Smoky Skyline

An Alaska Airlines passenger flight comes in for a landing at the Fairbanks International Airport above the smoke-filled tree line as seen from the UAF West Ridge pull-out Friday morning, June 28, 2019. Smoke from multiple Interior wildfires including the Shovel Creek Fire has settled in on Fairbanks.

With the country ramping up vaccinations and the summer tourism season approaching, Fairbanks International Airport is expecting an increase in visitors.

The airport’s inbound seat capacity forecast for the summer season from June to August is now at 127,000 seats — 2.5 times more than summer 2020 and only 16% below pre-pandemic 2019 level, Melissa Stepovich, communications manager for the Fairbanks airport, wrote in an email to the News-Miner.

“This is based on the Innovata schedule data filed by the airlines,” Stepovich explained.

This summer, Fairbanks will have flight service to and from Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis and Frankfurt, Germany. To fly passengers from these locations, the airport will be welcoming two new carriers — American Airlines and Fairbanks’ first ultra-low-cost carrier, SunCountry Airlines, Stepovich said. Delta will also resume daily flights.

The airport is determined to bring “travelers to Alaska this summer and help Alaska’s tourism economy,” regardless of Canada extending its ban on cruise ships until 2022, according to the statement the airport released last week.

Canada’s decision significantly hit the Interior tourism industry, where 41% of summer visitors come from cruises, according to an Explore Fairbanks report. All cruises where Fairbanks is part of the itinerary are one-way cruises sailing from Vancouver, Stepovich said. Explore Fairbanks is a tourism and destination agency based in the city.

“The question remains what is going to happen to the cruise season in Alaska,” she added.

Together with Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Fairbanks airport released a joint statement in response to Canada’s cruise restrictions, expressing their disapproval of the decision.

“We are extremely disappointed in Canada’s decision to restrict cruise ships this summer. However, Alaska is more than just a cruise destination,” Airport Director Jim Szczesniak said in the release.“If Canada doesn’t want you — fly over Vancouver — Alaska will be more than happy to welcome you.”

Even when the cruises operated, most visitors still “flew in or out of Fairbanks to start a land tour in Fairbanks and then join the cruise or complete their cruise with a land tour option,” Stepovich said.

Officials from both Fairbanks and Anchorage airports wrote that Americans are eager to travel, and Alaska’s high vaccination rates and vast territories are perfect to help them do it safely.

“Fairbanks and Alaska overall still remain a very attractive summer destination for domestic travelers seeking new exotic vacation spots, wide open spaces and national parks which are in abundance in Alaska,” Stepovich said.

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.