Alaska Airlines Ends Flights Between JFK & LAX, Adjusts NYC Strategy

Alaska Airlines Ends Flights Between JFK & LAX, Adjusts NYC Strategy

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Usually an airline cutting a single domestic route wouldn’t be news, but I’d argue that this is an exception.

Alaska ends key transcon route as of October 6

As noted by the always knowledgable Cranky Flier, Alaska Airlines will discontinue flights between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX) as of October 6, 2021. This wasn’t a route that Alaska Airlines served until it took over Virgin America, but it’s a route that has been maintained ever since.

Over time we’ve seen frequencies in the market decrease — currently Alaska Airlines is operating the flight twice daily, and the plan was for the flight to be operated once daily in the fall, but now it’s being cut altogether.

The market between New York and Los Angeles is arguably the most competitive in the United States, as it’s served by Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United. This is a premium market, and in that sense Alaska Airlines has been woefully uncompetitive. Alaska Airlines is the only airline flying between the two airports that’s not offering flat beds.

Alaska Airlines first class

Historically Alaska Airlines executives have stated that they were happy with this product offering. For example, earlier this year, Alaska’s Chief Commercial Officer said the following about not having flat beds:

“We feel really good. We are very thankful that we maintained a non-lie-flat position. We think our first class seats are spot on for the demand environment.”

While Alaska may be okay with this decision, that doesn’t mean the product works in all markets. And clearly the most premium route in the United States is one where it no longer does the trick.

JetBlue Mint business class

Alaska “focusing resources” where it can best compete

While Alaska Airlines is cutting its route between New York and Los Angeles, the airline isn’t at all retreating from the NYC area. Alaska Airlines has 12 daily roundtrip slots at JFK, and those will continue to be used. Alaska Airlines will fly from New York (JFK) to:

  • Portland (PDX) 2x daily
  • San Diego (SAN) 2x daily
  • San Francisco (SFO) 4x daily
  • Seattle (SEA) 4x daily

As this decision is described:

“We’re focusing our resources on where we can best compete and provide the most consistent, superior service to our guests. Our biggest strength is our core markets on the West Coast, including Seattle, San Francisco, Portland and San Diego.

On top of the JFK service, Alaska Airlines will continue to fly from Newark (EWR) to:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) 4x daily
  • Portland (PDX) 1x daily
  • San Diego (SAN) 1x daily
  • San Francisco (SFO) 3x daily
  • Seattle (SEA) 4x daily

As you can see, altogether Alaska is operating up to 25 daily roundtrips to the New York City area.

Alaska Airlines has a lounge at JFK

My take on Alaska’s strategy shift

I think many of us have been thinking for a long time that something’s gotta give with Alaska’s presence in the New York to Los Angeles market, given the uncompetitive product. I imagine that United recently launching flights between New York and Los Angeles put the nail in the coffin for Alaska’s service.

But ultimately Alaska’s logic here makes sense:

  • Alaska couldn’t compete in the New York to Los Angeles market, and the airline didn’t want the inefficiency of having a subfleet with flat beds
  • Alaska doesn’t view Los Angeles as being as much of a “core” market as the other airports served, or at least Alaska doesn’t have as much of a competitive advantage there
  • Alaska would be be much more competitive adding service between New York and San Diego or Portland, which is what we’re seeing here
  • While Alaska’s product also isn’t competitive in the New York to San Francisco market, I suspect that route is sticking around because Alaska has more of a loyal following in the Bay Area, and the route is more integral to Alaska’s overall network
United Polaris business class

I know many have speculated that Alaska is essentially “handing” this route over to American, given the close partnership between the two airlines (beyond their mutual oneworld membership). However, that’s not what’s happening here — the two airlines are prohibited from codesharing between New York and Los Angeles, so Alaska doesn’t have much revenue upside with having people booked on American.

I still do find it interesting that Alaska is not only maintaining the Newark to Los Angeles route, but operating it four times per day. Is this simply because there’s less competition in the market (though JetBlue and United both operate the route with flat beds), is it partly to spite United, or is there a lower opportunity cost, since Alaska doesn’t think it could operate other Newark routes more profitably?

Bottom line

Alaska Airlines will stop flying between New York and Los Angeles as of this fall. This is a route that the Seattle-based carrier “inherited” from its Virgin America takeover, but it’s one that has been maintained ever since. That will finally be changing.

Alaska will instead be focusing on flying from New York JFK to its “core” West Coast markets, by expanding service to Portland and San Diego. Alaska offers a much more competitive product in those markets.

What do you make of Alaska pulling out of this premium transcontinental market?

