The Colorado Springs Airport hasn't had much to celebrate this year.
But the airport had plenty to celebrate Saturday, when the first flight from Alaska Airlines left for Seattle with Springs Mayor Steve Bach, wife Suzi and 61 other passengers.
The carrier is the first new airline to launch local service since Frontier Airlines began offering flights between the Springs and Denver in 2008. Frontier halted service to the Springs in April.
If residents support the flight, Bach said Friday, the airport "will have the opportunity for more direct flights to more destinations," a goal he has pursued since taking a more active role in the airport's strategy after Frontier's departure. He made the comments at a news conference welcoming Alaska Airlines before its first flight arrived late Friday from Seattle.
Janelle Miller, regional director of customer service for Alaska Airlines, echoed Bach's comments, saying the carrier has to "make this flight successful" before it can expand service in Colorado Springs. She added that the carrier has received a flurry of letters, telephone calls and emails from some of its best customers lauding the decision to expand to Colorado Springs.
One passenger who likely will be taking the flight often is Andrew Swan, an attorney with a local law firm whose family lives in Seattle. He said he flies 125,000 to 150,000 miles a year.
"I have been loyal to Alaska for years, and it is a real treat to be able to take a flight from Colorado Springs instead of the hour, 45-minute trip to Denver, including parking," Swan said.
LaCarol Kennedy, a Fort Carson soldier who lives in Denver, was on the flight to visit her "significant other" in Seattle and said catching the flight in the Springs "is more convenient because this is where I work. I am very happy about the new flight because it makes getting to Seattle a lot easier."
For Pueblo retiree Mike Finnerty, who sat in the front row of the first flight, being able to fly from Colorado Springs to Seattle saves him the cost of a hotel room near Denver International Airport. Previously, he would drive to Denver the night before his flight and get a room near DIA. He said he flies to Seattle frequently to visit family in Port Angeles.
The airport's efforts to attract Alaska Airlines go back several years, and the carrier has been studying the Colorado Springs market for more than a decade. Alaska's interest grew in January, when Frontier announced plans to reduce its service, which had included seasonal flights to Seattle that ended in November.
Alaska's strategy differs from Frontier, which operated a 138-seat Airbus A319 aircraft four days a week between May and November. The Alaska flights are operated daily by commuter affiliate SkyWest Airlines with a 70-seat regional jet, or about half of the size Frontier was using on the same route.
The carrier's flight to Seattle is scheduled for 2 hours, 55 minutes, leaving at 8 a.m. and arriving in Seattle at 9:55 a.m., while the return flight is scheduled for 2 hours, 30 minutes, leaving at 6:20 p.m. and arriving in the Springs at 9:55 p.m. The cost of the initial flight, when booked in early October, was $226.30, including all taxes and fees. Transportation to downtown Seattle on Sound Transit, the light rail provider in the Seattle area, usually takes about 35 minutes and costs $2.75 each way to the Westlake Mall station (the end of the line). On Saturday, that trip took 45 minutes because crews were clearing a fallen tree near the track.
Saturday's flight left about 30 minutes late because of an electronic glitch and de-icing but was otherwise uneventful. Departing passengers were treated to free coffee, pastries, sheet cake and a bag of airport-themed souvenirs at a gate decorated with balloons and signs welcoming Alaska Airlines.
On board, flight attendants served the usual selection of coffee, juices, soft drinks and beer and wine, which are all free on Alaska flights operated by SkyWest and are produced in Washington, Oregon and California.
Alaska Airlines becomes the fifth carrier and Seattle the 11th city with nonstop flights from Colorado Springs Airport. Aviation giants American, Delta and United also serve the Springs to hubs in Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., while Allegiant Air offers flights twice a week to Las Vegas in packages that also include hotel stays and entertainment.