Alaska Reducing Flights Between New York & Los Angeles/San Francisco

This doesn’t really come as much of a surprise, but I find it to be an interesting development nonetheless. As Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America is being finalized (Virgin America will officially cease to exist as a brand starting next week), I’ve been fascinated to see the ways in which the airlines are integrating their operations.

Historically JFK has been a focus city for Virgin America, and prior to 2015 Alaska didn’t even fly there. Virgin America was one of the five big “players” in the premium transcon market, between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco (along with American, Delta, JetBlue, and United).

Alaska’s first ever flight to JFK started in September 2015, between Seattle and JFK. Since then they’ve increased service to twice daily, and in November 2017 they introduced flights between Portland and JFK. Then just a couple of weeks ago they announced that they’d add further routes to & from JFK, as Alaska will be introducing once daily flights between San Jose and JFK, and a third daily flight between Seattle and JFK.

I was wondering where the available JFK slots were coming from, since I was under the impression that Alaska was more or less maxed out at the airport. Now we know for sure. As of July 6, 2018 (the same day the above routes end), Alaska will be reducing flights between JFK and LAX/SFO:

  • New York to Los Angeles will be reduced from six daily to five daily
  • New York to San Francisco will be reduced from five daily to four daily

That’s not anything groundbreaking, though I do think this is pretty telling as to the direction that Alaska will be taking with JFK. Alaska wants to be the West Coast’s premier airline, and clearly that goes beyond LAX and SFO.

So their strategy seems to include serving many West Coast points from JFK, rather than being competitive in the historically premium markets of JFK to LAX/SFO.

This strategy probably makes sense when you take into account that Alaska doesn’t plan on competing in premium cabins in premium markets. On flights between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United, all offer flat beds in business class. While Virgin America hasn’t historically offered a special product on this route, they do have spacious recliner seats that are significantly better than what you usually find in domestic first class.


Virgin America’s current first class

Going forward Alaska plans to configure all planes in the same way, and doesn’t plan on having a special subfleet for these routes, meaning their product will become even less competitive in premium markets.


Alaska’s new first class

To me this route reduction is pretty telling of their overall strategy. Who knows, soon enough maybe we’ll see even more of Alaska’s JFK flights switched to other markets, where they feel like they can better compete than NYC to LAX & SFO. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them operate just 2-3 flights per day in these markets a few years down the road.

Are you surprised to see Alaska cutting back in these premium markets?

Comments

  1. Agreed that this makes a lot of sense and is generally unsurprising but still a good news story for those on the West/Best Coast. There’s surely a transcon market outside LAX and SFO, and those folks probably are loathe to connect. Flying south/north to then fly east is always such a PITA and adds time. Plus, for daytime flights, having a lie-flat product isn’t a must have for most people.

    I’m curious to see the price point on these flights compared to the current transcon routes with a premium config. Will AS gouge customers and consider it a convenience fee for not connecting, or will they keep prices reasonable since their F hard/soft product will be inferior?

  2. Its actually worse then you said, the JFK-LAX/SFO in Y Saver on AA doesnt show any availability , instead its full of ASs non-stops. If not booking a close in tkt. So 1 less flight will mean less chances of scoring a tkt or maybe even AS pulling back on what it will allow AAers to book

  3. Would love to see them add SNA to JFK. Only United flies SNA to NYC and it is always priced much more than the lax route and always full, not sure why other airlines don’t fly the route.

  4. I think AS is right to see their opportunity in serving markets besides SFO and LAX. They could spend to create a premium transcon or they could just use their slots to serve less crowded routes.

  5. If they didn’t want to get into the premium transcon market, and didn’t have such ambitions, why did they acquire VX?? That’s what VX was all about! Poor international partners, thin schedule, expensive fares — what does AS want to be in the end?

  6. @erick – that’s exactly why many of us scratched our heads about AS’s purchase of VX. It always seemed like such a clash of strategies, not to mention cultures.

    But maybe VX wasn’t competing very well in the premium transcon market, and AS thought they could utilize those assets for their west coast-centered strategy more profitably.

    Living near NYC and often having to fly to SFO, I find the route reduction somewhat annoying, because (a) it reduces competition and will inevitably jack the prices up for JFK-SFO, and (b) I think the VX experience in Y is not only typically more cost-effective, but also quite pleasant and worlds better than AA (and certainly UA, which I’d have to slog out to EWR for). It was nice to have the VX option, so it’s sad to see it being reduced if not ultimately eliminated.

  7. @snic:

    You didn’t mention jetBlue which provides a very similar (if not better) Y experience — lots of leg room, seat back TV, and free wifi

  8. @erick, snic
    I think it was also a defensive move against JetBlue acquiring VX and becoming a major player. Honestly VX made all the sense in the world for B6… similar cultures, fleet, synergistic route networks. If AS didn’t get VX but B6 did, they’d be facing a potential major new competitor on the west coast.

    I still get bummed out when I think how great B6 would have been with VX.

  9. Am I the only one who noticed AS zeroed out all standard award inventory in business/first for flights operated by 32S between SFO/LAX and NYC/BOS from April 25 to October (didn’t check further)?

    So they’re going to play the same game as AA and others on the transcend market.

  10. I’m happy to fly out of any of SFO, OAK, or SJC. And the terminal Alaska uses at SFO currently doesn’t have any lounge for domestic AS customer use, so totally fine with the shift away.

  11. Virgin America’s been fraught with cancellations to/from JFK this past winter, and having less redundancy on their JFK to SFO routes makes me even more nervous. That said, it was already painfully obvious JetBlue, Delta, and UA were eating their lunch on these routes, so diversifying into smaller airports makes more sense as Alaska’s value proposition looks a little better to SJC.

  12. I am happy if they cut an SFO flight in favor of a direct SMF flight. Only the 1 daily flight to SMF on JetBlue which is always full and has been upgraded to the A321. SMF metro has a population catchment area of over 1 million, they can surely use more service.

  13. Alaska is the best in America to do business with close to 5 stars in
    customer service within the US
    What it desperately needs is superior food and beverage
    Its like being in prison for 5 or 6 hours in First Class
    Without upping their game in F&B I’ll take my bed on American or Jet Blue
    Alaska’s flight crews rock as does their service
    I’m hoping for more greatness from them over time!
    The trans-con competition is fierce so with Alaskas shortcoming with hard product
    the experience on board its a make or break.They have the people and just the right culture otherwise
    Hopefully they get it!

  14. Alaska has never understood or cared about premium cabin seating. My wife and I now drive the 3 hours to Seattle from Portland (where we live) to enjoy JetBlue MINT service to JFK. And since JetBlue is smart, I hold out hope they will expand that service to Portland.
    Meanwhile, Alaska destroys everything that was good about Virgin America and introduces a brand new premium cabin seat with limited recline.

  15. Having just flown VX SFO-OGG in First (first time for me), I don’t understand the supposed allure of Virgin America. Yah the seat is big and comfy (tho showing wear/mechanical probs) The meal was pretty meh — tiny salad with 3 slivers of beets, mushy fish and dessert in a jar. This is gourmet? Service was good, but nothing extraordinary. And I’ve had much better service on other carriers, including Alaska. Maybe VX staff are just phoning it in now because of the pending change/uncertainty. But based on my flights (previously in coach/MCS), I won’t miss VX. And I sure won’t miss their indulgent looooooong safety video.

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