and running, “ he said.
Grant Aviation is cooperating with Alaska Airlines to help passengers get from Cold Bay to several other communities in the region, including Dutch Harbor. But it’s not a traditional airline partnership.
First, Alaska’s 737 has 124 seats. Grant Aviation’s King Air 200 can seat nine passengers. In fact, Grant’s plane won’t even be on the ramp when Alaska’s jet pulls up to the terminal. That’s because of the security protocols with the TSA. Grant’s plane will arrive in Cold Bay after Alaska’s jet has taken off for Adak.
For travelers to Dutch Harbor from Anchorage, two tickets are required. Alaska Air’s ticket from Anchorage to Cold Bay costs between $500 and $583 one-way, depending on the date. The ticket from Cold Bay to Dutch Harbor costs $225 one-way. And unfortunately, you can’t redeem your Alaska miles for tickets on Grant.
The two-step approach for Anchorage-Dutch Harbor travel “is not meeting the needs of the community,” said Unalaska City Manager Erin Reinders. “But this is a great short-term fix for the region.”
Aside from connecting through Cold Bay on the twice-weekly flights, travelers must charter a plane from other operators like Ace Air Cargo or Security Aviation.
Dutch Harbor is not the only community in the region that wants access to Alaska’s new jet service. “On Wednesdays, we’ll fly travelers from Atka to Cold Bay and from St. George to Cold Bay to catch the jet,” said Rob Kelley, Grant Aviation’s CEO. Grant also flies to other communities including Nelson Lagoon, King Cove, False Pass, Akutan and St. Paul Island. For travelers in all of these communities, flying to Cold Bay is the most affordable option to get to Anchorage.
Depending on the passenger load, Grant flies either a six-passenger Piper Navajo or the larger King Air to pick up passengers in Cold Bay.
Travelers to and from Akutan face another challenge: the airport is on nearby Akun Island. Maritime Helicopters sells tickets from Akutan out to the airport separately. It’s just one of the quirky travel arrangements in the Aleutian Islands.
Connecting these flights can be “a logistical nightmare,” confesses Kelley. Still, Kelley praises Alaska Air for its commitment to travelers in the Aleutians. “The really deserve an atta-boy, because they’re not making money on this deal,” he said.
Both Alaska Air and Grant Aviation continue to pick up more passengers, mail and freight where Ravn left off. Alaska Air is starting its seasonal service to Dillingham and King Salmon on Monday and Tuesday. Out of its base in Bethel, Grant Aviation has added service to five more destinations: Kasigiluk, Pilot Station, Mekoryuk, Mountain Village and Nunapitchuk.
And although passenger enplanements are down, Grant and other air carriers are flying much more mail. “We’re flying more frequently because of the mail. Last week we flew 310,000 pounds of mail. “We budget about 1,800 pounds per flight,” he said.
There still are communities in the region without scheduled air service that must rely solely on charter flights. Sand Point has a paved runway that can accommodate Northern Air Cargo’s 737 cargo flights. But since Ravn stopped flying, there are no scheduled passenger flights. “Many of our seafood processors are lining up charter flights. But right now, nobody’s going anywhere on vacation,” said Aleutian East Borough Mayor Osterback.
St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs is accustomed to direct service to Anchorage. But since Ravn stopped, the community has had no scheduled passenger flights, aside from Grant’s flight to nearby St. George and on to Dutch Harbor. On Wednesdays, that flight will first land in Cold Bay to match up with Alaska’s jet. Other than the one weekly flight, charter flights are the only option.
Tickets on the new Anchorage-Cold Bay flights are expensive. But that’s your cue to use the Alaska Air miles you’ve been saving up. Those miles are especially valuable in the fall. That’s when some of the best silver salmon fishing is available on nearby Russell Creek. And after Labor Day, the duck and goose hunting is extraordinary in the Izembek Refuge. Anglers and hunters can stay at the Cold Bay Lodge or the Izembek Lodge. Between now and July, Alaska Air wants 12,500 miles each way. That’s not bad, but in August, the rate drops to 5,000 miles in each direction. That’s a great deal.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.
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