Alaska Airlines’ Creative New “Tag” Flights

Filed Under: Alaska

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.

Bottom line

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…

  1. Didn’t it used to be more common that we had direct flights with multiple stops, and some people left the flight and some got on, but some carried on? For whatever reason I recall this happening on the east coast when I was young…

    I could be wrong though

  2. Just an FYI, its Pittsburgh with an H. Most cities in the US that end in -burg are Germanic in origin, think Hamburg. However Pittsburgh follows the Scottish spelling (i.e. Edinburgh).

  3. I wonder if the strategy or a variation will continue after the virus crisis has passed. One point that some of us have had is offering more than “point to point” with AS. For me it was continuing on once I am on the east coast, this scheduling might lead to an expansion of AS?

    Just wondering.

  4. Um this is not a “Creative New” Idea. It’s the model Southwest Airlines has used for 4 decades.

  5. My first flight ever was in 1978 from Seattle to Orlando on Eastern Airlines, with stops in St. Louis and Atlanta on the way.

  6. In Alaska, we call this the “milk run” this is commonly done on an Alaska route from Anchorage to Southeast Alaska to Seattle.

  7. Maybe the will do it with there east coast flight I flew lax to jfk yesterday with Alaska and was one of 3 passengers. It’s a crazy experience.

  8. I think its fine if the tag flights, as long as there is at least a way to get there, and they don’t jack up the prices, since this is basically flights being subsided by taxpayers.

  9. I don’t see an issue with this so long as they adjust connecting time accordingly at their hubs.

  10. What’s especially impressive is that these routings are still pretty direct. Not a whole lot of diversion, as you can see on the map

  11. they should working on extending their status to next year, and then giving me a free Oneworld Emerald status.

  12. What I think you are stating is that Alaska will introduce many one stop, through flights (without a connection)

    SEA-MSP-CMH This is like flying back in the 60’s and 70’s especially on NW out of MSP. This is a smart move. You stay on the same metal do not have to connect in another hub and you need not worry about missed connections. Hats off to AS (I never fly them anymore since there was the bitter divorce with DL.)

  13. Did Ben ever end up taking the United Island Hopper? I tried searching a bit for a review but can’t find anything. I’d love to read that one, as long as there are lots of pictures!

  14. I remember I flew Southwest from LAX-RNO-BOI-GEG in 01. Long day as I started at LAX and my destination was Spokane, GEG. I think this is a good idea for Alaska Airlines.

  15. Interesting. It kinda takes up back to the 1970’s before “super” hubs.

    I personally don’t see “double tags” happening. As it stands, the tag flights are way outside of AS territory and are probably going to be very lightly loaded. This would be particularly true if the plane simply turns around and flies back to the hub in reverse.

    What would be more logical would be “round robin” flights. IE: SEA-DFW-IAH-SEA
    The “tag leg” (DFW-IAH) is now “doubled” in the sense that it has SEA-IAH and DFW-SEA pax onboard (as well as the 2 or 3 DFW-IAH seats that were actually sold).

  16. @MikeN – that was my earlier point. I also fly out of CMH. AS will sometimes have a 40-50 min connection out of SEA. If they’re now stopping in MSP, I hope they adjust their hub connection times because it could impact these short connections even stopping a short timeframe in MSP.

  17. I definitely flew mainline AS on a SEA-PDX-ONT same plane routing, back in the 90s.

    I remember TW had a triangle leg STL-PDX-SEA-STL, with SEA-STL as a red-eye, also in the late 90s. TW had a deal where students could buy four domestic one-way tickets for a flat $498, so my friends going to college on the East Coast would use that deal to get to and from school.

  18. As someone who used to be in the MRO software business, this rejigging of routes is not an insignificant achievement in a short amount of time

  19. Alaska also has routes SEA-MCI and SEA-STL

    Those seem ripe for consolidation.

    As do SEA-OKC / SEA-ICT.

  20. This is the old methodology for the former NWA. They would have coast-to-coast cross country flights with stopovers in their hubs. Same plane service would have continued service to a 3rd city, often with same set of crew staying with the plane. On international routes, they will change crew. My favorite international route was NW1 and NW2 for the LAS-LAX-NRT-BKK run.

    So in terms of marketing a specific route, they can say they have DIRECT flights from NYC to HKG (NW19/20 stops in NRT both directions). They didn’t say they offer non-stop service.

