Alaska Airlines Grows As It Seeks To Become A National Brand

Alaska Airlines announced several new routes on Thursday. Targeting sun destinations for winter travelers, the airline is furthering its commitment to the West Coast of the United States. At the same time, the airline is making significant strides toward becoming a national carrier, which is a goal for the airline’s new CEO, Ben Minicucci.

Alaska Airbus A321
Alaska Airlines is adding new routes as it charts a strategy of becoming more of a national brand. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Alaska Airlines adds four new routes

Starting this winter, Alaska Airlines will be flying four new routes to warm-weather destinations. The first of the four new routes is slated to start on November 19th. Alaska Airlines will connect Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) with Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS).

The flights from Austin to Palm Springs will depart at 09:00 and arrive in PSP at 10:35. The return flight will depart PSP at 11:05 and arrive in AUS at 16:10. All times are local. Service will run five times per week. On this route, Alaska Airlines will fly an Embraer E175.

Out of Portland International Airport (PDX), starting on December 16th, Alaska Airlines will launch two new nonstop routes. The first will run to Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport (MSY), and the second will run to Tampa International Airport (TPA).

Flights to New Orleans will depart PDX at 12:00 and arrive in MSY at 18:30. The return flight leaves MSY at 08:00 the next morning and arrives in Portland at 11:10. Flights will run three times per week using a Boeing 737-900 aircraft.

New Routes
The map of all four new routes. Photo: Alaska Airlines

For passengers flying to Tampa, flights will depart PDX at 1:10 and arrive in TPA at 20:29. The return flight will depart TPA at 08:00 the next day and arrive in Portland at 11:00. Flights will run four times per week, also using a Boeing 737-900.

Starting on December 18th, Alaska Airlines will be launching a new weekly, seasonal service between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Cancun International Airport (CUN). 

Flights will leave SFO at 09:40 and arrive in CUN at 17:55. The return flight will depart CUN the next day at 11:00 and arrive in SFO at 14:00. This flight will run once per week on Saturdays. This route will run either using a Boeing 737-800 or 737-900, depending on the date.

All of the routes are seasonal, with an end date scheduled for mid-April. Passengers looking to travel after that date will still be able to visit those destinations via a connection in another Alaska hub, like Seattle, or via partner American Airlines.

Alaska Airlines Grows As It Seeks To Become A National Brand
Alaska Airlines is a close partner of American Airlines. Photo: Getty Images

Turning to a leisure-oriented route network

According to Brett Catlin, vice president of network and alliances, Alaska is going after leisure travelers with the new routes:

“Since March, our bookings for leisure travel have exceeded what they were before the pandemic. For many of our guests, there’s an increased confidence that comes after being vaccinated. They were cooped up for well over a year – now they’re ready to relax, enjoy and explore. With these new routes, we can whisk them away to destinations that have a warm sparkle in the wintertime.”

Alaska Boeing 737-900
Alaska Airlines will be using its larger Boeing 737-900 on some of the routes. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Austin to Palm Springs is perhaps the most interesting of the new routes Alaska is adding. The airline has heavy exposure to the California market, and it is seeking to target Texans looking to go to Southern California for a getaway. Using an E175, this is the perfect aircraft to see how the new route performs.

Meanwhile, San Francisco to Cancun is part of Alaska’s commitment to the Bay Area. As the airline is the newest member of the oneworld alliance, it is keen on ensuring that it provides the alliance and its customers enough of a presence in the lucrative Bay Area, which United and a growing Southwest Airlines have long dominated.

Portland is also a significant hub for Alaska Airlines. Here, the airline is known for connecting Oregon to points across the US and uses it as a secondary connecting hub in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle is the carrier’s primary connecting hub.

Alaska E175
The E175 is perfect for niche routes like AUS-PSP. Photo: Jay Singh | Simple Flying

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Building a national brand

Alaska Airlines holds a legacy as a primarily West Coast airline. While it has excelled in this market and continued to double down in this market, it wants to leverage its position in the oneworld alliance and partnerships to grow to become a bigger national brand.

Ben Minicucci took the reigns as Alaska’s CEO on March 31st. Speaking at the Wolfe Research Global Transportation & Industrials Conference in May, he stated the following about the airline’s ambitions to become a national brand:

“We need to get people in California and across the country to see what people in the Pacific Northwest see: that we’re a brand that provides a lot of value. We have a great loyalty program; the most generous. We have low fares, we treat you extremely well with kind, caring service. We’re extremely reliable.”

Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines wants to be more of a national brand. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

However, to be a national brand, Alaska Airlines is not looking to be everywhere. As Mr. Minicucci followed up, he said:

“What I want is us to be known everywhere. Even if there’s a place that we don’t fly, what I want that place to say is ‘I want Alaska flying here,’ because that proves many good things about us. In a place like New York, once we ramp up our capacity back up, we’ll have 30 flights a day. And I don’t think in New York we have the brand presence that we should have for 30 flights a day to New York.

“So, we’ve got work to do in New York, we’ve got work to do in California, we have work to do in other places where we have a presence, that people need to say ‘Wow this Alaska brand is quite unique and it’s quite special. Who is that guy on that tail?’ When people see that guy on that tail, I want them to feel something.”

One way Alaska Airlines targets its national strategy is by leveraging its loyalty program. Alaska’s MileagePlan is one of the best loyalty programs in the country, and it has members in destinations the airline does not even fly to.

However, to make more progress towards that goal, Alaska Airlines needs to fly enough to major destinations. While they are targeted at West Coast travelers, these new routes will also help bring more people to places like Portland and connect them to other destinations.

Alaska Airlines Grows As It Seeks To Become A National Brand
Alaska Airlines has some work to do to reach CEO Minicucci’s goal of being more of a national brand, but it is willing to commit to the time investment to get there. Photo: Getty Images

Some passengers will choose to connect in Portland for flights to Spokane, Anchorage, Sacramento, and other destinations in Western states. While that has an important role in keeping Alaska’s planes full, it also helps the airline become more relevant to more travelers and offer them more options for travel.

Ultimately, the new routes are good for travelers whether they are based in California and Oregon or if they are based in Texas or Florida. Alaska has historically shown a willingness to expand services if they are successful. These routes could be good candidates for seeing an extension of services into the summer season or having them slated to start earlier in the winter season in 2022.

Are you going to fly any of these new Alaska Airlines routes? Let us know in the comments!