Alaska Airlines Adds Extra Holiday Flights
Monday, November 05 2012
Getting home for the holidays is always an issue for Unalaskans, but it’s not just because of bad weather or cramped flights.
Scott Habberstad, the marketing director for Alaska Airlines, says the company has a pretty good idea of what the problem is.
"During A season, there's about 4500 people that want to go from the lower 48 to Dutch Harbor. And unfortunately, it coincides with Christmas," he says.
That's why the airline is adding an extra flight in and out of town on January 5 just for Unalaskans. That opens up 23 extra seats, timed to get people back just before school starts up again.
Alaska Airlines is calling it a "return home from the holidays" deal. Habberstad says the airline doesn’t usually offer up extra flights like this. They try to make sure everyone is covered by the regular schedule -- and that requires some extra work.
In the fall, Alaska Airlines normally reminds Unalaska residents to book their holiday travel before seafood processors start buying up seats in early October.
"We advertise in September that hey, if you want to travel at Christmas, buy your tickets now for Christmas travel, because we're going to shut down the inventory to award the seafood blocks in October," Habberstad says. "We forgot to remind people this September."
After local processors snapped up seats for their employees, flights into Unalaska were blacked out through January 20.
But Habberstad says it didn't seem like a problem. The airline sold a normal amount of tickets before they started auctioning off seats to processors, so it didn't look like any Unalaskans were shut out just because Alaska forgot to advertise.
Even so, Habberstad promises that the airline will bring back the reminders next year.
Mayor Shirley Marquardt pushed for the extra flight in January. And while she says she's happy that the airline went ahead with it, it’s doesn’t solve the bigger problem. Marquardt wants better service from PenAir, and she says it's up to Alaska Airlines to push their contractor for more -- more flights, and more reliability.
Habberstad says that’s out of Alaska Airlines’ control.
"We gotta get a bigger runway! We gotta get a bigger runway or a different airplane, or something," he says. "But we are working hard to meet the needs of the community with what we currently have."
But Marquardt still thinks the airlines can do better. And she’s confident that Unalaska can prove it. Over the next few months, she says the city will pull together information and talk to residents about air travel. Marquardt says they’ll bring their findings to Alaska Airlines and ask for improvements.
In the meantime, there are still 12 seats open on the airline’s January 5 flight to Unalaska.
Those tickets are only available by phone, and they're being sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. Residents are instructed to call Alaska Airlines at 1-800-747-0101 between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. They should ask for a "return home from the holidays" ticket -- and they can pay with miles or cash.
If that plane fills up, Habberstad says the airline will consider adding another flight just for Unalaskans. And if that's still not enough to get everyone back on the island, he says Alaska might expand its local access program.