M-1, I-95, greenway, expressway, turnpike, parkway. You name it, they hate it. These are all roads that stand between cities that should be an easy drive, city pairs like New York and Washington, Los Angeles and San Diego, and other city pairs that are as suited for the car or even the train as for the plane. But they’ve become better known as Heartache Highway, the Road of Regret, or I-Shouldn’t Have. Out on the West Coast, the Horizon Air unit of Alaska Airlines says that the auto-captive road warriors between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, are fed up enough with the hassle of their Trail of Tears, I-5, enough so that the Horizon Air shuttle is competitive.
So they’ve launched an advertising campaign along with a website denouncing ‘The Slog’, as it calls the three-hour drive. The website features video descriptions of a number of slowdowns that drivers usually encounter along the I-5 route, bottlenecks dubbed ‘Molasses Pass’, ‘Long Blink Gulch’ and the ‘Bridge of Heavy Sighs’. These are unofficial place names, of course, but Horizon is betting that frequent I-5 sloggers, er, drivers will easily recognize them.
The Seattle-based airline is also betting that its growing fleet of 76-seat Q400 high-speed turboprops, which are replacing its 37-seat Q200s, along with a series of fare cuts, should draw drivers out of their cars. Half of Horizon’s 31 flights each way each business day are now operated with either a Q400 or a 70-seat CRJ-700 jet, and all Shuttle flights to Seattle depart from a recently remodelled Portland International Airport gate facility (gates A-2 through A-5). The gate area now has amenities such as stand-up desks with outlets that make it easy to work on a laptop, free Wi-Fi (compliments of the airport), increased seating, and video monitors providing news and sports information.
Horizon has simplified and cut almost all of its Portland fares; walk-up fares are $99 each way and 14-day advance-purchase fares start at $59 each way. The three-tier fare structure also has a seven-day tariff, which is $79 each way. Horizon is also hoping that it can boost connecting traffic through Portland, where it is adding service to such West Coast airports as Santa Rosa, California, and where parent Alaska Airlines has just launched transcons to both Orlando and Boston.