Since RavnAir Group's PenAir plane crash in October, Unalaskans haven't been able to use Alaska Airlines miles to book flights to or from Anchorage.
Now, City Manager Erin Reinders has hope the airlines are nearing a deal that'll let travelers use their stockpiled miles rather than shell out cash or forgo trips.
"I don't have a date. They don't have a date," said Reinders. "But once some things get worked out between Ravn and Alaska, they want to move forward with allowing Alaska Airlines miles to be both 'earned and burned,' they said, on that route."
That conversation happened last month when Reinders and Mayor Vince Tutiakoff Sr. met with Alaska Airlines representatives at their Seattle headquarters.
"It was definitely a sign of hope for me, and I think it'll sound good to many community members," she said. "I, like so many other members of this community, depend on those miles to make it all work."
Many Unalaskans have relied on Alaska Airlines miles to lessen the financial sting of purchasing round-trip tickets to Anchorage, which often cost more than $1,000 per person. But that option disappeared when Ravn and Alaska Airlines suspended their marketing partnership in the wake of the fatal plane crash and an ongoing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
While neither Ravn nor Alaska Airlines spokespeople responded to KUCB's request for comment, Reinders expects miles will be eligible for the Unalaska route "soon," even if it takes the airlines longer to rebuild their relationship and work out the other details of a long-term partnership.
"The end goal — what was expressed to us — is still a capacity purchase agreement." she said. "What plane that's with is still to be determined. Whether that's the Dash 8 or the Saab 2000 — it sounds like they are definitely waiting on the final NTSB report."
Following the crash, Ravn grounded the Saab 2000 indefinitely, though the NTSB's preliminary findings identified pilot inexperience and shifting winds as factors in the accident. Unalaskans have since been flying on the smaller, slower De Havilland Dash 8.
Reinders said Alaska Airlines seems committed to serving the Unalaska route and getting air travel back to normal. But she said both carriers have a long way to go before quelling the community's questions and frustrations.
Meanwhile, Ravn is now selling tickets on and after May 1. Until recently, Unalaskans couldn't book flights to or from Anchorage — with either airline — after April 30. Neither airline has made a statement about why reservations are now available.
The NTSB's full investigation into the cause of the Oct. 17 crash is expected to take as long as one year.