Not sleeping in Seattle; Alaska Airlines racks up profits as network expansion focuses on Hawaii and Mexico

Alaska Airlines inaugurated its daily Bellingham-Honolulu service in January. A Hawaiian priest blessed the aircraft on the tarmac, while frequent flier David North cut the lei before boarding.

Alaska Airlines inaugurated its daily Bellingham-Honolulu service in January. A Hawaiian priest blessed the aircraft on the tarmac, while frequent flier David North cut the lei before boarding. Routes to Hawaii and Mexico have dominated the profitable airline's expansion lately and more Hawaiian services are launching next month.

So which major US airline achieved the best operating margin in 2010? Southwest? JetBlue? No, the answer (according to Airline Weekly) was Alaska Airlines, which reported an operating margin last year of 12.6%, well ahead of its nearest rival Southwest with 9.6%. It also reported a stunning load factor for the year of 83.3%, up a significant four percentage points on 2009. Passenger numbers at Alaska Airlines grew by 6.1%, while at Horizon Air, demand was up just under 1%. Another recent announcement was that it would be migrating regional operations from its wholly-owned subsidiary Horizon Air (an airline it acquired in 1986) to the Alaska brand, although the airline will remain a separate entity within the Alaska Air Group.

Source: Alaska Airlines

Source: Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines’ fleet currently comprises over 100 737s of various types and the carrier recently placed an order for 13 737-900ERs, as well as an additional two 737-800s. Being based in Seattle, buying Airbus is presumably not a viable option. Horizon Air’s fleet consists of 40 Bombardier Q400s (with eight more on order) and almost 20 CRJ700s, which the airline apparently plans to phase out.

Alaska Airlines is the official jersey partner of the Portland Timbers for the 2011 Major League Soccer season. The official uniforms, training wear and apparel line were unveiled to 1,000 fans at a fashion event – ‘Runway on the Runway’ – held in sister carrier Horizon Air’s hangar at Portland International Airport.

Alaska Airlines is the official jersey partner of the Portland Timbers for the 2011 Major League Soccer season. The official uniforms, training wear and apparel line were unveiled to 1,000 fans at a fashion event – ‘Runway on the Runway’ – held in sister carrier Horizon Air’s hangar at Portland International Airport.

Washington Airlines a better name?

Like Europe’s airberlin, the airline’s name is becoming increasingly inappropriate as its route network diversifies. The airline’s origins may have been based on flying to and from Alaska, but the company headquarters and its biggest operational base is in Seattle, in the state of Washington. In fact, Anchorage (its largest base in Alaska) ranks just fourth among the airline’s busiest airports this winter, with only two other Alaskan airports (Fairbanks 10th and Juneau 13th) making it into the airline’s top 15 airports.

Source: Alaska Airlines

Source: Alaska Airlines

This winter, Alaska Airlines (including Horizon Air) is serving 65 destinations non-stop from Seattle, including five in Canada (Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria) and three in Mexico (Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo). The highest frequency routes from Seattle are to Portland (145 weekly departures), Spokane (103), Anchorage (85), and Los Angeles (65).

New route focus on Hawaii and Mexico

Since the beginning of 2010, Alaska Airlines has started a dozen new routes, with two more planned to start at the beginning of the summer season. Seven of the new routes involved connections to destinations in Hawaii, while four more were new routes involving airports in Mexico, leaving just Seattle to St Louis as the only new service within the US mainland.

Date launched Route WF Current competition
11 March 2010 San Jose (SJC) – Kahalui/Maui (OGG) 3
12 March 2010 San Jose (SJC) – Kona (KOA) 4
26 March 2010 Sacramento (SMF) – Kahalui/Maui (OGG) 7
20 September 2010 Portland (PDX) – Honolulu (HNL) 7 Hawaiian (7)
27 September 2010 Seattle (SEA) – St Louis (STL) 7 Southwest (7)
7 November 2010 San Diego (SAN) – Kahalui/Maui (OGG) 7
12 November 2010 Portland (PDX) – Kona (KOA) 4
12 November 2010 San Diego (SAN) – Puerto Vallarta (PVR) 7
4 December 2010 San Jose (SJC) – San Jose del Cabo (SJD) 3
15 December 2010 San Jose (SJC) – Guadalajara (GDL) 4 Volaris (7)
16 December 2010 Sacramento (SMF) – Guadalajara (GDL) 3
7 January 2011 Bellingham (BLI) – Honolulu (HNL) 7
27 March 2011 San Jose (SJC) – Lihue (LIH) 3
28 March 2011 Oakland (OAK) – Lihue (LIH) 4
Source: anna.aero new route database and OAG Max Online for w/c 1 February 2011

The Bellingham-Honolulu service was perceived as a pre-emptive strike against Allegiant Air’s plans to start serving Hawaii with a fleet of recently sourced 757s. Bellingham is a major base for Allegiant Air, while for Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, it is only its third route from the airport after Seattle and Las Vegas.

In addition, in 2010, Horizon Air began linking Spokane with Sacramento and San Jose in California; a summer seasonal flight between Portland (Oregon) and Bellingham (Washington); and four times daily intra-Californian flights between Los Angeles and San Jose.


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