Delta Air Lines' first commercial flight lands in Juneau on May 29, 2014.

Delta Air Lines' first commercial flight lands in Juneau on May 29, 2014.

Delta to end year-round service in Juneau

Delta Air Lines’ final day of operation in Juneau this year will be Aug. 31, said Delta’s Vice President in Seattle Mike Medeiros.

“Our plan will be to bring it back into service spring 2017 as a seasonal destination,” he said.

Delta quietly made the decision to cease year-round service at the end of last month. The change went into effect on its website just last week.

The airline, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, started flying between the capital city and Seattle spring and summer of 2014. It was the first time in nearly 20 years that Alaska Airlines didn’t have a monopoly on the market. Delta came back the same months in 2015.

With competition, round-trip airfares between Juneau and Seattle on Delta and Alaska Airlines were sometimes as low as $250, where they’d been around $500 otherwise. Fares to other cities also decreased.

The lower rates stuck around this past fall and winter when Delta decided to make Juneau-to-Seattle a year-round occurrence. But not enough Juneau residents actually flew with Delta.

Medeiros described the amount of state residents departing from Juneau on Delta as “very poor.”

“It just wasn’t what it needed to be to even come close to breaking even,” he said.

In the summer, Delta relies on people from the Lower 48 and elsewhere flying into Juneau. In the fall and winter, Medeiros said Delta was relying on Alaska residents choosing Delta, and that didn’t happen.

“Alaska residents have indicated that they are thankful that Delta has brought service and entered the Alaska market, bringing much needed competition to what has been a near monopoly by one airline,” Medeiros said.

“The fact of the matter is that residents have benefitted from those lower fares but they haven’t supported Delta,” he said. “If Alaska residents want competition then they need to support competition.”

Delta’s fall and winter service from Juneau had some challenges. Instead of operating a 162-seat Boeing 737-800 as it does in the summer, it switched to a 76-passenger CRJ 900. Medairos said the regional jet was “better suited for the market.”

But after not being able fly in and out of Juneau on several occasions due to weather, Medeiros said Delta switched back to the 737 in October.

It also cut daily service to five-days-a-week in January — a move that Medeiros said is “typical” during slow months. In March, Delta went to six-days-a-week and will return to daily service April 27.

Medeiros said Delta is optimistic about operating out of Juneau this summer and is excited to return next May. He said Delta continues to have seasonal flights to Seattle out of Ketchikan and Sitka.

With Delta exiting Juneau this fall and winter, travel expert Scott McMurren predicts fares between Juneau and Seattle to go back up. McMurren writes the Alaska Travelgram website and newsletter.

When Delta was operating seasonally in Juneau, McMurren said once the airline left the city in the fall, fares to Seattle increased “the very next day.”

But McMurren said having lower rates in the summer is still a big deal.

“They’re still serving the market during the summer, and that’s huge. It is huge for the travelers in Juneau to have any competitive pressure whatsoever, and I cannot overstate that,” McMurren said.

He said Delta ending year-round service may be sad for some Juneau residents, but with Delta not getting the local support, it wasn’t unexpected.

“I think the Juneau travelers, at least those that originate in Juneau, are used to a well-oiled machine and Delta still had some work to do and I don’t think they were willing to stick around that long,” McMurren said.

Anchorage-based Alaska Airlines Regional Vice-President Marilyn Romano wrote in an email to the Empire that the airline doesn’t comment on other airline’s plans, but added, “Our long-standing commitment to the Juneau community has not and will not change.”

Alaska Airlines will continue to operate 16 daily departures to Seattle and locations around Alaska out of Juneau this summer. Next winter, Alaska Airlines will have 11 daily departures, including a new early morning non-stop flight to Seattle.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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