By Dimitra Lavrakas
Senior Voice Travel Correspondent 

Alaska's challenging travel is like 'Hotel California'

Also: U.S. border opens to Canada


November 1, 2021 | View PDF

Dimitra Lavrakas photo

Flying in Alaska sometimes means you're practically sitting in the pilot's lap.

The big storm that blew through Southeast Alaska on Oct. 1 sure played havoc with my travel plans.

On a Friday night the winds blew at storm force and it rained pell-mell all night long. Although I checked the night before for notices on the Alaska Marine Highway System website for a cancellation, there was none. But on Saturday morning, a friend who was out of town emailed the inevitable - canceled.

How to get out and make my flight from Juneau to Boston on Tuesday?

A short break in the weather that afternoon saw me on an Alaska Seaplane flight, for three times the price of a ferry ticket, with two other passengers and the pilot in a four-seater Cessna. I dislike Cessnas, preferring anything made by deHaviland, but it was OK for the 30-minute flight to Juneau. Despite the winds, the ride was mostly calm and no head-butting on the ceiling or barfing.

The mark the storm left of drenching rain on already soaked mountainsides showed one slide going from the top of a peak all the way down to the sea, complete with huge trees destined to become marine hazards.

Juneau fog

The morning of my flight to Boston via Anchorage and Seattle, the fog was down to the ground in Juneau. It didn't look promising.

Close to boarding time, the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the plane was canceled - no explanation but fog was a good guess.

Decades ago, before I moved to Alaska, someone tried to frighten me with tales of the difficulty of getting into Juneau and avoiding all the mountains to land safely on a small runway.

The call went out to go downstairs and rebook, but on the next gate a plane for Seattle was loading so I ran over there and asked if I could get on.

Last call for boarding was called, yet almost 20 minutes later I had boarding tickets in hand and was on the plane, avoiding the crush at the downstairs counter.

I was told that my luggage would not make it on the plane with me, but would be sent ahead. I didn't care.

Although I had two free bags, the refrigerator bag with the freshly caught Coho salmon would have cost $100, so it went as a carry on. I spent 12 hours in SEATAC wandering around trying not to buy anything.

Travel to, from and within Alaska is sometimes difficult to impossible, reminding me of the line from the Eagles' "Hotel California": "... You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!" 

Who's on first

Recently, I received a press release from Alaska Airlines stating it had added another tier, MVP Gold 100K, to boarding, effective January 2022. Fly a minimum of 24 Alaska Airlines flights and you receive the highest priority when Alaska considers upgrades in class seating, more frequent flyer miles, free alcoholic drinks, and snacks in the main cabin, plus two international upgrades certificates for American Airlines flights.

This piqued my interest, so I sent an email to Alaska's pressroom.

"Your recent news release about the new tier indicates it was issued by American Airlines' chief financial officer, who is not named. It says "The two companies have increasingly tied themselves together over the past year. " Can you explain what that means and if there is a possible merger between the two? Or is this part of the oneworld Alliance partnership?"

There's been no response in a month's time.

Here's the order in which Alaska Airlines' passengers are now called to board. Ready?

Pre-boarding: Guests with disabilities who need help or a little more time to board, families with children under the age of two, active members of the military; First Class seats. Group A: Mileage Plan™ Million Miler, MVP® Gold 75K, and MVP® Gold members. Group B: Mileage Plan MVP® members, guests in Premium Class seats (some aircraft do not have Premium Class seating). Group C: Guests in main cabin seats located in the back half of the aircraft; Group D: Guests in main cabin seats located in the front half of the aircraft. And, Group E: Guests in Saver seats. The new category, MVP Gold 100K, will be shoe-horned between Million Miler and MVP Gold 75K.

I long for the days of MarkAir where you just lined up and got on. I once flew roundtrip from Utqiagvik to New York City for $200.

But this time around, my bags were there when I arrived in Boston, and the women at the Juneau Airport counter were so helpful that I must put my bitterness aside.

Open, closed, open

The Canadian border is open again, and the Skagway Swap Facebook page is all excited about it with a meme re-posted from the Yukon Memes Facebook Group titled "Yukoners on the Skagway Road," which looks like a photo from the "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" rolling horde of ragtag vehicles. There is a fear expressed of an all-out attack on the Tillamook ice cream stock at the local store.

Although the U.S. border was closed to land crossings

by Canadians since 2020, Canadians were allowed to travel to the U.S. by air.

Dimitra Lavrakas photo

Pretty soon there will be no interaction with people at airport food stands.

Next month, fully vaccinated travelers from Canada can enter the U.S. at land and ferry entry points for non-essential reasons, which includes visiting friends or family, or tourism.

The second phase will start in early January 2022. The U.S. will require all inbound foreign national travelers entering the U.S. by land or ferry - for essential or non-essential reasons - be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and have proof of vaccination.

Still unable to enter the U.S. are people who were physically present in mainland China, India, Iran, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, the United Kingdom, or the Schengen Area (26 countries that have abolished the borders between them) in the 14 days before entry.

Canadians must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of presenting at the border and rapid tests are not valid.


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