Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines to start flying from “new” Seattle area airport

 

 

Here’s one way Alaska Airlines is dealing with the fact that Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is reaching capacity: the carrier is going to begin operating some flights out of a ‘new’ airport in the region: Paine Field – Snohomish County Airport, which is the right next to Boeing’s giant assembly plant in Everett.

While Boeing’s newly -completed aircraft and private jets use Paine Field, it currently has no commercial service.

Over the years, there has been plenty of debate about using Paine Field for this purpose, though, because it is located about 20 miles north of Seattle and about 40 miles north of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.  Being able to catch a flight from there would allow travelers living north of Seattle to skip what has become terrible traffic that sometimes makes getting to the airport take longer than a regional flight.

Subject to government approvals, Alaska has announced that starting in the fall of 2018 it will begin offering up to nine daily flights out of the airport.

“We’re not quite ready to share details of the routes,” says John Kirby, Alaska’s vice president of capacity planning on the airline’s blog, “But I can tell you they won’t be limited to short, regional flights. We’re talking daily, nonstop flights to some of our most popular destinations.”

Construction of a “state of the art terminal” is slated to begin in June and Alaska said it will announce routes, flight schedules and begin selling tickets early next year.

 

 

Virgin Atlantic lands in Seattle & is welcomed by Sir Richard Branson

Courtesy Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic marked its new service between London Heathrow and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Monday with an inaugural flight from London to Seattle that featured a live-streamed in-flight performance by up-and-coming UK pop-star Raye and an on-the-ground welcome of the Boeing 787-9 by Sir Richard Branson, President of Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin Atlantic’s service replaces the flight currently operated by the carrier’s joint partner Delta Air Lines and will increase the annual capacity on the route by the more than 40,000 seats, Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger told Today in the Sky during the flight to Seattle.

“The Seattle market also fits better with the Virgin brand,” said Kreeger, “Seattle is a young, entrepreneurial, innovative, outdoorsy risk-taking kind of city and when you think of the element of the Virgin Atlantic brand and who we attract, it just seems like a great fit.”

At a press conference following the arrival of the flight and the kick-off of several days of in-city celebrations and events, Kreeger noted that the Virgin brand was already well known in Seattle and on the west coast thanks to the airline’s U.S. sister, Virgin America.

Alaska Airlines (Delta’s major competitor in the Seattle market) purchased Virgin America last year for $2.6 billion and announced last week that while Alaska will adopt some of Virgin America’s amenities and some of its cool ‘vibe,’ it will retire the Virgin America name and brand by 2019.

Noting that he thought he’d be polite when asked about that decision, “But I decided not to be,” Branson shared his thoughts on that decision at the post-flight news conference.

“It’s baffling and sad,” said Branson, “When I sat down with Alaska, I genuinely believed that they would treasure the brand, that they would treasure the people, that they would treasure the product and that they knew what they were buying,” he said. “And that the last thing they would do would be to rip the heart out of it, which seems effectively like what they decided to do.”

“It just seems such a waste,” said Branson, “I wonder what it was that Alaska bought and why did they bother?”

Branson also noted that Alaska has to continue on paying royalties on the Virgin America brand under the licensing deal until 2040, “despite what you might have been told.”

The Virgin Atlantic route to Seattle (VS105) departs Heathrow daily at 1:20 p.m. and arrives in Seattle at 3 p.m. and leaves Seattle daily at 5:50 p.m. and arrives the next day in London at 10:50 a.m.

 

The route is being served by a Boeing 787-9 aircraft with 264 seats, including 31 lie-flat “Upper Class” seats, 35 premium economy seats and 198 economy seats.

Photo – Harriet Baskas

 

 

 

Alaska Airlines announces plans for Virgin America

Photo by Harriet Baskas

It comes as no surprise, but Alaska Airlines announced its plans for the Virgin America name and brand and has decided that it’s going to keep the Alaska’s name and logo and retire the Virgin America name “likely sometime in 2019,” according to a company statement.

That’s bad news for those who love the Virgin America overall brand, vibe and amenities. But the good news is that Alaska Airlines is keeping its word and bringing some of the best Virgin America amenities forward.

Alaska says it will adopt “enhanced in-flight entertainment, mood lighting, music and the relentless desire to make flying a different experience for guests” as part of an overall goal to create “a warm and welcoming West Coast-inspired vibe.”

Alaska says it will adopt some other Virgin America touches including introducing music by new artists  on planes, in airport lobbies and at gates (2017); redesigning the cabin with new seats and amenities (2018) and introducing new uniforms by fashion designer Luly Yang (mid-2019) for flight attendants, customer service agents, pilots, mechanics and ground crew.

Alaska also promises to upgrade the Wi-Fi connectivity fleet-wide, add more premium seats, expand the lounge network and offer other new amenities you can read about here.

What do you think?

Considering Cuba?