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  1. Brandon Seattle

    I thought some of the motive for Alaska bowing out of an underperforming route, not so much for new bestie American, but for the benefit of their Oneworld partners.

  2. Etravelstheworld

    Alaska killed the very strong virgin America brand on the transcon routes. Form a pure marketing perspective, this was one of the worst mergers in Airline history. Every route that virgin America used to be good with, has now been ceded to competition.

    As a flier based in nyc, I will never fly Alaska’s product anywhere. Those seats in J belong in the 1980s. The economy experience is not much better and the route network...

    Alaska killed the very strong virgin America brand on the transcon routes. Form a pure marketing perspective, this was one of the worst mergers in Airline history. Every route that virgin America used to be good with, has now been ceded to competition.

    As a flier based in nyc, I will never fly Alaska’s product anywhere. Those seats in J belong in the 1980s. The economy experience is not much better and the route network is extremely limited. And unlike discount airlines, their pricing is not discounted. So they have no competitive advantage other than their hubs in the northwest.

    To me Alaska should have partnered with JBlue. Those would have been more complimentary route networks.

  3. Highgamma

    Interestingly enough, I tried to call into Alaska customer service today. The hold time is 4 hours! (They offered to call me back.) I guess there's a whole lot of rebooking going on.

  4. Jason Brandt Lewis

    It's irrelevant WHY AS acquired VX...over and done with; no need to flog the dead horse. As with many others, I transitioned from being a long-time elite on VX to being an elite on AS.

    I tend to fly SFO-JFK r/t 1-2x a year on AS...often as a stopover prior to flying on to Europe. It makes no sense (to me) to be a member of OneWorld and only fly into EWR from LAX*,...

    It's irrelevant WHY AS acquired VX...over and done with; no need to flog the dead horse. As with many others, I transitioned from being a long-time elite on VX to being an elite on AS.

    I tend to fly SFO-JFK r/t 1-2x a year on AS...often as a stopover prior to flying on to Europe. It makes no sense (to me) to be a member of OneWorld and only fly into EWR from LAX*, being a UA hub. There's no way I would fly into EWR in order to catch a flight out of JFK...

    _______________
    * I do agree, however, that AS has a much weaker presence overall at LAX than at SFO, PDX, SEA, not even taking into account the lack of lie-flats which -- for me -- only matter if I'm taking a red-eye.

  5. Michael Bell

    Alaska didnt purchase Virgin America to expand, but eliminate a competitor and block the expansion of Jet Blue in the west.

  6. Betty

    I had this flight booked for December for 2 of us. They moved us to the EWR-LAX flight at about the same time. I had to call to confirm.

    I asked if there was anything they could do for my inconvenience. The agent offered me 4k miles or $100 discount code per person. I chose the $. I then asked if I could combine ($200) the discount code into 1 account. As I am very...

    I had this flight booked for December for 2 of us. They moved us to the EWR-LAX flight at about the same time. I had to call to confirm.

    I asked if there was anything they could do for my inconvenience. The agent offered me 4k miles or $100 discount code per person. I chose the $. I then asked if I could combine ($200) the discount code into 1 account. As I am very familiar with the fact that one can only used 1 discount code at a time when booking tickets. She said yes. So I should be seeing this show up in my account in the next 24 hours.

  7. Radio

    Couldn't Alaska set up a codeshare with jetBlue?

  8. SkyKing

    You dorks are reading way too much into this. AS only has 12 slot pairs at JFK, if they want to grow SEA-JFK or SAN-JFK it has to come from somewhere. Whether or not LAX was highly profitable almost doesn’t matter if they can get more $ deploying that slot elsewhere.

  9. Josh G

    The first class cabins on those flights are basically upgrade city.

  10. NYGuy24

    I want as many airlines flying a route as possible so there is some competition to drive down prices. That doesn't mean I would fly alaska on that route though. The lack of non lay flat seats on a transcon to me is a deal breaker if it is an overnight flight.

  11. Abey

    Just another instance of how AS purchase of VX wasn’t planned properly, if AS wasn’t going to compete in the eastern US market why exactly should consumers choose them ? Many fliers I’ve recommended flying Alaska loved the experience but have never heard of them before simply because they barely have a presence here…

    1. Tim Dunn

      This highlights the strength of the nationwide carriers and why carriers like Alaska and JetBlue have a hard time venturing out of their home markets. Alaska has cut pretty aggressively in San Francisco, the former home of Virgin America. The Bay Area has been much slower to bounce back but Alaska is not likely to be of the size it was relative to peers even when recovery returns. The latest data shows that Delta is...

