FAIRBANKS — Many Fairbanks travelers will use a new aircraft to travel to Anchorage next spring, but they’ll board Alaska Airlines’ new Bombardier Q400s the same way they enter today’s Boeing 737s.
The airline announced today that customers will continue to use a jet bridge when the turboprop aircraft are introduced to the route next March, using a pathway similar to the one that connects customers to the company’s Boeing 737 flights today.
Access to the Q400 was among the most criticized details when Alaska announced in June its plans to switch from the jets to smaller turboprop aircraft. In most other markets, travelers access propeller planes by exiting a terminal, walking to the plane and climbing a set of stairs.
Some travelers said that outdoor excursion would be a big step back in Fairbanks, where subzero temperatures are common in winter. It also created an uncertain situation for disabled passengers who can’t use a stairway.
Alaska Airlines Regional Vice President Marilyn Romano said the use of a jet bridge is a response to those concerns. The climate-controlled jet bridge will be used year-round, and disabled passengers will be able to access the planes through the pathway and an elevator in the main terminal.
“I think it should be a consistent experience for the customer,” Romano said.
Alaska Airlines will modify a jet bridge at Gate 1 at Fairbanks International Airport to provide access to the Q400. Alaska Airlines is exploring a warm boarding solution for customers boarding and deplaning at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Romano said, although no solution has been chosen.
With a 76-seat capacity, the Q400 carries about half as many passengers as the 737-400 that Alaska Airlines currently uses on its Fairbanks-Anchorage routes. The airline said the switch to the Q400 next spring will save considerable fuel, cutting costs by an estimated 30 percent on the route.
Alaska Airlines plans to increase its service on the route from seven to nine daily flights — eight Q400 flights and one using a Boeing 737. Daily jet service between Fairbanks and Seattle will continue.
The transit time for the turboprop aircraft will be roughly the same as jet service on the short route, and Romano said fares are expected to remain the same. She said it’s still unknown if anticipated lower costs on the route will eventually translate into lower fares.
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