BELLINGHAM - Alaska Airlines has announced the start of Bellingham-to-Maui flights beginning Nov. 8, putting that airline in competition with the Maui service that Allegiant Air announced in May 2012.
The announcement appears to give Alaska Airlines a one-week head start, with the Alaska Airlines flights starting one week sooner than Allegiant's and an introductory fare that is $20 lower one-way.
The Alaska Airlines service will operate four days a week, with Bellingham flights departing at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and Maui flights departing at 3 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
The airline is launching the service with introductory one-way fares starting at $179 for tickets purchased by July 3 for travel Nov. 8 to Dec. 24, 2012.
Daniel Zenk, the Port of Bellingham's aviation director, said the growth in Hawaii flights probably means new records in the number of departiung passengers at Bellingham International Airport.
The current record is 511,000 departing passengers in 2011. Zenk believes that number is likely to be surpassed this year, with 231,000 departing passengers in the first five months of 2012 and a projected total of about 560,000 for the full year. For 2013, the seasonal Hawaii flights are expected to add thousands to the existing totals.
Those numbers are important to the airport's financial health, because a $4.50 per-passenger fee is used to pay for airport improvements such as the $17 million terminal expansion project now under way.
Is the demand for Hawaii flights strong enough to support both Alaska and Allegiant's flight schedules? Probably, Zenk said.
"The airlines really do their homework when they start new destinations," Zenk said. "I think both of the airlines feel there is enough demand to support both airlines."
Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey agreed.
"We're confident that we can make this work in spite of what others are doing," Lindsey said in an email. "We are very focused on connecting the West Coast with nonstop service to Hawaii. We added Anchorage-Kona service earlier this month and Portland-Lihue service last month and feel that this new route compliments our other West Coast service to the islands. Alaska Airlines' Bellingham-Honolulu flights have performed as expected and we have no reason to doubt that our Bellingham-Maui route will do equally well."
Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, welcomed the service.
"We estimate the flights will provide $16 million in visitor spending and $1.7 million in tax revenue annually," McCartney said in a press release.
Allegiant will begin its Maui service two days a week starting Nov. 14, with Honolulu two days a week starting Nov. 15.
Alaska Airlines has offered Bellingham-Honolulu service since 2011.