On Friday the 13th, Ravn Alaska launched its first flights in seven months after shutting down in April. The schedule is slimmed down while Ravn waits for regulatory approval.
The air carrier has had a tough year. Back in April, RavnAir Group stopped flying and filed for bankruptcy. Employees were let go. Hangars were sold and Ravn’s competitors picked up many of the planes that flew to more than 100 Alaskan communities, from Kaktovik to Kotzebue to King Salmon.
A deal was cobbled together in a Delaware courtroom this summer. Some of the carrier’s assets were sold to a California entity called FLOAT Shuttle.
FLOAT Shuttle isn’t operating anymore, but its CEO, Rob McKinney, has taken the reins at Ravn Alaska. With a new executive team and a fleet of 10 de Havilland Dash-8 planes, McKinney and his team aim to serve a much smaller group of communities, including Dutch Harbor, Sand Point, Homer, Valdez and Kenai.
Four of the five destinations have not had any scheduled air service since April. But Kenai has up to 15 daily flights to Anchorage with Grant Aviation.
Ravn Alaska is waiting for the U.S. Department of Transportation to grant scheduled route authority. In the meantime, Ravn is offering public charter service from Anchorage to its launch destinations.
[After suspending service and filing for bankruptcy months ago, a new Ravn Alaska returns with flights to some communities]
Other companies have used the public charter option to serve Anchorage. Back in the 1980s, Morris Air flew public charters to Seattle, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles before getting its own operating certificate in 1992. During the same time, Hawaiian Vacations offered public charters between Anchorage and Hawaii. Alaska Airlines purchased Hawaiian Vacations in 2007 when Alaska inaugurated its nonstop Anchorage-Honolulu service.
Travelers who are familiar with flying on the Dash-8 won’t notice a big difference on board the aircraft, aside from having a pre-assigned seat on the plane. And right now, because of COVID-19, all travelers must wear a mask.
But making reservations is different. Ravn set up a separate entity, Ravn Travel, to make reservations for the public charter flights. No online reservations are permitted yet. All travelers will be required to complete an operator-participant agreement. Take a moment to read the agreement. There are several interesting rules:
1. When you pay for a reservation, all funds are deposited in an escrow account. Ravn receives the funds after travel is completed.
2. All fares are fully refundable, unless you fail to cancel your trip at least 60 minutes ahead of your flight.
3. Passengers are permitted two checked bags, up to 50 pounds each.
Another rule pertaining to public charters is that only four round-trip flights per week are permitted between each city pairing. But the specific number of flights will vary by destination.
For example, between Anchorage and Kenai, Ravn will operate one flight on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, departing at 8 p.m. There’s an additional flight on Thursday mornings at 8 a.m. The cost is $79 one way, compared with Grant’s $110 one-way fare.
Flights to Homer start at $99 one way, departing at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Anchorage-Valdez flights start at $99 one way, departing at noon on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Dutch Harbor is an important destination for Ravn. Flying from Anchorage in a Dash-8 means passengers likely will stop for gas along the way in either King Salmon or Cold Bay. “But we’re not selling tickets to either of those destinations right now,” said Dennis Kitchens, Ravn’s chief commercial officer.
Tickets to Dutch Harbor start at $549 one way, although there’s a discounted fare of $399 one way if you live in Dutch Harbor.
If you’re thinking of visiting Dutch Harbor, think again. “There’s a two-week quarantine mandate,” said Carlin Enlow, head of the Unalaska/Port of Dutch Harbor Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s nice to have options,” she said, regarding Ravn’s new service. “We’ll just kind of wait and see for now.”
Travelers to Sand Point also have been without nonstop service to Anchorage since April. Now, the community will have two weekly flights, on Mondays and Fridays, priced from $549 one-way.
In April and May, residents of both Sand Point and Dutch Harbor had to charter a plane to get to Anchorage. Starting in mid-May, travelers could fly on Grant Aviation from either Sand Point or Dutch Harbor could fly on Grant Aviation to Cold Bay to pick up Alaska Air’s nonstop 737 to Anchorage. Still, there are lots of moving parts. First, travelers had to purchase a separate ticket on Grant, then connect in Cold Bay.
“We feel it’s going to be a short process before we receive our scheduled route authority,” Kitchens said. “We plan to serve St. Paul Island when we receive scheduled route authority." St. Paul Island, in the middle of the Bering Sea in the Pribilof Islands, is another destination that’s been cut off from regular air service since Ravn’s shutdown in April.
Kitchens has a long list of communities Ravn would like to service once it gets that valuable scheduled route authority, including Fairbanks, Aniak, St. Marys, Unalakleet, King Salmon, Cold Bay and Dillingham.
To make reservations on the public charter flights, contact Ravn Travel at 833-418-2360.
[Washington, California and Oregon urge travelers coming from other states to quarantine for 14 days]