      This highlights the strength of the nationwide carriers and why carriers like Alaska and JetBlue have a hard time venturing out of their home markets. Alaska has cut pretty aggressively in San Francisco, the former home of Virgin America. The Bay Area has been much slower to bounce back but Alaska is not likely to be of the size it was relative to peers even when recovery returns. The latest data shows that Delta is the second largest carrier in available seat miles behind United as Alaska flies more shorthaul flights with smaller aircraft.

  12. Chris Lindsey

    Alaska is gonna have to get with the program and invest in some larger aircraft , to compete. They join One World, and want to play with the big boys, but yet they don’t want to provide the more comfortable options. Even on their Hawaii routes, they offer the bare minimum. Their reward offerings are terrible for international rewards, with outrageous dollar amounts, on top of the miles, and god forbid you book a business...

    Alaska is gonna have to get with the program and invest in some larger aircraft , to compete. They join One World, and want to play with the big boys, but yet they don’t want to provide the more comfortable options. Even on their Hawaii routes, they offer the bare minimum. Their reward offerings are terrible for international rewards, with outrageous dollar amounts, on top of the miles, and god forbid you book a business class reward with a connection. They will give you first class on the domestic leg, and put you in coach for the overseas leg. All this for more miles and out of pocket money than their partner American. They need to get it together, or they are gonna sink.

  13. iamhere

    "First of all, the market between New York and Los Angeles is arguably the most competitive in the United States, as it’s served by Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United."
    This is exactly the reason they are cutting it due to American serving that market and they are serving other California markets from the New York area which are less competitive.

  14. Simon

    Flight is loaded back in GDS and not discontinued.

  15. Highgamma

    As a frequent LAX-EWR flyer, my red eyes (Sun 9:30p flights) have been incrementally cancelled through the end of October. Now this. Are they going to abandon transcon? Just as I am on my way to MVP100K?

  16. Aaron

    AS just needs to get with the times and evolve. The standard is lie flat beds now for transcon service, and their refusal to adapt is hurting them.

  17. SD Ron

    Nothing mentioned about my fine city of San Diego. Alaska presently has (and will continue to have) a once daily non-stop to Newark...at least until it doesn't.

  18. Alison

    I enjoyed Alaska first from NY to LA before the pandemic. Yes, it wasn't lie-flat but it was reasonably cheap (and I used up some old American miles). I had booked LAX-Boston for this summer at $299 for first but they canceled the flight on me and rerouted us through Portland. We rebooked on Jet Blue, but I miss that $299 fare for decent legroom, two seats together and good food.

  19. Glenn H

    In airline business you do what you have to do about staying alive. Lot of Airlines rather haul freight where the money is than complaining passengers.

  20. Eric

    Unfortunately it makes total sense to me. They could dedicate a subfleet with a premium reconfiguration but that limits a certain number of frames to a certain market. Eventually you have an equipment sub where you're sending a premium heavy product to BOI and PO your premium customers by having a conventional 737 on yours "premium" sector.
    Every organization has strengths and weaknesses. It's better to recognize the weaknesses and walk away to focus...

    Unfortunately it makes total sense to me. They could dedicate a subfleet with a premium reconfiguration but that limits a certain number of frames to a certain market. Eventually you have an equipment sub where you're sending a premium heavy product to BOI and PO your premium customers by having a conventional 737 on yours "premium" sector.
    Every organization has strengths and weaknesses. It's better to recognize the weaknesses and walk away to focus on your strengths than waste resources trying to shore up your weaknesses.

  21. Anthony

    Alaska messed up the Virgin acquisition pretty badly. For a few years we preferred to fly Virgin from JFK to LAX/SFO, even when the other airlines introduced lie flat because the service was unique and good, the first class seats were pretty big, even coach was comfortable. That all went away when they standardized the planes and service. Unfortunate

  22. Ryan R

    That's really sad. VX used to fly this something like 6 roundtrips per day...

  23. 02nz

    "United recently started flying between New York and Los Angeles, so is this at least partly to spite United?" This is total nonsense. Alaska exiting the JFK-LAX market makes things (at least a tiny bit) easier for United. No one ever spites a competitor by reducing competition; actually airlines at least used to have a habit of spiting each other by adding routes to competitor hubs.

  24. AS Insider

    Surprised you could not figure this one out! It is part of a WINK WINK deal between AS and AA to keep pricing up in the off season in this market, AS will put better use of aircraft to Hawaii and AA will be able to keep Transcon pricing up. I was there when agreed upon.

