Air travelers may face some serious layovers if they're passing through Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport this Christmas -- though not as many as last year.
While there are flights to and from Anchorage scheduled for Christmas Day this year, late arrivers may be looking at five to six long hours huddled in some dark corner of the terminal waiting for a connecting flight.
"We are experiencing some difficulties for Christmas travel," said Dottie Fischer, owner of Alaska's Best Travel in Kenai. "Mostly, it's that Era (Aviation) is flying an abbreviated schedule for the holidays."
Era is the only airline with regularly scheduled flights in and out of Kenai.
She said the best air fares into Anchorage from the Lower 48 arrive around 11 p.m., long after the last flight leaves for Kenai.
"We have a wonderful fare from the Lower 48, but unfortunately we can only get you to Anchorage," Fischer said. "Granted, we don't need a lot of flights on Christmas Day, but some people like to have that 12:30 a.m. flight."
Travelers who arrive in Anchorage on the late flight Christmas Eve or Christmas Day will have to wait until 4:30 a.m. the next day for a connecting flight into Kenai.
"I think there's going to be enough people at the Era desk to have a nice Christmas party between 11:20 (p.m.) and 4 in the morning," Fischer said. "But those pilots, those poor guys, they need their time off, too."
Barbara Romine of One Stop Travel in Kenai agreed.
"It's very frustrating, but I understand how the pilots would like some time off to spend with their families," she said. "I'm very pleased with Era this year, (but) I just wish they had flights at 12:30 a.m. for the connecting flights."
Paul Landis, vice president for Era's Fixed Wing Division, said he can sympathize.
"We absolutely take into account connecting traffic, and we go with those few flights that are strongest," he said. "It gives us an opportunity to give our people some time off too."
Landis said Era didn't fly last Christmas because it fell on a weekend, while it's on a Monday this year.
"Certainly, when a holiday falls on a weekday, we know people have to travel, particularly crew changes back and forth from the North Slope," he said. "We keep a skeleton crew on to meet their needs."
The flight schedules are close to normal on the days surrounding Christmas, Fischer said, but travelers are warned not to wait too long to make reservations, as they are "looking pretty booked up."
"If people don't book early, they are not going to get their flights," she said.
She also said that travelers planning to fly on New Year's Day may face similar connection problems as on Christmas Day.
Fischer said some travelers may want to think about chartering a flight for the last leg of their journey on Christmas and New Year's days if there is no connecting flight. Last year, Fischer said, her company chartered a flight to rescue clients from being stranded in Anchorage. That, she said, is not going to happen this year.
Which will leave some people thinking about driving back and forth, an idea Romine doesn't think the average person likes.
"Can you imagine driving to Anchorage if this rain keeps up?" she asked. "It's quite frightening to think about driving 3 1/2 hours on black ice."
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