It is not uncommon for airlines to arrive and depart with little or no notice. This kind of behavior is more common with fair weather air carriers that arrive during the summer and then pull out when the snow blows.
But it is unusual for a long-time cruiser, after a two-year absence, invite travelers to write a love letter to Alaska. This invitation is courtesy of a competition in which Holland America Line is offering 10 winners this summer suite accommodation on one of their ships.
First, let’s look at some smaller airline plans for Anchorage.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic crippled 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 make the connection under the AirRussia Mark.
During the summer schedule, which lasted between mid-July and mid-September, Yakutia operated the only passenger air service between Alaska and Asia. The flight lasted 4 and a half hours.
The Kamchatka Peninsula has incredible wilderness, including the Valley of Geysers, which is a Unesco World Heritage. But it was fishermen who filled the plane every summer. Sport fishermen would fly to Kamchatka to raft the wild rivers and catch giant trout and salmon.
AirRussia’s Mark Dudley said flights had been canceled for the third consecutive summer due to the pandemic. We discussed the deterioration of US-Russian relations and agreed that it could have been undone for a number of reasons. “But it was really because of COVID,” he said. “There is a process in Russia and a decision has to be made by a certain date.”
Around the same time AirRussia canceled 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 simplest way to sum up this designation is that every part of your journey has a price. The base price is just a starting point for adding the features that are important to you.
Several other ULCCs serve Anchorage during the summer, including Frontier Airlines in Denver and Sun Country Airlines in Minneapolis. Allegiant Air, another ULCC, used to fly during the summer from Anchorage to Bellingham. But the carrier canceled for the 2020 season and did not return.
Garth Lund is the commercial director of Flair Airlines. He’s been with the carrier for just under a year. Prior to that, he worked for another Europe-based ULCC called Wizz Air.
“Coming out of COVID, Vancouverites are still looking for outdoor tourism,” he said. “It is very popular.”
Flair Airlines operates a fleet of 737-800s and the new 737 MAX8s. Beginning May 19, Flair will offer red-eye service twice a week between Vancouver and Anchorage. Northbound flights arrive late in the evening on Sundays and Thursdays, then return just after midnight on Mondays and Fridays.
Fares start at $65 each way.
It’s cheap. With the “Bare Bundle” you can carry a personal item weighing up to 7 kilograms. The “Basic Bundle,” which includes one carry-on bag up to 10kg and one checked bag up to 23kg, costs $52.
If you want to choose a pre-assigned seat, it will cost you between $12 and $35. Otherwise, you will be assigned a seat upon 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 inches more legroom.
This summer, Air Canada is also offering non-stop flights to Vancouver. Its fares start at $205 one way. Add $86 for checked baggage and seat assignment.
Lund also mentioned that since cruise ships are hoping to depart from Vancouver, Flair Airlines will offer flights to cruise passengers.
Speaking of cruise lines, they are gearing up for a busy season this summer.
Holland America Line will have six ships sailing to Alaska this summer. The company traces its connections to Alaska back 75 years, since it purchased Westours. Alaskan 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 slew of other cruise lines.
To celebrate 75 years in Alaska, as well as the resumption of cruises 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 looked at the notice. Then I went to the site, loveletterstoalaska.comand found that the maximum word count was 250 words.
Sailing to Alaska has been a trend in my family for over 80 years. In 1941 my uncle sailed to work in construction at Kodiak aboard the SS Mt. McKinley with the Alaska Steamship Co. Five years later my father sailed. He didn’t write down the name of the troop carrier – and he didn’t take any photos on the trip 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 pronouncing 248 words. Then I hit send.
Holland America’s Erik Elvejord said the contest “shows the depth of our connection” to Alaska.
Bill Fletcher has worked in the tourism industry for most of his 40 years in Alaska, primarily for Holland America. “I love showing people a piece of ice 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 nothing that comes close,” he said. “It’s wild grandeur. The highest mountains and the deepest fjords.
Holland America bought full-page newspaper ads in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and a host of other cities to entice travelers to write their letters. It’s their way of celebrating a return to Alaska after two years away.
Some travelers will write about how they tried to come to Alaska but couldn’t. Others can write about their once-in-a-lifetime journey — 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 represent for you? Go ahead, write it down. Maybe you’ll win a cruise.