Outside of the main legacy carriers and Southwest, Midwestern cities have struggled to consistently land service from carriers based in the East and West coasts, such as jetBlue, Virgin America, and Alaska.
Since 2010, however, Alaska has made significant inroads to the Midwest. In 2010, cities in the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Indiana saw zero flights on Alaska Airlines. In the last seven years, Alaska’s route network has expanded to include service to all of these states from either Washington, Oregon or California.
The first two cities to see service were Kansas City and St. Louis, who in 2012 gained once daily Boeing 737-800 service. Since starting service to both Missouri cities, Alaska has added Portland service on ERJ-175s and San Diego service starting later this year.
The Embraer ERJ-175, operated by regional carrier Skywest, is what has allowed Alaska to create more service to the Midwest. Alaska’s Embraer fleet is flown with 12 first class seats and 64 economy seats. Most of the new service in the Midwest operates using the Embraer aircraft, including Oklahoma City to Seattle, Wichita to Seattle, and Milwaukee to Seattle. The addition of Virgin America has also allowed for Alaska to launch Dallas-Love Field service to Seattle on ERJ-175s too.
The airline currently operates 15 of the Brazillian-manufactured airplanes.
Whether the addition of Virgin America will see routes to San Francisco remains to be seen, but it is always a potential since United is the only operator from the Midwest to the Bay Area. Future expansion will also see San Diego to Omaha and Indianapolis to Seattle flights come online before the end of summer.
With the addition of Alaska’s service, the region gains access to cities that they had previously lacked service to as well as an increase in competition between carriers in the Midwest. Prior to Alaska arriving, most of these cities only had Southwest service to Seattle and Portland or simply lacked service altogether.
Smaller cities including Wichita already see limited service to the West Coast, with Seattle being the first destination in the Pacific Northwest.
The recent success has been a great sign for cities like St. Louis and Kansas City who have been trying to persuade new carriers into the market for a while. Since Alaska has moved in these cities, other carriers such as Spirit and Frontier have also added service to the area as they see potential to attack Southwest’s focus cities in the region.
While winning over LCCs has proven to work for the Midwest, the chance of luring in jetBlue has consistently failed. If Alaska has proven anything, it’s that the correct jet size and a destination that can fill up the plane’s seats is all that a carrier needs to make flying from the coast to the Midwest work.