Flying isn’t just for tourists in Alaska. In fact, to Alaskans, planes are a way of life—and we have more pilots per capita than the rest of the United States to prove it. When you hop on a plane, you’ll run into locals traveling for work, recreation – even to get to school sporting events.
Why fly within Alaska?
Save time. Until you’ve been in Alaska, it can be hard to really understand just how large the state is – and how long it can take to get from place to place. If you want to see several locations on a tight schedule, air travel can help you fit them all in your itinerary.
Great views. Alaska’s landscape is dynamic and breathtaking, from jagged mountain peaks and icy white glaciers to lakes, rivers and expanses of tundra. Flying allows you to watch as miles and miles of uninterrupted wilderness roll out below you.
Connecting with Alaskans. Air travel is a necessity in Alaska, and you’ll meet locals on every flight. You might chat with oil workers on their way to the North Slope, high school athletes traveling to a tournament, scientists headed out for fieldwork, teens coming into Anchorage or Fairbanks for orthodontia, or families visiting relatives.
Where can I fly and how?
Alaska has a well-developed flight network with planes crisscrossing the state on hundreds of scheduled flights every day. Jets and turbo-props serve larger communities and regional hubs, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kotzebue, Dillingham, and Bethel. Smaller aircraft bring both passengers and supplies to and from rural areas, from the Arctic Circle to a host of villages in western Alaska. Dozens of air taxis operate regularly, which broadens your options further if you want to get to a very remote location.
Alaska Airlines has been operating in Alaska since 1932, and offers jet service to nearly twenty communities, usually with one or two flights a day. You can expect the security process, boarding procedures, and baggage specs to be similar to other major airlines, and you can book your flight online.
Ravn Alaska has been operating in Alaska for 70 years, and serves more than 115 communities, with more than 400 flights each day. (You can easily book these online.) This regional airline will give you a taste of typical Alaska travel, and you’ll notice quite a few differences from the larger airlines.
- Smaller aircraft seating a maximum of 37 passengers on a DeHavilland Dash-8.
- Ravn Connect flights to rural communities seat between 6 and 19 passengers.
- Easy and convenient boarding as you head straight to the gate.
- Baggage can be accommodated, although carry-on space is tighter.
- While Ravn is not a flightseeing service, the view is often superb. Its smaller aircraft fly at a lower altitude, offering more chances to take in Alaska’s gorgeous landscape.
- Airline employees and passengers often know each other well, and are sometimes even family members! You’ll get a sense for the role airline travel plays in keeping Alaskan residents connected to essential services and to each other.
If you’re heading to remote rivers, lakes or lodges, you’ll need to take a still smaller plane (typically 6-12 passengers) to your final destination. In some cases you can find a scheduled flight, or you may need to book a charter. This is more affordable if you have a group. Expect to be limited in the amount of gear you can bring. As with travel on a regional airline, you’ll have excellent views at a lower altitude, and convenient boarding/security procedures.
Fly or Drive?
Many Alaska communities are off the road system, so you can only get to them by flying. Other towns are far apart, which can impact your ability to see multiple destinations easily. You can cut down that travel time dramatically by strategically scheduling flights and combining driving, train travel and flights.
By car or train
Driving or taking the train is an easy option for those who have the time and want to explore Seward, Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks with flexibility to stop along the way. It’s also possible to drive to communities such as Kenai, Homer, GlenAllen, Valdez, and Tok – or further off the beaten path to McCarthy/Kennicott, or even up to the North Slope.
But visitors often underestimate how long it takes to get from place to place. To put it in perspective: the distance from Seward to Fairbanks is longer than driving all the way across Nebraska. It’s also a slower drive when you consider traffic, road construction and the terrain itself. You can anticipate traveling between 40 and 65 miles per hour here, unlike the 75 mph typical on some U.S. interstates.
Flying to maximize your time
Adding a flight at least one way can open up a whole day in your itinerary. For example, you could take the train from Anchorage to Fairbanks in about 12 hours, and fly back in about 1 hour. You could drive from Anchorage to Homer in 5 hours, or fly there in just 45 minutes. You could drive to Whittier from Anchorage and then take a ferry across Prince William Sound to Valdez in 7-8 hours, or reach it by air in 45 minutes.
Must fly to see it
If you want to visit a community off the road system, flying is your best bet. (While some are seasonally accessible by boat/ferry, flights are regular and faster). These destinations include cities in Southeast Alaska (Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan), island communities (Kodiak, Dutch Harbor), and regional hubs (Kotzebue, Nome, Dillingham, and Utqiagvik/Barrow).
For many Alaskans, travel by plane is essential for work, getting to medical appointments in the big city, or connecting with family in another part of the state. For visitors, plane travel helps maximize their limited time exploring the state, showcases spectacular views of the land, and gives an authentic peek into Alaskans’ air-centric lifestyle. Ravn Alaska’s network offers flights to major Alaska cities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks, ...more