Alaska Airlines Explains Its Strategy In Boise

As an air market, Boise, Idaho is not the same as Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. However, it is a city that is growing in importance for Alaska Airlines. Speaking at the Future Flying Forum, Brett Catlin, Alaska’s Vice President of Network and Alliances, explained how the airline thinks about its Boise network.

Alaska Airlines sees a lot of promise in Boise. Photo: Alaska Airlines

Alaska sees promise in Boise

Boise is a market of promise and opportunities for Alaska Airlines. A host of structural factors and burgeoning market opportunities sparked the airline’s interest in growing from Boise. Mr. Catlin stated the following at the Future Flying Forum:

“Specifically to your question on Boise, it’s more of a clean slate. Nobody owned Boise pre-pandemic. We were the largest player, but we really only flew to Seattle and Portland, maybe some seasonal service into markets like San Diego, but we hadn’t built up the network breadth in Boise. And the pandemic and demographic shifts gave us the opportunity to really look at Boise differently. We have a great partnership with the community, an excellent relationship with the airport. They have a great competitive structure in terms of cost per enplanement.”

Alaska Airlines has historically flown to several destinations out of Boise over the last few years. This includes some destinations in California, like Sacramento and San Jose, though the largest destinations in terms of service were historically Seattle (SEA) and Portland (PDX). According to data from Cirium, Alaska only offered flights to seven destinations from Boise in June 2019. Below, the destinations are ranked by seat count:
  1. Seattle (SEA)
  2. Portland (PDX)
  3. Spokane (GEG)
  4. San Diego (SAN)
  5. San Jose (SJC)
  6. Sacramento (SMF)
  7. Reno (RNO)

Recent moves in Boise

Alaska Airlines has been on a roll in Boise. This year, the airline inaugurated nonstop flights to Phoenix (PHX), Paine Field (PAE), Pullman (PUW), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), and Austin (AUS) from Boise Airport (BOI). Next year, the airline will launch nonstop flights from Boise to Idaho Falls (IDA) and Las Vegas (LAS).

Boise only receives nonstop service to domestic operations. While the big three US airlines, Southwest and recently JetBlue, fly to the airport, Alaska has been at the forefront of airline growth in Boise. Mr. Catlin discussed that growth in the following manner:

“So great demographic trends in Boise, low cost infrastructure, a lot of open canvas to grow the network, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. You saw us add Chicago and Austin, our first East Coast flights, or eastward directionally flights out of Boise – East Coast would be a bit of a liberal interpretation. We also built up California, San Francisco, San Jose, Palm Springs, LA,San Diego. So at this point in the Boise market, we offer 50% utility, which is up almost 30 points from pre-pandemic.”

These larger cities are part of the airline’s broader strategy to tap into some of its partner hubs (Chicago and Phoenix) and spokes where a partner is exceptionally strong (Austin). However, the growth in other places is a bit different, as he explained even further:

“We’ve also your question added markets like Pullman, Idaho Falls, Phoenix, Las Vegas – we’re building up Spokane to Boise. We think ultimately, while it’s designed to serve the local community, there’s also flow opportunities. Amarket like Spokane to Vegas, it’s circuitous to go via Seattle or Portland, but a lot of our guests in Spokane, they want to fly Alaska Airlines to Vegas, or folks in Pullman want to fly Alaska Airlines to San Diego, and they don’t necessarily want to connect via Seattle. And so we do see the potential for some targeted connectivity over Boise, which we believe can grow over time as well. But our focus right now is building a great network for local Boise originating traffic.”

Alaska Airlines in Boise in 2022

Come June 2022, Alaska Airlines will have over doubled its destination count compared to June 2019. Below is the list of Alaska’s top destinations from Boise in June 2022 by monthly seat count, using data from Cirium. Note that this excludes the seasonal winter service to Palm Springs from Boise:

  1. Seattle (SEA)
  2. Portland (PDX)
  3. Los Angeles (LAX)
  4. Spokane (GEG)
  5. Everett (PAE)
  6. San Diego (SAN)
  7. San Francisco (SFO)
  8. San Jose (SJC)
  9. Austin (AUS)
  10. Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  11. Phoenix (PHX)
  12. Sacramento (SMF)
  13. Pullman (PUW)
  14. Idaho Falls (IDA)
  15. Las Vegas (LAS)
Alaska’s summer 2022 network from Boise. Photo: Cirium

Seattle and Portland will still be the top two destinations out of Boise, according to data from Cirium. However, in July 2019, the total seat count offered on those two routes was over 75% of the airline’s total seat capacity out of Boise. In July 2022, those routes will make up just under 50% of the airline’s total seat capacity out of Boise. Seattle is growing compared to pre-pandemic levels, while Portland takes a slight cut, but the overall decrease of share, based on seat count, comes because of Alaska’s growth from Boise to other markets.

Moving forward, the question in Boise will be where – and not if – Alaska Airlines keeps growing in the city. There are plenty of markets that could work with service onboard an Embraer E175, which could be the right aircraft for unlocking some new routes or growing frequencies on routes that partners already operate. Alternatively, the growing Alaska base in Boise could become a catalyst for a partner, like American, to add more flights to Boise or increase capacity.

What will be interesting is to see whether Alaska chooses to offer some more incremental connections in the future. While Boise is likely not to grow to the size of a Portland or Seattle hub, it could help the airline offer new connecting opportunities and keep its already very loyal customer base intact, and continue to grow it.

Boise is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States. Growing in might thanks to a growing population and business-friendly environment, there could be a lot of promise in the market moving forward. Coupled with Alaska’s entry into the oneworld alliance and close partnership with American Airlines, the carrier is primed to offer the growing corporate traveler base the best value proposition in destinations and frequencies.

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