Delta Air Lines announced this week it is suspending flights between Seattle and Juneau from Nov. 4 to June 6, 2024, a move an analyst said may result in increased airfares for local fliers due to lack of competition.
The suspension of service was announced Monday by the airline — which has had an on-again, off-again presence in Juneau for many years, and offered year-round service last year for the first time in many years.
“Due to commercial and operational constraints, Delta will suspend its daily service from Seattle to Juneau beginning November 4, 2023, until June 6, 2024,” the airline statement notes. “As always, we monitor and adjust our route network based on customer demand, and we regret any inconvenience as we work to reaccommodate booked customers.”
Drake Castaneda, a Delta spokesperson, stated in an email Tuesday the number of passengers affected by the cancellations isn’t available, but “it’s something we’ll work directly with any customers booked on flights out of (and into) JNU and certainly process any necessary refunds.”
Delta originally had 30 flights scheduled between Seattle and Juneau for November, but there are now only three at the beginning of the month. The canceled flights between then and June will result in the loss of 4,640 to 4,960 passenger seats per month, according to the industry publication Simple Flying.
The airline stated it remains “committed to the Alaska market.”
“We just announced the return of nonstop daily service between Detroit and Anchorage next June, complementing year-round service to Anchorage from Seattle and Minneapolis St. Paul and summer seasonal service from Atlanta and Salt Lake City,” the statement notes. “Delta also serves three other cities throughout the state: Fairbanks, Ketchikan, and Sitka. We look forward to resuming operations to Juneau next summer.”
Delta typically has offered at least seasonal service to Juneau during peak tourism months, generally resulting in lower fares compared to when Alaska Airlines is the sole major carrier, said Scott McMurren, an Alaska travel expert who publishes the newsletter Alaska Travelgram and writes a travel column in the Anchorage Daily News.
“So when Delta is pulling out I think that you’ll see fares up,” he said. “I don’t know how and I don’t know exactly when.”
McMurren said Delta’s calendars show the airline was still offering a full season of winter flights as of a few days ago, but can’t say for certain why the company changed its plans.
“Let me just say this: if the planes were booked full I don’t think that they would have canceled those flights,” he said, noting Delta also scaled back some of its originally scheduled winter service in Alaska last year, including reducing Juneau-Seattle flights to twice a week.
Tim Thompson, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines, didn’t directly respond to a question about whether Delta’s cancellation of flights would lead to an increase in fares.
“Alaska Airlines has served the Juneau market year-round with both passenger and freight service for decades,” Thompson stated. “With multiple daily frequencies both north and south, our commitment to Juneau includes the annual constituent fare for Alaskans to travel to Juneau during the legislative session and the Club 49 program, exclusive for Alaskans…We will continue to invest in new airplanes, technology, terminals and our Alaska-based employees, who provide safe and reliable service to the Juneau community.”
Alaska Airlines was offering lower basic fares at its website compared to Delta as of midday Tuesday — but those also appear to be based on a PFD sale Alaska Airlines is offering through Oct. 9 since payment of the $1,312 dividends to residents is scheduled to begin Thursday.
The lowest advertised round-trip on Delta during its final days of service between Juneau and Seattle was $332. The lowest-available fares on Alaska Airlines were consistent for several days before and after Nov. 4, ranging between $228 and $238, with higher fares for peak travel days. The same fares for Alaska Airlines are listed for those dates one month later in December.
Delta did cancel a significant number of winter flights a few years ago due to equipment and occupancy factors, but “I didn’t see any chaos with it,” said Patricia Delabruere, manager for the city-owned Juneau airport. She said there’s been numerous discussions with various Delta officials about issues related to consistent year-round service, but there are complex issues the airline has to cope with such as the types of aircraft used and passenger traffic expected during winter months — the latter of which has generally been consistent.
“Unless there’s a major event going around it’s pretty static throughout the winter,” she said. “You have some growth — and especially post-COVID we’ve had a little bit of growth — but it isn’t changing a whole lot. Our numbers are up each winter a little bit, but not a significant number. And I don’t know that airlines plan for anything different than that, especially up here.”
Delta’s fluctuating level of service in Juneau — and other parts of Alaska — shows the company is still trying to figure out its place in an evolving travel industry, McMurren said.
“I think what they’re trying do is to find that sweet spot to appeal to people in Juneau to support a year-round schedule,” he said. “It’s clear to me that they’re still they’re still trying to figure that out.”
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