    Humbly...Your Man Inside,
    THE AS INSIDER
    (over 14 million miles flown and counting)

  25. Justin

    Isn't JFK-SFO the "second" most competitive route in the country? So why do they keep that? They're also the only ones on that route that doesn't offer lie-flat seats as well

    1. Commenting Commenter

      My guess is that will be axed pretty soon too.

  26. Sir Walter Raleigh

    I thought the Virgin / Alaska transcon was decent on the ex-Virgin a320s they inherited.

    Sadly they ripped out Virgin’s superior F product and replaced it with the standard F seats. Used to take that regularly for SFO -> IAD then PHL-> SFO on the return.

    I just fly to PHL both ways instead now since I refuse to fly UA and AA used to fly an a330 with lie flat seats once per day between sfo and phl

    1. Sir Walter Raleigh

      Always amateur hour with Alaska

    2. GBOAC

      @Sir Walter:

      The best deal on the once a day AA A330 between PHL and SFO was being able to get an international Premium Economy seat (equiv to domestic first) for the price of Main Cabin Extra.

    3. Sir Walter Raleigh

      @GBOAC — Definitely! That was one of the best ways to get across the country in style on a budget. I will miss the deployment of the a330s for some domestic routes. The service was also top notch, even in Y.

      Hoping we see domestic widebodies like that post-pandemic.

  27. Runneryogagirl

    I’m super saddened about this myself. I love Alaska airlines & I love this LAX-JFK route. This is very disappointing news. I hope the route will come back sooner than later.

  28. That Guy

    While I haven’t seen any announcements, AS exited the SFO-DCA/IAD market more than a year ago.

    They recently began selling SFO-DCA again, maybe to maintain the slot, but nothing to IAD.

    That market is the opposite of competitive, with only UA otherwise, and pricing is getting ridiculous.

    1. mage23

      Agree - that one would be great for AS to ramp up. At times, pre-pandemic, UA was only flying one SFO-DCA a day while running 6-7-8 SFO-IAD.

      That said, I'd also be thrilled if one of the SFO-IADs comes back as SJC-IAD, but it seems like UA isn't ramping SJC up routes yet (while AA, Southwest, and AS sure are).

  29. IvK

    Alaska is becoming an irrelevant airline in NYC and East coast. It’ll be a regional (West coast) airline soon, with some infrequent transcon flights. Its partnership with AA doesn’t change things much for those of us who don’t trust / like AA. I have JFK-LAX tickets for late October, but I don’t want to go anyway. So I’m actually fine with the cancellation this time. But in the future I can’t trust AS. Every “good...

    Alaska is becoming an irrelevant airline in NYC and East coast. It’ll be a regional (West coast) airline soon, with some infrequent transcon flights. Its partnership with AA doesn’t change things much for those of us who don’t trust / like AA. I have JFK-LAX tickets for late October, but I don’t want to go anyway. So I’m actually fine with the cancellation this time. But in the future I can’t trust AS. Every “good news” email I get from them is about expanding their network between some small towns in the West.

    1. stogieguy7

      This is how I feel about JetBlue, myself being based in the midwest. They're basically a BOS-NYC-FLL airline. And that's who should have merged with AS.

  30. GBOAC

    Let's not forget that the orignal Virgin America first class product, while not lie-flat seats, had much more space than the traditional domestic first class. That and the Virgin vibe made VX competitive in the JFK SFO/LAX market. Once AS took over VX and converted the interiors there was no way to remain competitive.

  31. RunningJock

    This news to me is shocking!
    Airlines rely on transcon routes because they bring in the BIG bucks. Competition is ramping up again as we progress out of this pandemic. A lot of people favor Alaska such as myself so this news is very disappointing to hear.
    I am wondering if there are any rules or regulations that Alaska must follow after their greedy takeover of Virgin America?
    I live on the...

    This news to me is shocking!
    Airlines rely on transcon routes because they bring in the BIG bucks. Competition is ramping up again as we progress out of this pandemic. A lot of people favor Alaska such as myself so this news is very disappointing to hear.
    I am wondering if there are any rules or regulations that Alaska must follow after their greedy takeover of Virgin America?
    I live on the East Coast but love traveling to the West Coast often. Now we have 1 less option for these flights.
    Management does make bad business decisions and this just might well be one of them.

    1. Tim Dunn

      Alaska has already stopped flying BOS-LAX. As of this month, Delta is the only carrier that has increased capacity in that market but JetBlue is ramping it back up in July and August. American and United are down compared to two years ago through the summer. The transcon markets are becoming more and more concentrated after years of intense competition. Major crises make businesses focus on what works and leave markets that don't.

