Alaska Airlines’ aggressive expansion into new markets and into higher capacity aircraft is generating substantial new business for the SeaTac-based carrier, but it is creating more empty seats on the airline’s flights.
The number of passengers that Alaska and its affiliates carried in January rose by 9.2 percent in January to 2,358,000. The airline’s revenue passenger miles, the number of passengers times the number of miles they flew, jumped by 7.9 percent in that same month. But the available seat miles grew at even faster rate, 10.4 percent, the airline reported Tuesday.
That fact created planes that were less full than they were in January 2014. On average, Alaska filled 80.8 percent of its seats in January 2015 and 82.4 percent in January 2014.
The airline faces more competition and rival capacity on many of its routes because Delta Air Lines has expanded rapidly in the last year at Sea-Tac Airport, Alaska’s main hub. Many of those new Delta routes are between cities that have been mainstays of Alaska’s West Coast business.
Alaska has countered by optimizing its schedules on those routes and by expanding to new destinations nonstop such as Detroit where Delta has a hub and other cities such as New Orleans and Tampa that Puget Sound travelers may have previously reached by flying through Delta connection points such as Atlanta and Salt Lake City.
Alaska also has raised the capacity of its existing fleet by installing new, thinner seats allow additional rows in each aircraft and by replacing smaller Boeing 737s with larger versions of that plane.