It’s not uncommon for airlines to come and go with little or no notice. This sort of behavior is more common with the fair-weather air carriers that come up during the summer, then retreat when the snow flies.
But it’s unusual for a long-time cruise operator, after an absence of two years, to invite travelers to pen a love letter to Alaska. That invitation comes courtesy of a contest in which Holland America Line is offering 10 winners suite accommodations on one of their ships this summer.
First, let’s take a look at some smaller airlines’ plans for Anchorage.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the travel infrastructure in 2020, Yakutia Airlines had been flying back and forth between Anchorage and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky since the summer of 2012. Yakutia was hired by InterPacific Aviation and Marketing in Seattle to fly the route under the Air Russia brand.
During the summer schedule, which lasted between mid-July and mid-September, Yakutia operated the only passenger airline service between Alaska and Asia. The flight lasted 4 1/2 hours.
The Kamchatka Peninsula has some incredible wilderness, including the Valley of the Geysers, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it was fishermen who filled up the plane each summer. Sport fishermen were flying to Kamchatka to raft the wild rivers and catch giant trout and salmon.
Mark Dudley, of Air Russia, said the flights have been canceled for the third summer in a row because of the pandemic. We discussed the deteriorating relations between the US and Russia and agreed that it could have been canceled for a number of reasons. “But it really was because of COVID,” he said. “There’s a process in Russia and a determination must be made by a certain date.”
At about the same time AirRussia was canceling its schedule, another airline announced plans to fly nonstop from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Anchorage this summer.
Flair Airlines is a Canadian ULCC, or ultra low cost carrier. The easiest way to summarize that designation is that every part of your trip has a price tag. The base fare is just a starting point for adding the features that are important to you.
Several other ULCCs fly to Anchorage during the summer, including Frontier Airlines, to Denver, and Sun Country Airlines, to Minneapolis. Allegiant Air, another ULCC, used to fly during the summer from Anchorage to Bellingham. But the carrier canceled for the 2020 season and has not returned.
Garth Lund is Flair Airlines’ chief commercial officer. He’s been with the carrier a little less than a year. Before that, he worked for another ULCC based in Europe called Wizz Air.
“Coming out of COVID, Vancouverites are still looking for outdoor tourism,” he said. “It’s very popular.”
Flair Airlines operates a fleet of 737-800s and the new 737 MAX8s. Starting May 19, Flair will offer twice-weekly red-eye service between Vancouver and Anchorage. The northbound flights come up late in the evening on Sundays and Thursdays, then return just after midnight on Mondays and Fridays.
Fares start at $65 each way.
That’s cheap. With the “Bare Bundle,” you can take along a personal item that weighs up to 7 kilograms. The “Basic Bundle,” which includes a carry-on bag of up to 10 kg and a checked bag up to 23 kg, costs $52.
If you want to choose a pre-assigned seat, it will cost you between $12 and $35. Otherwise, a seat will be assigned at check-in.
According to Lund, the seat pitch is about 30 inches between rows, about the same as United Airlines. You can choose to pay extra for 3 more inches of legroom.
This summer, Air Canada also is flying nonstop to Vancouver. Its fares start at $205 one-way. Add $86 for a checked bag and seat assignment.
Lund also mentioned that since cruise ships hope to once again sail from Vancouver, Flair Airlines will offer flights for cruise travelers.
Speaking of cruise companies, they’re gearing up for a busy season this summer.
Holland America Line will have six ships sailing in Alaska this summer. The company traces its Alaska connections back 75 years, since it purchased Westours. Alaska tourism pioneer Chuck West started Westours in Fairbanks in 1947. Holland America is part of Carnival, which also owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and a bunch of other cruise companies.
To celebrate 75 years in Alaska, as well as the resumption of cruising in the state, Holland America Line is asking travelers to write a love letter to Alaska.
When I read Holland America’s announcement about this contest, I pushed my chair back from my desk and just stared at the notice. Then I went to the website, loveletterstoalaska.com, and found that the maximum word count was 250 words.
Sailing to Alaska has been a trend in my family for more than 80 years. In 1941, my uncle sailed up to work construction in Kodiak aboard the SS Mt. McKinley with the Alaska Steamship Co. Five years later, my father sailed up. He failed to note the name of the troop carrier — and he didn’t take any pictures on the trip out to Attu.
Twenty-five years later, my grandparents sailed north on the Mariposa with the Matson Line.
Alaska means so much to me that I had no problem cranking out 248 words. Then I hit send.
Erik Elvejord of Holland America said the contest “shows the depth of our connection” to Alaska.
Bill Fletcher has worked in the tourist industry for most of the 40 years he’s spent in Alaska, mostly for Holland America. “I love showing people a piece of ice that’s thousands of years old — and how that ice carved an entire valley,” he said. “It blows people away.”
Fletcher was transformed after his first summer in Alaska working for Westours. “There’s just nothing that even comes close,” he said. “It’s the wild grandeur. The tallest mountains and the deepest fjords.”
Holland America bought full-page newspaper ads in New York, LA, Houston, Miami and a host of other cities to prompt travelers to write their letters. It’s their way of celebrating a return to Alaska after being gone for two years.
Some travelers will write about how they’ve tried to come to Alaska but couldn’t. Others may write about their once-in-a-lifetime trip — and what it meant to their family. Then there are those of us who came to Alaska and stayed.
How will your love letter to Alaska read? What does this place mean to you? Go ahead, write it up. Maybe you’ll win a cruise trip.