A few weeks ago, Alaska Airlines rolled out a sample aircraft from sister company Horizon Airlines as a welcome mat of sorts for Fairbanks travelers edgy about this new, turbo-prop creature that will be shuttling they and their stuff between the Golden Heart City and Anchorage.
It’s sleek, it’s pretty, and it’s just about as fast as the current Alaska Airlines 737 fleet that has, until now, been the stock plane of this ANC-FAI run. But as luck would have it (get it?), the 737 planes are being pulled to new routes that serve Vegas, and now Fairbanksans are feeling a bit left out of the transportation loop.
I read the comment sections on Alaska Airlines’ Facebook page; I read the thread of comments on the Fairbanks Daily News Miner; I even asked the opinion of my Travel Guru, Scott McMurren. It all comes down to supporting the market, and Fairbanks thus gets the turbo-prop come March 2014.
Already-decided things aside, let’s get down to the facts for families traveling between Anchorage and Fairbanks. I had the chance to talk with Bobbie Egan of Alaska Airlines, and she graciously answered my incessant questions on behalf of parents everywhere who have flown commuter airlines. Between her responses, my own experiences, and a bunch of research, I’m hoping to answer the following questions that seem to be floating about on the Alaska clouds.
1. How many flights are we talking about? Horizon/Alaska will operate nine daily flights between Anchorage and Fairbanks, beginning March, 2014. Eight will be aboard the Q400, and one will be aboard the 737-Combi that carries cargo and people. That’s two more flights than are currently offered, per day.
2. What is the capacity of a Q400 Bombardier? Here’s the sticky part – the Q400 has only 76 seats, all coach. The aircraft has two pilots, and two flight attendants. Seating is 2 X 2, so everyone gets either a window or aisle seat (important in our family). The seats are quite nice, but without the added benefit of the -900 series planes we’re used to, up here. If you have a car seat to wrangle, or are tall, you will probably notice a decreased amount of room. That said, it’s an hour, max, and we can do it. Right?
3. Will families still have the same pre-boarding options? How about luggage and kid-gear? Yes, indeed, families with small children or those with special needs will still receive the same great option to board kid and/or kaboodle, early. Like Lower 48 Horizon service, carry-on luggage (save for the stuff you need in-flight) will be ala’carte, meaning you drop it off and pick it up at the bottom of the stairway, similar to the “gate check” procedure for strollers and car seats.
4. What about boarding or disembarking? Egan assures me, as have other Alaska Airlines officials, that passengers will be kept “warm, safe, and dry” during inclement (and downright frigid) Alaska weather. We have flown other small Alaska air carriers, and even when we’ve had to walk across the tarmac to board or disembark, we’ve always made it. Be prepared; dress children and yourself for cold temps. Egan goes further to say that passengers with mobility issues will be assisted to and from the aircraft, as is FAA regulations, and as per Alaska Airlines policy for safety and security of all who choose their airline.
5. Are these planes safe? Yes. The Q400 is a safe aircraft, with hundreds of take-offs and landings every day via Horizon Airlines/Alaska Airlines. The planes are equipped to fly in Alaska’s extremely cold temperatures, with a cruising altitude of 25,000 feet, and an air speed of 414 mph, just slightly slower than the 737. They are loud for some passengers with sensitive ears, but, in my years of flying these aircraft with kids, I have not had to play earplug tag, unlike other, smaller, (and noisier) aircraft.
Bottom line? While it would be nice to keep jets roaring in and out of Fairbanks with Alaska Airlines, the reality is such that we are all looking at the Q400 as our new form of air transport to the Interior. And we can do this.
We’ll see you out there!