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The pandemic is driving down airfares, but be prepared for flight cancellations

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: July 4
  • Published July 4

The good news for air travelers is that fares are really low.

But the COVID-19 crisis continues to turn the world on its head — and travel arrangements are not spared this fate.

In the midst of the pandemic, flights are getting canceled.

All of the airlines are canceling flights. Remember Alaska Airlines’ popular Anchorage-L.A. nonstop? It’s not operating until Aug. 1. But starting Aug. 5, Alaska is offering tickets to L.A. for as little as $94 one-way.

What about San Francisco? Alaska was supposed to start its new Anchorage-San Francisco flight on April 21. The launch has been pushed back multiple times. Right now the published start date is Sept. 1. Since they plan to stop it for the winter on Sept. 8, my bet is it’s not going to fly at all this year. And United canceled its nonstop last month.

Alaska Airlines is selling tickets on the Anchorage-San Francisco route for as little as $137 one-way. There are cheaper tickets on American Airlines ($114 one-way), if you don’t mind flying via Chicago or Dallas.

United also canceled its Anchorage-Houston nonstop, as well as the new Anchorage-Los Angeles flights. There’s only one flight scheduled for the Anchorage-Newark nonstop: Sept. 8. Even flights to United’s hub in Chicago have been pushed back to start on Sept. 9. Anybody who buys a ticket hoping to fly nonstop to Chicago should be prepared for a layover in Denver.

The cheapest tickets from Anchorage to Chicago are on nonstops from American or Alaska Airlines, for $109 one-way.

Delta’s canceling flights, too. The carrier scrapped its Anchorage-Salt Lake City nonstop. Its Anchorage-Atlanta nonstop runs three days a week during July. Delta finally started flying nonstop from Anchorage-Minneapolis last week. Usually the flight operates year-round.

Once flights are canceled, the passengers need to be rebooked. This has put additional pressure on airlines trying to keep middle seats empty. That strategy worked for a while, when fewer people are flying. Now, as demand slowly increases, most airlines have gone back to filling the middle seats. That includes Alaska Airlines, United and American. On its website, Alaska no longer mentions blocking middle seats. Rather, it says “we’re limiting the number of guests on our flights and blocking select seats.”

Delta Airlines says it’s limiting sales to 60% of capacity in coach and blocking middle seats through Sept. 30.

Southwest Airlines and JetBlue also are blocking the middle seats.

In addition to limiting the number of seats sold, airlines are doubling down on cleaning aircraft and are mandating that customers wear masks on board. Last week, Alaska Airlines came up with a yellow card to hand to noncompliant travelers. Alaska Airlines could then ban the “carded” travelers from flying with them for a period of time.

Really, though, the fares are great, even if the whole flying experience is completely different now.

Alaska Airlines rolled out some low fares around the state as part of its PFD-in-July sale. Between Anchorage and Kodiak, the fare is $109 one-way. It’s $97 one-way to Juneau and $87 one-way to Fairbanks.

But it was American Airlines that really started hustling the cheap seats last week. At the top of the list is the airline’s nonstop flight from Anchorage to Dallas. The cost is just $219 round-trip for travel between Sept. 9 and Oct. 6. Sharing top billing is the carrier’s nonstop flight to Chicago (mentioned above, for $109 one-way).

American didn’t stop there. The airline is using the two nonstop flights to offer connections around the country for cheap. It was American Airlines that prompted Alaska Airlines to offer the cheap rate to L.A. for $94 one-way. Last week, American started the war with $99 one-way tickets, via Chicago or Dallas.

Most destinations in California, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona now are available for $114 one-way. American’s schedule is via Chicago or Dallas. But Alaska Airlines and Delta now have jumped in to match the fare with more dates and better schedules, starting Aug. 5. Destinations include San Diego, Burbank, Palm Springs, San Luis Obispo, San Jose, Sacramento, Reno, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque.

From Anchorage to New York, American dropped the fare to $144 one-way. Then Alaska and Delta matched the rate. So American dropped the rate again — this time to $114 one-way to Newark. Keep in mind that frequent flyers can earn Alaska Airlines miles on American flights. From Anchorage to Newark, travelers can earn 3,557 miles each way. Find the cheap fares for travel between Aug. 12 and Oct. 6.

From Anchorage to Boston, American Airlines dropped the fare to $144 one-way for travel between Aug. 6 and Oct. 6. Alaska Airlines and Delta have matched the fare.

Other East Coast destinations include Washington, D.C.; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; New Orleans; Memphis; Nashville; Detroit; St. Louis; Kansas City; and others.

From Texas all the way north to North Dakota, American Airlines picked select cities and dropped the fares to $114 one-way. Destinations include Houston; Omaha; Denver, Colorado Springs, Durango and Grand Junction in Colorado; and Rapid City, South Dakota. Alaska and Delta did not immediately match these rates across the board to all destinations, but that could change overnight. It probably will.

If you want to take advantage of these prices, you need to purchase your tickets by July 6. Will that change? Probably. Will the prices change between now and then? Yes. Will some of these flights be canceled, requiring you to book new flights? I think so.

So bring your seat to the upright, locked position. Put your tray table up, buckle your seat belt and enjoy your trip. And put that mask on, or your Alaska Airlines flight attendant could give you a dreaded yellow card.

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