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When Icelandair began offering cheap trans-Atlantic fares to Icelandic capital Reykajavik, it doubled as both a budget gateway for Americans to the rest of Europe and a catalyst for tourism in the little-traveled Nordic Island.
Now, start-up airline Northern Pacific Airways seeks to mimic the model, using layovers in Alaska to cut airfare prices to Asia.
East By Northwest
When regional Alaska airline Ravn Air Group filed for bankruptcy in 2020, entrepreneur and Bitcoin billionaire Josh Jones led investment group Float Alaska in an $8 million acquisition for portions of the flight network. Soon after, Northern Pacific was launched, with plans to begin flights later this year and offer rates 10% to 20% cheaper than direct-line routes from titans like Delta and United.
With a fleet of 197-seated Boeing 757-200 jets, the start-up is targeting younger travelers with an eye for bargains– just as overseas travel starts to pick up from its pandemic lull:
- Its initial routes will connect New York, San Francisco, LA, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Honolulu with major East Asian metros like Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Anchorage will serve as a layover hub, expediting customs checks away from busier mainland airports, and offering both instant and multi-day layovers.
- Trans-Pacific routes have been slow to recover from historic lows. According to major lobby group Airlines for America, in December, US-Japan travel sat 87% below its 2019 rate, while travel to South Korea was 79% lower than 2019. But Japan may relax its strict COVID controls by February, and its largest travel agency, JTB Corp, expects normal levels by next year.
Alaska Apathy: Unlike Icelandair, however, an Alaskan hub doesn't quite double as a year-round tourist hot spot– especially for Asian travelers. Prior to the pandemic, about 60% of the state's tourists arrived via cruise ship, with the vast majority visiting in the summer. Poor Alaska, forever a layover, never the destination.