The tenor of transcontinental travel is changing and for the
better, if you ask travel agents. Once the province of high-fare
majors such as American, Continental, United and Delta,
transcontinental routes are increasingly being rendered affordable
by the likes of JetBlue, Frontier and, finally, Southwest. Even
West Coast-centric Alaska Airlines is flying farther afield,
spreading its wings to Miami and Newark.
“We’re seeing short-haul carriers reaching out into the
long-haul world,” said Jack Keady, a Marina del Rey, Calif.-based
airline consultant. “We’re seeing them doing that on an
opportunistic basis. For example, Southwest has pushed US Airways
around pretty badly at Baltimore, so it decided to test the market
by flying Baltimore-Los Angeles.”
Indeed, the low-fare juggernaut was set to inaugurate nonstop
BWI-LAX service Sept. 15 with a pair of daily nonstops. Southwest
has sweetened the deal by capping one-way, walk-up fares at $299
(the move applies to all its routes).
Southwest flights follow the tone set by JetBlue, the
well-funded, low-fare wunderkind based out of New York’s John F.
Kennedy International Airport. JetBlue fields a quartet of
often-packed nonstops from JFK to Long Beach, one of the L.A.
Basin’s increasingly popular pocketports. JetBlue also flies
nonstop twice daily from LGB to Washington Dulles. Don’t look for
Frontier to follow suit with nonstop transcon service, but the
Denver-based carrier is rolling out a slew of coast-to-coast
tariffs designed to tempt travelers. San Diego-New York La Guardia
can be had for as little as $308 roundtrip, providing your client
doesn’t mind connecting at DEN on Frontier’s close-in, convenient
While your clients may be flying cheap, the airplanes these
low-fare carriers use on the transcon are anything but old. JetBlue
uses new, long-range A320s; Southwest uses new long-legged
737-700s; and Frontier is replacing its older 737-300s and -200s
with new Airbus aircraft.
What low-fare flyers give up, of course, is room. All-coach
coast-to-coast can be uncomfortable, especially if the airlines
don’t feed you.
While JetBlue and Southwest offer snacks, it’s best to advise
your customers to take along their own meals. Thankfully, the
market has responded to this new breed of airline by opening good
eateries at key airports such as LAX and BWI. Most of them will
package food for flight. And since these restaurants and sandwich
shops are located beyond security checkpoints, flyers don’t have to
hassle with screeners X-raying their ham-and-cheese on rye.
Not all alternative transcon travel is cut-rate. Some of it is
decidedly full-service. Alaska Airlines, following the resumption
of its successful Seattle/Tacoma-Washington Reagan National
service, just added a couple of new coast-to-coast markets. Miami
and Newark fliers will soon espy the smiling Eskimo at their local
airports. On Oct. 28, AS launches daily nonstop SEA-EWR service.
SEA-MIA follows on Nov. 21.
Why reach so far? For one thing, Keady said, it costs less for
airlines to operate long-haul service than it does up and down (as
in lots of takeoffs and landings) short-hauls.
For another, “The New York City region and South Florida are top
travel destinations for our frequent flyers,” said Alaska President
and CEO Bill Ayer.
That’s certainly the way some Seattle travel agents feel about
“It’s a big help,” said Bill Scharff, an agent with Seattle’s
Magnolia Travel. “It’s been received very favorably, particularly
to the Miami and Fort Lauderdale area.” The reason is simple:
Barring Alaska’s new service, there isn’t any way to fly nonstop
between the Puget Sound and Biscayne Bay. Once upon a time, in an
era far, far away, American Airlines flew this lengthiest of Lower
48 nonstops. No longer.
The cruise connection is what has Beverly Ann Schukar jazzed
about Alaska’s Miami nonstop.
“It is a morning departure,” said Schukar, owner/manager of
Seattle’s Treasure House Travel & Cruises.
While the flight may not touch down in time for evening
sailings, it’s an improvement on AA’s former flight, Schukar said
especially on the return leg. American’s flight pushed back early
in the morning; the Eskimo exits MIA at 6 p.m., arriving Sea-Tac at
“Anybody we have suggested it to finds it a good idea,” she
said. “Most people here use Alaska an awful lot anyway,
particularly our business people,” said Magnolia Travel’s Scharff.
“When they go on vacation, they’ve already built up Alaska Airlines
miles, and they’re very loyal to the airline. So having these East
Coast flights is a big plus.”
Not to mention a big challenge for the entrenched majors who’ve
traditionally dominated transcontinental flyways.