In a depressing move, PenAir notified our local Arcata-Eureka Airport that they will no longer be flying the ACV-PDX route. And they are dropping it fast. The last flight will be this coming Monday.
This leave us with just United Airlines as our only commercial option (yet again). Getting out from behind the redwood curtain just got a bit harder.
PenAir’s reason for leaving
It seems to be impossible for our area to keep a reasonable amount of commercial air service. My first guess when hearing the news was that the route wasn’t particularly profitable due to the rural nature of our area. The single flight I took on PenAir to Portland didn’t have that high of a load factor (SEE: The Pacific Northwest Stopover “Trick”). However, the United flights I’ve been on are almost always very full (and very expensive).
Turns out that the economics of the route had nothing to do with PenAir’s decision to axe it. The program director for the Humboldt County Aviation Division called the route “very successful”. So what is the problem?
Airlines need pilots
PenAir, like other regional airlines, is suffering from a pilot shortage. Horizon Air (another regional airline that flies under Alaska’s wing) had to cut some flights due to their pilot shortage in June. Pilots are retiring by the hundreds per week, and we can’t seem to fill the ranks with new talent fast enough.
PenAir actually cut all non-essential air service routes in the lower 48 states. This means you can still fly to Portland from Crescent City (an EAS airport) on PenAir, although for most of Humboldt County this is roughly a 2 hour drive north. Hardly ideal. Might as well drive to SFO.
This is sad news for Humboldt. I really liked the new little airline we acquired last year, and had hoped to fly them again. I’ll continue to hold out hope that we will pick up a new option. Three flights per day on United is hardly much of an option (plus they break guitars).
I want to add that if you’re young and considering a career, consider becoming a pilot. The investment isn’t all that much different than a moderately expensive university, but the demand for your skills will not be going away anytime soon. The world will need 637,000 new pilots by 2036 to fill the projected increase in air travel. North America will need 117,000 of those. Airline pilots make good wages, so the multi-year investment should be entirely worth it.
I like following travel news, both for writing ideas and simply because I enjoy keeping up with the airline and hotel industries. Here’s a recap of some of the best news stories from the past couple weeks:
Remember to follow me on Facebook or Twitter. You can also follow Points with a Crew, who I write for as well. You may notice a bunch of the articles are from that blog. 😉
United airlines has cut service to Arcata airport by one flight per day. But don’t be too worried about the change. United is switching to operating larger aircraft between here and SFO and will be able to accommodate the same number of passengers per day.
The Star Alliance carrier has been in the process of retiring many of it’s small Canadair CRJ-200 regional jets. This small plane has been one of the primary aircraft United has used on the ACV-SFO route. The carrier is switching to the larger Embraer E175, which seats 76 passengers, compared to 50 on a CRJ-200. United is effectively replacing 3 of its CRJ-200 flights with 2 flights serviced by E-175 aircraft, keeping the number of daily departures the same.
The departure times for afternoon flights has adjusted slightly. Instead of a mid-afternoon departure and a second in the early evening, there will be one departure around 4:00 p.m. moving forward. Most afternoon flights starting in May have a scheduled departure time of 4:20. I want to know if this is a fluke, or some clever person making a gentle nod to the Humboldt subculture.
The two other United flights typically take off around 6:00 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.
Downsides of the change
One negative impact from this change is that there are now only a total of 5 flights in or out of Humboldt County each day. If any of these are delayed or cancelled, more passengers will be affected, and rebooking options will be more limited. Both United and PenAir have very poor on time performances in and out of Arcata Airport, so let’s hope they can improve this moving forward.
It’s a bummer to lose some schedule flexibility, too, with only 3 United flight options now. Hopefully the aircraft swap will mean better operations for the remaining flights. This news also comes on the heels of PenAir cutting a flight per day to Portland.
Personally, my feelings are mixed on the change. My last flight back to Humboldt with United was on an E-175. The plane was much newer and nicer. I was also in shock that we actually boarded via a jetway at SFO. Most of the time you have to walk outside at good ol’ gate 84 to a parked CRJ-200. I happily welcome the new aircraft, but I wish it wasn’t at the cost of a flight per day.
President Trump signed a scaled-back version of his original travel ban on Monday. The order still affects people from six countries and temporarily shuts down the issuance of new visas to people from six countries.
The new executive order affects immigrants and visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Under the travel ban, new visas will not be granted. The refugee program is also temporarily halted under this EO. The new order comes a mere 5 weeks after the first.
This second executive order was signed after Trump’s original EO was blocked by the court. The decision to continue to block the original ban was handed down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Unlike the first travel ban, this second EO was signed with little ceremony.
How is this order different from the previous one?
The language in this new executive order makes it clear that current visa holders will not be affected. It is also clear that U.S. nationals that hold dual citizenship will not be affected. Additionally, refugees that have already been scheduled by the State Department to transit to the U.S. will still be admitted.
Notably, Iraq was left off the list of affected countries affected by the 90-day temporary suspension of new visa issuance. The order also no longer makes exceptions for religious minorities. This was one of the most controversial aspects of the original ban.
The order takes effect March 16. We’ll see how the courts respond when the ban is challenged, as I’m sure it will be. Experts say the new EO addresses some of the constitutional issues of the first, but there is still plenty of room for more legal challenges.
As stated in a press release from the airline, PenAir is reducing daily service in and out of Arcata-Eureka airport. Currently, there are three daily flights to and from Humboldt, and this will be cut back to only two per day. The service reduction went into effect March 1.
The reasoning behind the change is to “improve on-time performance and completion of flights.” The airline industry has been suffering from a shortage of flight crews, and PenAir finds itself with a shortage of resources for some of its West Coast regional routes. The airline hopes to provide reliable service to “regain the confidence of the communities we serve.” Klamath Falls also took a cut to its daily service.
This is an unfortunate development. PenAir only recently increased service to three flights per day, adding a late afternoon/evening arrival and departure. Rather than cut the new flight, PenAir has cut its earliest fight from the schedule. The airline only started serving Humboldt in Spring of 2016.
However, the airline remains confident in the market. Personally, I have been happy to have PenAir available as an alternative to United. Award flights on PenAir are available using Alaska miles, and my wife and I flew to Portland on an award ticket back in October. Although the small airline has been plagued with horrible delays, our flight fortunately took off exactly on time.
I hope PenAir is able to improve operations and successfully build upon current service to Humboldt in the future.
H/T: Times Standard.