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Alaskans are benefiting from pent-up travel demand with more nonstop flights to Lower 48

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: June 19
  • Published June 19

Travelers drag luggage while walking out of a terminal at San Francisco International Airport on Dec. 22, 2020. San Francisco is one of three destinations where Alaska Airlines recently launched nonstop service from Anchorage. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Who would have guessed that the summer of 2021 would be a banner year for airline service in Alaska? At first blush, events seemed stacked against a successful visitor season.

The annual cross-gulf cruise season usually brings lots of air travelers to the region via ships that dock in Seward and Whittier. Those cruises aren’t sailing at all this summer.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also a big damper on travel, from the locked-up Canadian border to a ban on most international flights. Some routes (like Europe) are starting to open up, but most of the world still is closed off, waiting for vaccines.

But since last summer was a bust, there are a lot of folks who want to travel this year. For many of them, Alaska is the most exotic destination they can find.

Even though rental cars are hard to come by, there are plenty of airline seats. Not just any seats, either — seats on nonstop flights. Travelers love nonstops, especially if they can avoid more busy, crowded airports.

While most summer airline schedules are finalized in February or March, there has been a rush of last-minute nonstop flights to Anchorage this summer.

Brett Catlin is a vice president for network and alliances for Alaska Air Group. That includes Alaska Airlines and Horizon Airlines. So in addition to determining which planes will fly to what cities on what days, he’s also in charge of Alaska Air’s partners, including the oneworld alliance.

“We accelerated three years of nonstop growth into one year,” Catlin said, explaining the burst of nonstop flights.

For the last several years, Alaska Airlines has grown significantly, adding more service to Hawaii, Costa Rica and now Belize (starting in mid-November). But for travelers in Anchorage, Fairbanks or the rest of the state, most trips required at least one extra stop.

But last week, Alaska Air launched three new nonstop destinations from Anchorage: Minneapolis, Denver and San Francisco. Earlier this year, nonstop service started to Las Vegas. That’s in addition to nonstop flights from Anchorage to Honolulu, Maui, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, Seattle and Portland. That’s not counting the in-state flights.

The new nonstops are not yet daily flights. The Minneapolis and Las Vegas flights are on weekends only. The nonstops to Denver and San Francisco run five days a week.

“Our goal is to add depth to the schedule,” Catlin said. That means Alaska Airlines aims to offer daily nonstop service to destinations like Denver and Minneapolis by next summer.

Even though Alaska’s participation in the oneworld alliance officially launched April 1, travelers still are unable to redeem their Alaska Air miles on most of the partner airlines.

“It’s really a technology issue delaying the redemption process,” said Catlin. “It’s always easier to start accruing miles on partners than it is to redeem.”

I asked Catlin what the biggest benefit is for Alaska travelers in the new alliance. He didn’t hesitate: “The unlocking of benefits for our elite travelers on American Airlines really is game-changing,” he said.

“The biggest benefit is reciprocity on first class upgrades,” he said. “There are a lot of elite travelers in Alaska,” he said. “And those MVP Gold 75K travelers will get upgraded on American.”

MVP and MVP Gold elites can access American’s extra-legroom seats (“Main Cabin Extra”) at no additional charge. Elites also get extra baggage allowance, early boarding and lounge access.

Catlin anticipates that award seats will be available on Qatar Air, an important Alaska Airlines partner, by the end of the summer. “It may take a little longer for some of the oneworld partners that do not fly to the U.S.,” he said.

Most of the benefits for Alaska Airlines travelers in the oneworld alliance are reserved for the elite-level travelers. Non-elite travelers traveling on the least-expensive tickets will earn about 25% of actual miles flown.

Alaska’s partner American Airlines is flying nonstop to Anchorage from Dallas, Chicago and Phoenix. Right now, American is operating wide-body Boeing 787s to Chicago and Dallas during the summer. And the Dallas flight is scheduled to operate through Jan. 3, 2022.

United is offering daily nonstops from Anchorage to Houston, Chicago, Newark and Fairbanks. The Denver flights run year round. Most flights run through Sept. 6, although the Anchorage-Fairbanks flights operated through Oct. 4.

Delta also added a lot of last-minute nonstop flights from Anchorage. Delta’s nonstops from Anchorage to Seattle, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis operate year-round. The carrier’s seasonal Atlanta flight usually ends around Labor Day. But right now, Anchorage-Atlanta nonstops are scheduled through Jan. 9, 2022. Delta also is offering twice-weekly weekend nonstops from Anchorage to New York’s JFK Airport (wide-body 767 service), Detroit and Los Angeles.

Sun Country Air is offering nonstop flights to Minneapolis from Anchorage through Sept. 11. Frontier Airlines is offering twice-weekly nonstop flights from Anchorage to Denver through Sept. 5.

Anchorage travelers are very fortunate to have so much nonstop service to the Lower 48 and Hawaii. The new flights were scheduled to accommodate increased demand from visitors — but there’s no reason we can’t hop a ride to jump-start our own travel plans.

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