Alaska Airlines to reduce summer flights out of Bellingham

Passengers disembark from an Alaska Airlines plane arriving from Las Vegas at Bellingham International Airport, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.
Passengers disembark from an Alaska Airlines plane arriving from Las Vegas at Bellingham International Airport, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. The Bellingham Herald

Alaska Airlines is curtailing its nonstop flights from Bellingham to Las Vegas and Honolulu, shifting to a seasonal service for both those destinations.

Starting Saturday, June 6, Alaska Airlines will offer only five flights a day to Seattle and one flight a day to Portland, Ore., out of Bellingham International Airport.

Alaska plans to resume its flights to Honolulu, Maui and Las Vegas in November through early March, said Bobbie Egan, a spokeswoman for the airline. The flights to Maui were already operating on a seasonal basis prior to the announcement.

Egan said the decision was made because of decreased demand for those two routes during the summer months. The move also allows the airline to shift its bigger Boeing 737 planes to other destinations. The airline uses its smaller Bombardier Q400 planes for flights from Bellingham to Seattle and Portland.

“We remain very much committed to the Bellingham market,” Egan said, adding that the seasonal service better aligns with the vacation schedule of people in this area.

The announcement came as a surprise to Dan Zenk, director of aviation at the Bellingham airport. He believed the number of passengers flying to Las Vegas and Honolulu from Bellingham in previous summers was strong.

One factor could be the weakening Canadian dollar. Around 55 percent of those flying out of Bellingham are Canadian, and with the loonie hovering around 80 cents compared to the U.S. dollar, it is more expensive for Canadians to fly in the U.S. than in recent years.

Flights out of the Bellingham airport have declined steadily in the past year, with further reductions expected in 2015. This includes the announcement earlier this month that Frontier airlines would not offer seasonal direct flights to Denver this year. After three years of serving Bellingham, Frontier decided its aircraft would be better served in a market on the East Coast, Zenk said.

Despite the decline in flights, Zenk said it hasn’t prevented the Port of Bellingham from being able to pay back its 20-year bonds. He said the agency used very conservative numbers for that issuance.

The airport charges a facility fee for each passenger. The port gets $4.39 per passenger, which is helping pay back the airport’s nearly $32.5 million portion of revenue bonds issued in 2010 for the airport terminal expansion.

Zenk said while Bellingham continues to draw interest from other airlines, the industry remains in a period of consolidation and is not aggressively entering new markets. He suspects that by the end of 2015, that period will close and airlines will again start looking at regional airports like Bellingham.

“Bellingham has always been a high-demand airport, so others may come in to fill that need,” Zenk said. He added that if the demand is strong this summer for Las Vegas, it could lead to Allegiant Air adding flights.

Allegiant offers several nonstop flights out of Bellingham. Along with Las Vegas, Allegiant flies to Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Palm Springs, Calif.; Phoenix and San Diego.

The frequency of Alaska Airlines flights to Seattle and Vancouver was corrected Feb. 25, 2015.