BELLINGHAM – A dogfight is breaking out among Alaska Airlines and two low-cost carriers who have announced plans to invade Alaska’s lucrative Pacific Northwest-California routes.
Virgin America and JetBlue are bringing new flights and new planes to familiar Alaska Airlines routes. Alaska is countering with enhanced schedules, new food and beverage offerings, and the promise of airborne Internet service.
Alaska holds the largest share of the SeaTac-to-Los Angeles business with 58 percent of the traffic, according to Farecast.com. And Alaska has had a monopoly on nonstop flights between Seattle and Long Beach, Calif., and Seattle and San Diego.
Virgin America: New routes will begin March 18 with three daily nonstop flights between Seattle and San Francisco. The San Francisco-based airline will begin three daily nonstop flights between Seattle and Los Angeles on April 8, adding a fourth daily flight May 11.
JetBlue: The airline, based in New York but with a hub in Long Beach, announced Tuesday new Seattle-to-Long Beach and Seattle-to-San Diego routes. The airline will start flying twice daily to Long Beach and once daily to San Diego on May 21. The San Diego flight will be seasonal.
New planes take on old: Virgin America will fly new Airbus A320s on its West Coast routes. JetBlue will fly 100-seat Brazilian-made Embraer 190s on its West Coast flights. Both Virgin America’s and JetBlue’s aircraft are equipped with video entertainment screens.
Alaska flies a mix of new Boeing 737s and older MD80s on the California routes. It’s rapidly retiring the MD80s in favor of new Boeings. It’s testing satellite Internet service for its aircraft beginning this spring with plans to roll out the service later to its whole fleet.
Alaska’s food: Alaska and its sister airline, Horizon Air, are emphasizing their ties to the Pacific Northwest with new regional food offerings. Alaska, for instance, will enhance its first-class snack menu with candy from Tacoma’s Brown & Haley and other snacks from Northwest companies. And it will partner with Seattle’s Jones Soda Co. for beverages on Alaska and Horizon flights.
University colors: Horizon, which could see competition soon from either or both of the low-cost carriers, is painting four Bombardier jets with the colors, mascots and logos of Washington and Oregon’s biggest public universities, the University of Washington, Washington State University, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.
Alaska adds flights: Alaska will offer 15 daily roundtrip Seattle-Los Angeles flights on weekdays – three more than before – departing on the hour southbound and on the half-hour northbound beginning April 27.
Cheap fares: JetBlue is offering $89 one-way fares for travel between Seattle and Long Beach and San Diego for the first three weeks of service, provided those tickets are booked by Feb. 22.
Alaska is offering frequent fliers double miles after two qualifying trips on flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles between March 15 and May 15.