Alaska adds morning jet service to Seattle

In the face of declining market share, Alaska Airlines has responded to Delta Airline’s morning jet service from Medford to Seattle with non-stop jet service of its own.

Once easily possessing more than half the market, Alaska is in danger of losing its top spot to United Air Lines. But it’s Delta’s morning flight to Sea-Tac Airport, launched last fall, that really got Alaska’s attention. Both the Seattle-based Alaska Air-Group and Atlanta-based Delta have hubs at Sea-Tac.

Alaska’s Horizon Air unit long has offered non-stop service on its Q400 prop planes, but starting June 18, Alaska will deploy 76-passenger Embraer 175s between Puget Sound and the Rogue Valley. The morning flight still won’t go head-to-head with Delta’s 5:37 a.m. flight to Seattle, leaving instead at 9:23 a.m. and arriving at 10:50 a.m. The incoming flight from Sea-Tac leaves at 7:05 a.m., arriving in Medford at 8:31 a.m.

Alaska will continue three Q400 flights at 5:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 8:55 p.m.

“It’s 100 percent a competitive response to Delta’s morning flight, which leaves early in the morning to Seattle,” said Ashland resident Alan Bender, an aeronautics professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide in Daytona Beach, Florida. “Right now, you’ve got a funky-old Q400 versus a businessman’s flight to Seattle with first-class seating. Obviously, Delta has upped the ante with its new equipment and Alaska is trying to respond, but they don’t have enough jets right now.”

Alaska had to cut flights and routes last year because of a pilot shortage, and its competitors have shown little pity.

“Delta took the first shot by starting its Seattle-Medford service and United will be going to Los Angeles next month,” Bender said.

Whether Delta ratchets up the pressure is yet to be seen. It already runs two flights daily between Eugene and Seattle, and Bender wouldn’t be surprised if Delta augmented its Medford service.

“Right now Delta’s return to Medford is too late for business travelers,” Bender said. “Alaska and Delta have two different missions. Delta is feeding its hub, while Alaska is feeding its hub and providing local transportation; you have to have high frequency to do that. Right now, the ball is in Delta’s court, they’ll have to do the math.”

Medford Airport Director Jerry Brienza said travelers hesitant to take prop planes may be willing to go north on jets.

“Some people are skeptical about flying props, even though they have a better safety record,” Brienza said. “This will relieve those tensions and anxieties about flying props. The jet service will shorten flight times.”

More important, Brienza said, it signals a broader message that Alaska is moving toward a long-awaited changeover to jet service.

“We feel this is the beginning of a transitioning period,” he said.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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