ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Friday’s diversion of three flights headed for Japan to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was an unexpected bump in international passenger traffic through what used to be a hub for jet-setters.
In the 1980s, Anchorage was a high-traffic stop for worldwide travel. Today, while Anchorage is still a major player in the cargo world, the passengers have gone away.
Another airline, China Airlines, bids Anchorage farewell next month.
Twenty years ago the North Terminal was known as the “International Terminal,” and for good reason -- it was constantly busy as jetliners stopped in Anchorage to refuel because of closed Soviet airspace.
“I'm afraid we'll never see those days again,” said the airport’s manager, John Parrott.
Parrott is one of the people who helps try to entice airlines to come here, but next month he'll instead be saying goodbye to the last direct flight from Anchorage to Asia.
“(It’s) significant not so much from a revenue standpoint, but from a psychology standpoint,” Parrott said.
The China Airlines check-in desk sees limited activity these days, only four times a week -- and on April 29, the airline's passenger flights to Taipei will take off for good.
Scott McMurren, who publishes the website AlaskaTravelgram.com, says it's no surprise that China Airlines and other passenger carriers have left over the years.
“We're sad about that,” he said. “It's not coming back, forget it, it was here only as an accident of geography -- we're basically a gas station. The last thing that China Airlines wanted to do was fiddle with passengers here anyway.”
Many of Anchorage's international passenger flights were piggybacked off of other routes, meaning only a few seats on the flight were sold for Alaskans as they were picked up on the way. McMurren says China Airlines is leaving because of money, but Parrott says other factors are also involved.
“In particular, there are regulations imposed by customs and border protection and (the Transportation Security Administration) that make it economically very difficult for an international carrier to operate through here,” Parrott said.
“Anchorage is too small of a market to warrant non-stop service from Tokyo to Anchorage,” McMurren said. “Or guess what? We'd have it by now.”
Parrott said the bottom line is that your next flight to Asia is going to cost a lot more.
“You can't go direct without going to Seattle or Portland now, and that's something we want to get away from,” Parrott said.
One bright spot in Anchorage's international passenger flight options are charter flights to Europe. Edelweiss is beginning service to and from Zurich, Switzerland. It joins Condor Air which provides direct service to Frankfurt, Germany.
On the domestic front, Alaska is seeing more seasonal carriers, including discount airline JetBlue.
Contact Todd Walker at email@example.com