  21. Nothing new here. Hop into the Way-Back Machine, Mr. Peabody. My dad once had to attend to a family emergency in the late 60’s. I believe the routing was ABQ-AMA-OAC-FSM or JNL. So, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Oklahome City; then unsure of the end point, either Fort Smith, AR or Joplin, MO, but definitely a milk run. I believe it was on Frontier, which at the time was a reasonable regional airline.

  22. Does shifting service to a commuter affiliate count for CARES? For example, UA’s mainline San Francisco-Columbus red-eye non-stop on a 320 recently became a daytime United Express E175 flight before getting discontinued this month.

  23. there is no scheduled service between TPA and MCO (only 91 miles) but I’ve actually flown that route due to a diversion!

  24. @Milo
    This wasn’t Southwest’s model given that for decades, the Wright Amendment prevented the airline from flying freely and so they had to get creative with their schedule which faced many restrictions. Sad that in a hypocritical free market, Southwest had to endure such when no other airline did.

  25. I used to consult in Newfoundland and occasionally had to take a regional flight back to Toronto when flights were full or weather issues.

    Itinerary was something like St John’s, Gander or Cornerbrook, Halifax, Charlottetown, Montreal, Toronto on a Vickers Viscount (quad turboprop) or occasionally Vickers Vanguard (larger quad). Seemed to take all day.

  26. Alaska Air needs to get onboard with United Air and extend their vouchers/wallet expiration date to 24 months. We had to cancel a BIG vacation . We changed our dates to 2021. Unfortunately, Alaska Air won’t have their schedule or be bookable before our expiration date. Not happy.

  27. Horizon did that not that many years ago on flights to Montana. Often times it would be in a triangle, reversed on some trips.

  28. This is not new to me if we go back to 79’s eastern airlines PanAm were those triple and fourth destination were approved from IATA was more exciting to travel and more cheaper from miles to get at the same time going same directions as they used to call from South America one trip four destinations. Alaska is just follower in airlines industries from greatest airlines from the past.

  29. In the late 70s I flew from LAX to DTW connecting in ATL using an “Owly Bird” fare on DL. Both legs were on tag flights. The LAX-ATL flight originated in SAN, and the ATL-DTW flight stopped at CVG.

  30. In the late 70s I flew from LAX to DTW connecting in ATL using an “Owly Bird” fare on DL. Both legs were on tag flights. The LAX-ATL flight originated in SAN, and the ATL-DTW flight stopped at CVG.

  31. Speaking of Alaska tag flights, anyone remember AS’s interchange service on the ORD/ANC-FAI route with AA? From what I was told, that was a remnant from the old BN days that somehow AA took over/inherited.


  32. I’ve flown the AS-AA pipeline flight (DFW-SEA-ANC-FAI). That flight started/ended in IAH. It was on AS metal (727-200). The ORD-SEA-ANC-FAI flight was on AA metal (727-200). On both flights, AA crew flew as far as SEA then AS crew handled the flight up to Alaska. That was back when food in Y on AS was outstanding. My all time milk run flight was after my first year at UAF. FAI-ANC-SEA-GEG-SFO-MRY on a UA 727-100. Left FAI around 11pm and landed in MRY around noon the next day.

  33. I’ve flown the AS-AA pipeline flight (DFW-SEA-ANC-FAI). That flight started/ended in IAH. It was on AS metal (727-200). The ORD-SEA-ANC-FAI flight was on AA metal (727-200). On both flights, AA crew flew as far as SEA then AS crew handled the flight up to Alaska. That was back when food in Y on AS was outstanding. My all time milk run flight was after my first year at UAF. FAI-ANC-SEA-GEG-SFO-MRY on a UA 727-100.

  34. Yes, it’s back to the future. Early on, we’d fly LGA-IND-EVV and LGA-PIT-ORD-EVV or BOS-BWI-IND-SDF on what they called “through-flights.” Same plane, it just stopped a lot. That was Allegheny/USAir, usually D9S or BAC 1-11. Delta had some beauties, too: EVV-PAH-MEM-MSY on DC9. Eastern: EVV-SDF-DCA or EVV-SDF-LGA, sometimes 72S, usually D9S. Stops, yes, and sometimes late, but rarely cancelled. The gag was forget credit for miles—we’ll take credit for take-offs and landings.

  35. Alaska/Horizon also used to do at least two of these tag loops on short flights in the Pacific Northwest. I seem to remember SEA-GTF-HLN-SEA, and also SEA-PUW-LWS-SEA. For a time the PUW-LWS leg was the shortest commercial flight in the U.S. at just 26 miles.

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