|Passengers boarding a flight in Fresno|
About a year ago, I took a look at air service available from Fresno Air Terminal (FAT). In that post, the news wasn’t good. Fresno had lost service to Las Vegas by US Airways and United, leaving only Allegiant. Allegiant dropped Honolulu, but added Mesa (Pheonix), which they apparently are no longer selling tickets for (as of last week!). Frontier left, again. Bakersfield lost Houston, and Visalia lost all service. The switch away from propeller airplanes meant Fresno got larger planes – but less frequency.
But finally, some good news, as reported in the comments of my last post:
Just an FYI update. United posted a new schedule this weekend that is a large increase in capacity/frequency on FAT-SFO flights including bringing back a 737 to Fresno.
United currently operates 3 roundtrip flights per day, 2 on 50 seat CRJs and 1 on a 66 seat CRJ-700. That is a total of 166 seats each way.
Starting August 15, United will operate 5 roundtrip flights each day on FAT-SFO.
But the big increase is the new flights add many additional seats due to the size of the aircraft. 1 flight will be on a 166 seat 737-800, 2 on 76 seat EMB-175s, and 2 on 50 seat CRJs. That will be a total of 412 seats each way after August 15.
The anonymous comment is correct. United will be returning to Fresno with a 737, creating a huge increase in seats between Fresno and San Francisco.
Wait, returning…don’t they already serve SFO?
Nope, that’s Fresno’s largest carrier, Skywest! You might not know them, but if you’ve flown out of Fresno, you’ve been on their planes. They serve:
- San Francisco (branded as United)
- Denver (as United)
- Los Angeles (branded as American Eagle or United)
- Salt Lake City (as Delta)
- Seattle (as Alaska)
- San Diego (as Alaska)
- Portland (as Alaska)
The only “real” domestic service (mainline) from the big carriers is to Dallas, on American, and sometimes Seattle, on Alaska. You can check out how big Skywest is here.
So what’s the difference?
More seats is the most important bit. Higher supply means lower prices, which is great, because FAT is an incredibly expensive airport to fly to or from. It’s also a little better for the customer experience. Larger planes means less need to gate-check your carry-ons, and a lower chance your checked bags get left behind due to weight issue. The flight can also be done slightly faster.
As I said last year:
Already an expensive airport, less options has meant higher prices, and more trouble when delays cause a connection to be missed. Everyone who flies into Fresno frequently has experience with either being forced to spend a night elsewhere or renting a car from LAX or SFO to actually arrive. While fog can be to blame in the winter (or when going to SFO), most of the time it’s because the plane scheduled for Fresno is diverted to serve another scheduled flight, leaving Fresno travelers high and dry.
By adding two new roundtrips, and doing so on larger aircraft, Fresno passengers will see some serious relief. Five daily departures, rather than 3, also means you can catch another flight if you miss your connection. You can also plan trips that require shorter stays in SFO, because it’s more likely that the times will match up.
The con, sadly, is that the flight is provided by United.
The other thing to think about is what this means for the other carriers.
Here is what I said a year ago:
Only Alaska has grown in Fresno, such as by offering service to San Diego. They’ve also recently purchased Virgin America, and taken big steps to increase their West Coast presence. If any airline is to add service to Fresno in the next few years, it would almost certainly be them.
Had you asked me last week which airline would next add service to Fresno, I still would have said Alaska. Indeed, Alaska has been going on a bender, adding flights left and right. Just in the past month they have made major moves.
In March, they announced:
San Francisco – Albuquerque eff 18SEP17 1 daily AS E175
San Francisco – Baltimore/Washington eff 16OCT17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – Indianapolis eff 26SEP17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – Kansas City eff 18SEP17 1 daily AS E175
San Francisco – Kona eff 14DEC17 1 daily VX 320
San Francisco – Nashville eff 05SEP17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – New Orleans eff 21SEP17 1 daily VX 320
San Francisco – Philadelphia eff 31AUG17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – Raleigh/Durham eff 19OCT17 1 daily VX 319
San Jose CA – Austin eff 28AUG17 1 daily AS E175
San Jose CA – Los Angeles eff 20SEP17 4 daily AS E175
San Jose CA – Tucson eff 28AUG17 1 daily AS E175
San Diego – Albuquerque eff 18OCT17 1 daily
San Diego – Austin eff 27AUG17 1 daily
San Diego – Kansas City eff 15DEC17 1 daily
San Diego – Minneapolis/St. Paul eff 18NOV17 1 daily
San Diego – Omaha eff 28AUG17 1 daily
San Diego – St. Louis eff 15DEC17 1 daily
Los Angeles – Philadelphia eff 01SEP17 1 daily Virgin America service(Previously served by
Portland OR – Detroit eff 30AUG17 1 daily Alaska Airlines service
Portland OR – New York JFK eff 06NOV17 1 daily Alaska Airlines service
I probably missed a few. Or a few dozen.
The other airlines have noticed, especially Delta.
And I think this is United’s attempt to head off more Alaska expansion in California.
Alaska service to San Jose could provide an important commuting connection to Silicon Valley, and also link in to their strengthening cross-country network. Alaska could also look to bring back service to many cities Fresno has lost:
Blast from 1997:
It should be noted that SkyWest's United Express service at Fresno will be limited to Ontario and Las Vegas and that those flights have been designated with 5000-series flight numbers. Passengers traveling on other United Express services from Fresno to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Burbank, Orange County and Sacramento will actually be flying on partner United Express carrier, WestAir, under 7000-series flight numbers
Fresno currently has no service to Ontario, Burbank, Orange County, or Sacramento. Also, WestAir no longer exists.
Alaska could also try for something random – maybe Fresno to Austin, Boise, or Albuquerque?
Regardless,what Alaska has planned for the future is all speculation, but new United service looks to be a sure thing, and that’s worth celebrating.