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Friday, August 23, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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More Alaska flights head for East Coast

Seattle Times business reporter

Alaska Airlines yesterday announced it will add daily nonstop flights to Newark, N.J., and Miami as it continues to extend service beyond its West Coast base to carefully chosen destinations on the East Coast.

A year ago, the airline flew no farther east than Chicago. With the Newark and Miami flights, Alaska will have six flights a day to four East Coast cities.

In a time when airlines are cutting flight schedules and having trouble filling seats, the additions buck the trend.

Last September, the airline introduced direct flights from Seattle to Washington, D.C. In April, it added daily flights to Denver and Boston. Planes for these routes have been at least as full as other Alaska flights in June and July, and on the Boston and Denver routes, flights have been more than 80 percent full.

The flight to Newark, which begins Oct. 28, offers Alaska entry to the New York market, a top destination for Seattle passengers.

The Miami flight will be the only nonstop available from Seattle. American dropped its direct Seattle-Miami flight in November. The Seattle-Miami trip — slightly more than 2,700 miles — will be Alaska's longest route when it begins Nov. 21.

Flights on both routes will use Boeing 737-700s, 120-passenger jets that have the longest range in the Alaska fleet.

"Until we had these next-generation Boeing aircraft, we didn't have the capabilities to add these longer trips," Alaska spokesman Jack Walsh said.

Newark and Miami bring the number of cities Alaska serves to 51. In addition to the East Coast cities, the airline also flies between Anchorage and Chicago, Los Angeles and Cancun, Mexico, and Los Angeles and Calgary, Alberta, since June 2000.

Peter Jacobs, an analyst with Ragen Mackenzie, said that in selecting new destinations, Alaska studied where competitors pulled back or discontinued service, and where Alaska could connect with travel partners, such as Continental Airlines, which has a hub in Newark, and American Airlines, which has a hub in Miami.

The exception to that careful plotting, however, was the company's first foray to the East Coast almost a year ago. Alaska received a gate position at Reagan National Airport, just outside Washington, D.C., made available after American bought bankrupt carrier TWA. "The idea was to test the waters with the additional flight," Jacobs said.

When Reagan was temporarily closed after Sept. 11, Alaska transferred its D.C. flights to Dulles International Airport. After Reagan reopened, the airline kept the daily Dulles flight, effectively adding another destination.

A second flight to Dulles, added in June as temporary during the summer peak season, has been made permanent.

Amy Trask: 206-464-2032 or atrask@seattletimes.com.

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