Happy Birthday: Alaska Airlines’ Horizon Air Celebrates 40 Years

Horizon Air celebrated its 40th birthday on September 1st. The Pacific Northwest carrier was founded by entrepreneur Milt Kuolt and a group of venture capitalists in Seattle. At the outset, it had fewer than 100 employees and used Fokker F27s. 40 years later, there are around 4,000 staff and 62 aircraft, comprising only the Dash-8-Q400 and Embraer 175.

Horizon Air's original livery.
Horizon Air celebrated its four decades of life on September 1st, 2021. Photo: via Alaska Airlines.

From humble beginnings

The first flight on September 1st, 1981, was from Yakima, Washington State, to Seattle, just over 100 miles. To celebrate the 40th anniversary, Horizon flew N421QX, a 14.7-year-old Dash-8-Q400, in the airline’s original ‘meatball’ livery from Seattle to Yakima and back. As Captain Perry Solmonson, Chair of the 40th Anniversary Committee, stated:

“This is a huge milestone for us and this anniversary flight recognizes not only the hard and successful work accomplished to date, but also celebrate our up-and-coming team members of the future.”

AS9559 Yakima to Seattle
To celebrate Horizon Air’s 40th anniversary, it operated AS9559 from Yakima to Seattle on September 1st using N421QX in its original livery. Image: Flightradar24.

Things began to change

After five years of operating independently, Horizon Air was acquired by the Alaska Air Group in 1986, a holding company that also owns Alaska Airlines. The two carriers were branded separately and independently managed, while nowadays they remain independently managed.

Intriguingly, between 2004 and 2007 Horizon operated CRJ-700s on behalf of Frontier. It had a small network of 18 routes from Denver, especially to Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Boise, and El Paso.

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Things changed in 2011. Horizon would be a separate regional carrier, with it and Alaska operating on a commonplace capacity purchase agreement basis. While Horizon operates the aircraft, when and where they’re flown – along with marketing and pricing and all – is dictated by Alaska Airlines.

Horizon Dash-8-Q400
Horizon Air now operates as Alaska Horizon, distinct from Alaska SkyWest. Image: via Alaska Airlines.

Horizon and Alaska now

In 2021, Alaska Airlines has 47.1 million seats, OAG shows, making it the USA’s fifth-largest carrier. Of this 47.1 million, Horizon – under the Alaska Horizon brand – has 8.7 million, or 18.5%.

With 5.1 million seats, Seattle is, as you’d expect, overwhelmingly Horizon’s top airport. Seattle is very much driven by the 76-seat Dash-8-Q400, while the Embraer disproportionately serves Portland, the second most important airport for Horizon.

Alaska Horizon's routes in 2021
Although a huge jumble of routes, this is Horizon’s network in 2021. The Embraer 175 tends to have one flight a day from Seattle to Anchorage, while Portland-Anchorage saw it in May and June. Image: GCMap.

147 routes for Alaska

Horizon operates 147 routes for Alaska, with the top-10 by seats this year shown below, led by the 224-mile intra-state link from Spokane to Seattle.

  1. Seattle-Spokane
  2. Seattle-Portland
  3. Seattle-Boise
  4. Seattle-Pascoe
  5. Seattle-Redmond
  6. Seattle-Eugene
  7. Seattle-Medford
  8. Anchorage-Fairbanks
  9. Seattle-Bellingham
  10. Seattle-Missoula

These 147 routes have an average distance of 465 miles. Of course, distance varies greatly by aircraft type, with 640 miles for the 76-seat Embraer 175 and 302 miles for the Q400.

At 1,715 miles, Austin to Portland is the longest E175 route with a block time to Oregon of four hours and 15 minutes. In contrast, the longest Q400 route is Fresno to Seattle – some 749 miles – operating later this year with a block time of two hours and 38 minutes.

What is your best memory of Horizon Air? Let us know by commenting.