Anchorage airport officials hope incentive program encourages airlines to test new routes

Five Alaska Airlines planes parked at gates
Alaska Airlines planes are parked at several Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport gates on Jan. 5, 2022. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is adding four new routes this summer. Alaska, Delta and United Airlines will begin nonstop service to New York City, Detroit, San Diego and Washington D.C. airports.

Erik Peterson is the communications coordinator for the Anchorage airport. He said there’s been a growing demand for direct flights to and from the state’s largest city. He said the airport is expecting a 6% increase in passenger traffic this year. 

“I think that there’s a huge demand for both tourists to come and visit and see all the great things Alaska has to offer,” Peterson said. “We’re also here for the people of Alaska, and they want to go on trips too.”

Alaska Airlines is offering weekly service to San Diego starting in May and daily non-stop service to New York City in June. In May, United begins direct service to Washington D.C. daily. And starting in June, Delta will fly direct to Detroit three days a week.

Peterson said flights to and from New York have been popular among flyers, so it wasn’t a surprise to him when Alaska Airlines announced it’s adding that non-stop route. 

Rural residents will benefit, too. Normally, if someone from a rural community wants to fly to the East Coast they’d make at least three connections, but this summer, they may have the option of two. Peterson said offering flights to new destinations meets the mission of the airport. 

“We, as the airport, hope to facilitate as much passenger traffic as possible. We would love hundreds of routes all year long,” said Peterson

The Alaska Department of Transportation introduced a program this year called the International Passenger and Cargo Service Incentive Program which aims to encourage airlines to try new routes. To be eligible, it has to be a new service or not flown in the last 13 months. 

Airlines pay a landing fee to airports each time a plane lands, based on the number of passengers. When enrolled in the program, airlines get their landing fees waived for their first 13 touchdowns. 

Peterson said all landing fees for the summer could be waived through the program depending how often the route is scheduled.

“We’re very excited whenever an airline not only starts a new route, but also if they have a rapid increase in the frequency of flights,” he said. “It shows good demand.”

Peterson said airlines are more likely to increase flight frequency when there’s a high demand. He said the increased routes aren’t a direct result of the program because it was just announced, but he hopes to see the program grow. 

Scott McMurren, who writes the Alaska Travelgram newsletter, said the four new summer destinations have been a long time coming. He said flights to Detroit, New York and Washington D.C. are especially exciting because they’re hub cities for international airlines. 

“United’s new service from here [Anchorage] to Washington DC is huge,” McMurren said. “It’s daily service, from Anchorage to their hub at Dulles. So they fly from Dulles to the rest of the world, Europe- I think they may even have flights from Africa.” 

Alaska’s flight between Anchorage and San Diego only runs on Saturdays. If it’s popular, McMurren said the airline might consider offering daily service next summer. When an airline is testing a prospective route, he said it’s common for them to run once a week.

When airlines consider establishing new routes, McMurren said they look at how many people are getting on and off the planes. Then, they determine if the route would be successful. He said several airlines have tested direct flights out of Anchorage.

“For a couple summers Frontier Airlines flew up here from Portland and Denver, and also Fairbanks to Denver and stuff like that. Sun Country Airlines, they fly here now but they have flown a number of different routes from Fairbanks and also from Anchorage. JetBlue came up here for several years,” said McMurren.

McMurren said the flights benefit tourists traveling to Alaska. He said flights with United Airlines are huge contributors to the state’s tourism economy because they come from across the nation. He said United Airlines has offered various seasonal nonstop flights for several years and he’s excited for more options for direct flights. 

“This is like another jewel in the crown for United’s service to Alaska,” he said.

McMurren said Alaska is a popular travel destination and he doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon. He said the goal for airlines is likely to make Alaska the end destination, not an intermediate stop. 

In upcoming years, McMurren said he hopes to see a direct flight between Anchorage and Tokyo, Japan.

Previous articleAnchorage police warn of scammers impersonating officers and asking for money
Next articleThis Alaska artist hopes you’ll draw on your vintage clothes | INDIE ALASKA