March 27–Lewiston is losing Seattle and Boise commercial passenger flights as Horizon Air withdraws from the only airport it serves in north central Idaho.
Alaska Airlines, the parent company of Horizon, is ending its services because its Lewiston flights typically are 60 percent full, compared with 85 percent full system-wide, said Candice Payne, regional manager of sales and community marketing, in an email Monday.
“Unfortunately, Lewiston has underperformed for several years and we can no longer justify the costs of operating here,” Payne said in the email to Valley Vision, a not-for-profit economic development group.
Horizon’s last day in Lewiston will be Aug. 25. It will expand Seattle service at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport the following day, Payne said.
But Boise passengers will have to depart from Spokane or connect with Boise flights in Seattle, Payne said.
“We recognize that ending our Lewiston service creates an air travel void between northern Idaho and Boise, but the demand was not enough for us to sustain operations,” Payne said.
All of the airline’s employees at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport will have opportunities to transfer to other markets, said spokeswoman Ann Johnson in an email.
Alaska’s decision doesn’t affect the operations of SkyWest, Lewiston’s other commercial passenger carrier, which offers flights to and from Salt Lake City, said Valley Vision President and CEO Douglas Mattoon.
On Monday, Horizon had two Lewiston-Seattle round trips and one departure to Boise. SkyWest had two incoming and two outgoing Salt Lake City flights. In Pullman, Horizon had four Monday Seattle departures and arrivals.
Lewiston airport manager Stephanie Morgan wasn’t available for comment Monday.
Horizon started serving Lewiston in 1983, and in the mid-1980s offered service to Boise, Seattle and Spokane, said Robin Turner, a former Lewiston airport manager who is still on the payroll of the transportation hub.
In contrast, SkyWest is a relative newcomer, establishing Lewiston service in 2005.
Alaska’s announcement caught supporters of the Lewiston airport by surprise, Mattoon said.
The company never warned the community about the 85 percent target, though its route planners are contacted at least annually, Mattoon said.
“In this day and age, decisions are made by accounting folks. Community loyalties aren’t what they used to be,” he said.
Alaska did give Lewiston more than one chance, but isn’t disclosing how full its Pullman flights are, Johnson said.
“We’ve tried different frequencies and pairings and did not see an increase in the flight loads,” Johnson said.
The Lewiston airport realized last year it needed to focus more on retention when Alaska shifted a key late-night Seattle flight from Lewiston to Pullman.
The Seattle departure made it possible for travelers to reach Lewiston from places such as Mexico and the East Coast instead of having to spend a night in a hotel on the way home.
The Lewiston airport hired Hubpoint Strategic Advisors to craft its strategy. The first phase of the project, which describes Lewiston’s market, is done. The identification of new destinations or airlines that be a part of the approach remains under development.
One upside to Monday’s news is that airlines might be more interested in Lewiston because of the greater number of passengers without options, Mattoon said.
“This should make us more attractive to a new commercial air service carrier,” he said.
Alaska’s decision comes at a time when the Lewiston Airport Authority Board is struggling to get basic tasks done such as paying the bills. Split by a number of issues, including how to supervise Morgan, only three of the board’s five seats are occupied.
Board member Verl Long left the board’s regular meeting last week because the airport hadn’t hired legal counsel, as had been promised at its previous meeting. His exit happened before the board conducted basic business such as paying bills or approving leases.
Long has promised to participate in special meetings if agenda items are essential to the airport’s operations. However, as of Monday, no special meeting had been scheduled. Long said one attorney had met a Friday deadline to submit proposals to the airport to serve as its legal counsel. Long declined to identify the attorney.
Morgan and Board Chairman Bill McCann Jr. declined to address questions Monday about the status of the board’s search for an attorney.
Williams may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2261.
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