    2. Milo

      The AS acquisition of VX made no sense then. Makes no sense now. The vibes were so different. It’s like Holiday Inn vs. W. There were absolutely no synergy between the two. And no fleet commonality. It is an extremely high premium to pay just to block one way for B6 to expand. The question was not whether the acquisition would fail, but how bad.

    3. LowHeadways

      God, it looks like it, now that they've cut the route until at least next March. Cranky flier thinks both that route and LAX-ORD are dead for good. Which really sucks - I moved from DC to LA a few years ago, but my family is in Boston, and I become an Alaska MVP specifically because of their LAX-BOS and LAX-DCA flights (with JFK ones for visiting in-laws there). They're really making it hard to justify staying with them.

  32. Tim Dunn

    In the name of fleet commonality, Alaska wasn't willing to spend the money to have a subfleet of aircraft to serve the premium transcon market which does have a greater amount of premium travel. There is a segment of the passenger base in transcon markets that will only fly carriers where there is an opportunity to fly on airlines and aircraft where there is an opportunity to fly in the premium cabin; airlines that don't...

    In the name of fleet commonality, Alaska wasn't willing to spend the money to have a subfleet of aircraft to serve the premium transcon market which does have a greater amount of premium travel. There is a segment of the passenger base in transcon markets that will only fly carriers where there is an opportunity to fly on airlines and aircraft where there is an opportunity to fly in the premium cabin; airlines that don't offer it see lower average fares and DOT data shows it. This also explains why Southwest has learned it is not worth serving full transcon markets because they also don't want to put in premium cabins.
    Although this is the first very high profile transcon market that sees a carrier completely exit post-covid, there has been a reduction in capacity relative to other carriers in other transcon markets including Boston and Seattle. Delta is the primary beneficiary of the concentration of transcons to/from BOS, JFK, LAX and SEA as it has strength on both coasts. United has been slower to re-add capacity which is why Newark is becoming the most competitive NYC market. Delta and JetBlue are likely to double down on competing in Alaska's remaining JFK markets including with premium cabin aircraft hoping to see the same outcome as we are seeing with JFK-LAX

    1. JW

      Though the hard product is fixed, there is nothing stopping As from offering a differentiated soft product similar to DeltaOne on transcons to keep things competitive. They were just too conservative and slow to react.

  33. shoeguy

    Not at all surprising. AS is not competitive relative to B6, AA, UA, DL at JFK on the LAX run, in the premium cabin. I'd argue SFO is also on the chopping block eventually. Look for AS to move to T8 in a year or so, and focus on SEA, SAN, and resume or start PDX and fly those on code-shares with AA.

    1. UA-NYC

      Good news for UA then reclaiming the former UC in T7

    2. shoeguy

      UA will have to eventually find a new home at JFK. T7 will be demolished in the next 2-3 years.

    3. Haggard

      JetBlue is doing incredibly well on the EWR mint transcons, not for the hard product but for the soft product....UAs presence in JFK in the face of both B6 and AA is simply a flag waving exercise but will ultimately be uncompetitive.

    4. UA-NYC

      Been tracking the premium cabins on a couple flights I'm looking at...empty relative to EWR

    5. Haggard

      Packed on B6, again just a flag waving exercise on UAs part, expect JFK just to be a normal “spoke” in the UA network.

Featured Comments Load all 50 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Etravelstheworld

Alaska killed the very strong virgin America brand on the transcon routes. Form a pure marketing perspective, this was one of the worst mergers in Airline history. Every route that virgin America used to be good with, has now been ceded to competition. As a flier based in nyc, I will never fly Alaska’s product anywhere. Those seats in J belong in the 1980s. The economy experience is not much better and the route network is extremely limited. And unlike discount airlines, their pricing is not discounted. So they have no competitive advantage other than their hubs in the northwest. To me Alaska should have partnered with JBlue. Those would have been more complimentary route networks.

Jason Brandt Lewis

It's irrelevant WHY AS acquired VX...over and done with; no need to flog the dead horse. As with many others, I transitioned from being a long-time elite on VX to being an elite on AS. I tend to fly SFO-JFK r/t 1-2x a year on AS...often as a stopover prior to flying on to Europe. It makes no sense (to me) to be a member of OneWorld and only fly into EWR from LAX*, being a UA hub. There's no way I would fly into EWR in order to catch a flight out of JFK... _______________ * I do agree, however, that AS has a much weaker presence overall at LAX than at SFO, PDX, SEA, not even taking into account the lack of lie-flats which -- for me -- only matter if I'm taking a red-eye.

stogieguy7

This is how I feel about JetBlue, myself being based in the midwest. They're basically a BOS-NYC-FLL airline. And that's who should have merged with AS.

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