While complimentary amenities for economy passengers continue to fade away, Alaska Airlines is bringing one of its most popular free treats to two routes in the northernmost state: free beer.
Starting March 3, when the airline’s sister carrier, Horizon Air, begins flying 76-passenger Bombardier Q400 planes between Anchorage and Fairbanks and Anchorage and Kodiak, complimentary Alaskan-made microbrew will be offered.
The beer—Old 55 Pale Ale—is made by Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling in Fox, Alaska, 10 miles north of Fairbanks, and “will be as fresh as can be,” said Lisa Luchau, Alaska Airlines’ director of onboard food and beverage.
“Silver Gulch will bring the beer down from Fairbanks to their facility at the Anchorage Airport and put it daily into environmentally friendly, stainless steel growlers called Kleen Kanteens, which our caterers will pick up and load onto the flights,” she said.
While cups of Silver Gulch beer will be served only as part of the new Horizon Air service in Alaska, complimentary Northwest wines and microbrews are served on most all Horizon Air flights longer than 40 minutes.
According to Luchau, Horizon Air, which flies to 39 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico, updates the wines each quarter and the microbrews each month.
“The service is an important part of what we offer. And customers really enjoy it, as you can imagine,” she said.
Most Horizon flights are short, and Luchau said flight attendants are told to pour about 6½ ounces of the complimentary beverages into each 9 ounce glass. “Some flight attendants may be pouring more generously, but most passengers are just getting a sample,” said Luchau.
Although Luchau declined to say how much the airline spends on the beer and wine service, she said it remains “part of the brand … an expense built into the budget.”
Like Porter Airlines, a Canadian regional airline that serves complimentary beer from a brewery near the airline’s base airport in Toronto, Horizon’s beer and wine service “is a small signature touch that has a large impact on how passengers perceive their flight with the airline,” Raymond Kollau of Amsterdam-based Airlinetrends.com said in an email.
“It also shows how a relatively small airline such as Horizon is rooted in the local communities it serves, while the airline’s relatively small scale allows local breweries to guarantee supply.”
Old 55 Pale Ale—described by Silver Gulch president Glenn Brady as “a really nice beer that has a broad appeal”—will likely be served on Horizon’s two Alaska routes for about two months and then swapped out for another Silver Gulch craft beer.
“We’ll see how Silver Gulch works as a partner and how the logistics of the Kleen Kanteens work out,” said Luchau.
In March, the Horizon Air high-speed, twin-engine Q400 turboprops will be begin flying in Alaska and be used for eight of nine daily flights between Anchorage and Fairbanks. The Q400 will also replace an Alaska 737 plane on one of two daily seasonal (October to April) round-trip flights between Anchorage and Kodiak.
(My story about complimentary microbrews being served on Alaska Airlines’ new Horizon Air service in Alaska first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)