Yakima is preparing to update its branding for the Yakima Air Terminal, showing it as a future-facing portal between the city and the rest of the world.
That trip still must stop in Seattle first, based on current Alaska Airlines service into and out of the airport. But it could expand, airport director Rob Peterson said, if more people would be willing to give the airport a shot and be more flexible in their travel routines.
“We have to start with the community first, and book out of Yakima first,” Peterson said. “Airlines keep an eye on where people are going.”
While some area travelers say they would like to “Fly YKM,” as the airport’s 5-year-old marketing campaign of the same name asks, they add that starting a trip with long layovers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and weather issues In Yakima strain their loyalty.
“If I had a direct flight, it would be better,” said Linda Dunham, a Gleed-area resident who flies to California on visits. “I’m not pleased with the layover.”
Last year 72,070 people flew out of Yakima Air Terminal, about a 2 percent drop from 2017, according to data provided by the airport. There were 68,594 arrivals, also down 2 percent.
In the first four months of this year, departures are down 6.5 percent compared to the same period last year, while arrivals have dropped almost 9 percent.
But Peterson anticipates it will be in line with 2018’s performance.
The airport, he said, contributes $112 million to the area’s economy.
Dunham said she used to catch flights out of Pasco, which gave her a two-hour trip. But she wasn’t a fan of driving to the Tri-Cities, so she, somewhat reluctantly, has been using Yakima.
“I would go down there a lot more often, but (flying out of Yakima) is a long day,” Dunham said. “It takes about seven or eight hours.”
Jeff LaPlant, who grew up in the White Pass area, flew in and out of Yakima for 15 years after he moved to Southern California, where he has a car dealership and owns restaurants. But he said service has gotten spotty over the years. The final straw, he said, was when he and his teenage son were scheduled to fly into Yakima, and bad weather resulted in a potential 24-hour layover in Seattle. Instead, he flew into Sea-Tac and got a rental car to drive the rest of the way back to the Chinook Pass area.
“I have given up on Yakima for that,” LaPlant said. Instead, he flies into and out of Portland, as well as using United Airlines’ Pasco-to-Los Angeles flights, which are the result of a collaboration between Tri-Cities-area economic development agencies and businesses to promote Washington’s wine country.
Currently, Alaska Airlines’ Horizon Air affiliate is the only airline flying into and out of Yakima, with three flights a day. Peterson said Alaska will be adding a fourth flight for the summer season, which will help people who are connecting from the East Coast.
Another issue is the cost. It typically costs more to fly from Yakima to another destination rather than just flying straight from Seattle-Tacoma. Lexi Mitchell, a Yakima resident, said she found a recent trip was cheaper if she went through Seattle rather than Yakima.
“If the flight from Yakima to Sea-Tac was less than $100, I might do it,” Mitchell said.
Peterson acknowledged that flying out of Yakima may not be the most convenient thing. But he said people can get discounted fares if they are willing to be flexible with their travel plans. Fares can be lower if people schedule their flights for off-peak times.
On one trip around Thanksgiving, Peterson said he was able to get a $186 airfare on Alaska to Tampa, Fla., out of Yakima by flying at a time with less demand.
Alaska Airlines has a calendar function in its online booking system that can show the fares during a month to help people find the cheapest fares.
“We are pushing to the community that if they are flexible with travel, they can get the best rate,” Peterson said.
Mitchell said she would give that a try.
Getting additional destinations or airlines operating out of Yakima is not something that will happen right away.
Mike Boyd, president of Colorado-based airline consultant Boyd Group International, said in an earlier interview that small airports like Yakima’s serve primarily as feeders to an airline hub, which for Alaska is Sea-Tac.
But Peterson said that if more people start trips out of Yakima, it could convince Alaska that it could be worth the airline’s while to add destinations.
Peterson said airlines track passengers’ final destinations to determine routes. For example, if enough people fly from Yakima to San Francisco through Sea-Tac, Alaska may find that having a direct flight from Yakima to the Bay Area could be profitable.
LaPlant said he would be willing to give Yakima another shot if it would offer service to Portland, which he said has fewer weather problems than Sea-Tac and has flights to most major destinations.