The best restored vintage cars serve as taxis for tourists in Havana. Photo: Harriet Baskas

In early January I joined Alaska Airlines for the first scheduled flight to Havana from a west coast city – Los Angeles – in over 50 years. Here’s the CNBC story that came from that adventure.

Photo by Harriet Baskas

Last week, the newly inaugurated Trump administration warned it was in the middle of a “full review” of U.S. policy toward Cuba—prompting new questions about how committed President Donald Trump will be to the political and cultural thaw began under his predecessor.

However, uncertainty over Trump’s Cuba policy did not prevent American Airlines from opening a ticket office in Havana this week, a mere two months after the carrier flew the first scheduled commercial flight from the U.S. to Havana since 1961.

American’s new outpost in Cuba underscores how both U.S. fliers and air carriers are rushing to make the most of the first real opening between the two countries in decades—despite lingering questions about whether that thaw will continue in the Trump era.

 “We cannot speculate about what [Trump’s] next step will be, but I can assure you that we are moving our machine forward,” said Galo Beltran, Cuba manager for American Airlines told the Associated Press, “You are a witness to the investment and how important Cuba is to American as a U.S. entity doing business.”

American began flying to Havana from Miami and Charlotte in late November, and from Miami to five other Cuban cities in September. After a mid-February ‘schedule adjustment’ that drops one of two daily flights between Miami and three cities (Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero), American will be operating 10 daily flights to six Cuban cities.

Other U.S. airlines competed for the go-ahead to offer service to Havana and other Cuban cities. These include Delta (which in November was the first U.S. airline to open a ticket office in Havana), Spirit, United, Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest, all of which are sticking with their original flight schedules.

“Myriad external forces govern the climate in which we operate – prices of energy, labor,” said Brad Hawkins, spokesman for Southwest Airlines, which currently operates a dozen daily roundtrips between Cuba and the U.S.. As of right now, “Our Cuba flights are performing in-line with our expectations.”

JetBlue reported the same.

“Cuba routes are performing as expected,” said JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart, “As has been the case since we completed all of our route launches last fall, we continue to operate nearly 50 roundtrips between the U.S. and Cuba every week on six unique routes.”

Photo by Harriet Baskas

 

As one would expect from tourists prohibited from visiting a cultural Mecca for decades, many U.S. visitors who now fly to Havana join walking tours through the city’s old quarters, take rides in restored vintage cars and visit the Presidential Palace (home of the Revolutionary Museum), Hemingway’s House and the studios of local artists.

Members of a 50-person delegation of political, business and cultural leaders who joined Seattle-based Alaska Airlines in January, as part of the first regularly scheduled flight between Los Angeles and Havana, indulged in the same.

At the same time, they engaged with their Cuban counterparts, exchanging ideas and business links.

Stephanie Bowman and other commissioners from the Port of Seattle, which operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and an assortment of cruise and marine terminals, met with the Cuban Minister of Trade and Foreign Investment and the Cuban Port Authority.

“We learned that with the lessening of trade restrictions and the increase in tourism they have huge challenges in infrastructure development, everything from roads and hotels to being able to provide enough food for everyone,” said Bowman. She suggested the Port of Seattle host some Cuban executives in Seattle “so they can observe our cruise and airport business and take some best practices back.”

Photo courtesy Tom Norwalk

Kevin Mather, president & COO of the Seattle Mariners, didn’t meet with Cuban baseball officials or players while in Havana. However, he did bring a suitcase full of t-shirts, whiffle balls and other Mariners promotional items to hand out to baseball fans in a downtown Havana plaza.

Mather recognized that scouting for potential players in Cuba is a touchy subject right now, but he’s confident that eventually Cuban baseball leagues and the American Major League Baseball will have an understanding.

“And when the gate opens and the race starts, I want to have a horse to ride,” said Mather. He instructed his office to retain scouts and people well-versed in the Cuban economy “so that when the day comes we can react.”

That “hurry up and wait” lesson is being learned by members of cultural, business, tourism and trade missions heading to Cuba from a variety of U.S cities, said Janet Moore, president of Distant Horizons, which organizes the on-the-ground details for many delegations.

Once in Cuba, “They quickly realize that it’s not quite so straight-forward and that until the Trade Embargo is lifted, doing business with Cuba comes with an enormous set of regulations,” said Moore.

“So feelers are being put out there and relationships forged, but at this point concrete steps are more difficult,” she added.

Alaska Air marks Virgin America merger with special plane & a party

On Wednesday, Alaska Airlines flew a special liveried plane bearing the slogan “More to Love” from Seattle to San Francisco to mark the official closing of the carrier’s acquisition of Virgin America.

I covered the day for USA TODAY and you can read my story there about some of the details of the “going forth” plans shared during the day – most notably that, for now, Virgin America will stay branded as Virgin America, moonlit cabins and all, and that the mileage plans will be reciprocal.

But here are some pictures from the day:

 

*(All photos by Harriet Baskas)