Yesterday, Alaska Airlines held an in-person and webinar Flyer Forum for 2022. I watched the webinar and I was writing as fast as my right hand would allow. I did capture all of the forum images which are posted below. The main takeaway was there was no talk about the rumored Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan valuation. At the end of the presentation, there was a brief question and answer period and I will discuss the more relevant questions.
The Priorities For Alaska Airlines Going Foward
The graphic below touts Alaska Airlines as having the fewest cancelled flights from June through November 2022. This statistic must reflect operational delays and not weather-related delays and cancellations. November 29th and 30th were horrendous for Alaska Airlines as a little snow at SeaTac brought operations to a halt as the flight backups “snowballed”. I was on one of those flights. The goal is to achieve schedule stability in 2023.
After three years of intense negotiations, the pilots at Alaska Airlines finally have a contract.
The Fleet Plan
Before Alaska Airlines purchased Virgin America in 2016, mainline operations were flown solely on Boeing 737s. With the merger, Alaska Airlines received 70 Airbus A320 family of jets either already delivered or on order from Airbus.
The mainline operations will again return to an all Boeing fleet of:
- 737 MAX8
- 737 MAX9
- 737 MAX10 (This will depend on whether Boeing can get the MAX10 certified by the FAA.)
The regional operations will be all E-175 jets by the end of 2023. Alaska Air Group subsidiary Horizon Air will receive another 11 E-175 jets next year. Skywest operates flights for the Alaska Air Group under a capacity purchase contract arrangement flying the E-175 regional jets in Alaska Airlines colors. I do want to say that the E-175 jets that fly for Alaska Air Group have ovens in the first class galley so that hot meals can be served.
With the arrival of more E-175 jets, the Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft will be retired.
Adding new aircraft to both mainline and regional operations will reduce the average fleet age to 9.1 years. The Boeing 737-700 represent the oldest mainline aircraft in the fleet that has been reduced to 11 aircraft. The Q400 turboprops are the oldest in the Horizon Air regional fleet and will be retired next year.
Below, is the current aircraft fleet mix for both mainline and regional operations. This chart will change dramatically over the next several years when aircraft standardization has been completed. Just like Southwest, there is the scale of economy benefits from operating a single aircraft type.
Alaska Airlines does have 35-inch pitch in their premium economy seats which is the most in the industry. The older 737-800 aircraft will be going in for cabin refurbishments with new seats. It was not mentioned if the overhead bins would be converted during refurbishment with the current Boeing Skybin overhead compartments. Satellite-based wifi should be available on all mainline aircraft by April 2023.
The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and Oneworld
This is the subject that I was most interested in hearing about. I have been hearing rumors that the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan will come up with a new (they call it simpler) award ticket methodology that would be based on dynamic pricing. There was no mention of this in general. It was brought up that domestic Alaska award tickets have gone up in price. It was said that people are still redeeming miles for domestic award tickets. The plan is to keep partnerships with the existing airlines that are not part of the Oneworld alliance.
Alaska did address the lack of partner first class seats available for award tickets. Their explanation was due to Covid, there are fewer aircraft flying with fewer first class seats. They may be correct here, international carriers have been reducing or eliminating first class seats. Oman Air is expected to join Oneworld in 2024. In 2023, you will be able to book tickets on alaskaair.com for:
- British Airways
- Japan Airlines
They did talk about their relationship with American Airlines. Yes, Alaska Airline elites do get preferred seats on American along with international system-wide upgrades issued to MVP Gold 75K and MVP Gold 100K members. My Alaska status translates to Oneworld Emerald status which did help me on American Airlines score domestic first class upgrades. I was flying from DFW to Jackson, MS on American Eagle (regional) when my flight was cancelled. The only remaining flight that day had only one seat available with 18 people on the standby list. My Emerald status put me on the top of the standby list and I was able to get to Jackson that night.
Alaska has targeted five airports for major upgrades. My home airport, Portland (PDX) does not have enough gates and the Alaska Lounge is too small. I look forward to the new Alaska Airlines experience at PDX in 2024.
The airport of tomorrow will be built to speed your way through the check-in process. If you are not checking bags, they want you to be able to go straight to security. If you are checking bags, they want to decrease your time by having self-check bag stations so you can print bag tags, drop your bags and go. From this . . .
To this . . .
Earlier this year, Alaska experimented with electronic bag tags. These state-of-the-art tags have no batteries. You should be able to track your bags on your cell phone.
Questions And Answers
The Q&A session was rather disappointing. They had preselected 12 questions that were sent to the Airline and with the time remaining took another five questions. The questions drawing the most interest were:
- Food and beverage service in first class. Menus are refreshed quarterly. The food and beverage manager will find a way to solicit more customer feedback on food and beverage offerings.
- Gold guest upgrades and lack of available first class seats. The airline will look at improvements here. They are working on a waitlist system for using guest upgrade certificates.
- Status extension for 2023. The short answer is no. Those within 5,000 – 10,000 miles will be sent an email to purchase EQM miles. There will be a fast-track option in the first quarter.
- Million miler question regarding first class upgrades. The question was in regard to first class upgrades available for million milers. Those people who are on lifetime MVP Gold status from achieving million-mile status do have a tie-breaker advantage over other MVP Gold elite members.
Although the Flyer Forum was interesting, they did not address the future of the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, whether there will be changes to the award chart or going to a dynamic-pricing method like other airlines. I have a feeling that changes to award tickets are coming. They did not discuss nor did anyone ask if first class service will go back to serving pre-departure beverages and hot towel service before the meals are served.
Most of what was said was positive for the future of flying on Alaska Airlines. It is what wasn’t said in the Forum that has me a little unsettled. This post covers the major issues, I was writing as fast as I could to include as much as possible.