Alaska Airlines has a unique strategy for reducing their flights while also being eligible for government aid.
Airlines need to maintain service to all airports
In order to receive government aid as part of the CARES Act, US airlines have to meet a few conditions through September 30, 2020, including:
- Not involuntarily furloughing or laying off any employees
- Maintaining service to all existing markets
That latter point is an interesting one. The government isn’t saying that airlines have to maintain all existing routes, but rather they have to maintain all existing destinations. In other words, an airport that previously saw 10 daily flights from an airline may now only see one. As long as some service is being maintained to an airport, that condition is being met.
US airlines are apparently trying to convince the government to let them essentially consolidate service, but I think that’s unlikely to materialize, as there are quite some logistical hurdles.
Why Alaska Airlines could be hit hard by this
One of the things that makes Alaska Airlines unique is that they have quite a few markets that are only served once or twice daily. They’re not quite as big as some other US carriers, so when you look at their East Coast gateways, some are served just once a day.
This presents an interesting challenge — the airline has to maintain service to these airports, even though demand isn’t really there in many cases.
Alaska Airlines’ new tag flights
It seems Alaska Airlines has a solution for dealing with reduced demand while still maintaining service to all airports. In the coming week, the airline is starting to introduce some tag flights, most of which show as being in the schedule as of later this week.
Just to give a few examples:
- Instead of flying from Seattle to Dallas and from Seattle to Houston, Alaska will fly from Seattle to Dallas to Houston
- Instead of flying from Seattle to Raleigh and Seattle to Charleston, Alaska will fly from Seattle to Raleigh to Charleston
- Instead of flying from Seattle to Minneapolis and Seattle to Columbus, Alaska will fly from Seattle to Minneapolis to Columbus
- Instead of flying from Seattle to Pittsburgh and Seattle to Baltimore, Alaska will fly from Seattle to Pittsburgh to Baltimore
- Instead of flying from Seattle to San Luis Obispo and Seattle to Santa Barbara, Alaska will fly from Seattle to San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara
As of this moment, these are the only consolidated flights I’m seeing in the schedule, though I imagine we’re going to see more of these.
I know this is purely the avgeek in me speaking, but I wonder if we could see any double tag flights, with one-way journeys that include three segments.
For example, perhaps it’s unlikely, but Alaska flies to three destinations in Florida — Tampa, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale. One has to wonder if we could see those flights consolidated as well, if demand dries up even more.
With airlines trying to maintain service to all airports in order to qualify for government aid, we’re seeing airlines get creative with how they reduce service. This is especially challenging for airlines like Alaska, which have lots of markets where they only operate one daily flight from one airport.
That’s why we’re now seeing Alaska operate several tag flights on routes that are “long and thin” for them. I’ll be curious to see how much more of this we see from Alaska…