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Alaska Flightseeing Math


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I have two flight seeing trips (Misty Fjords and Denali) scheduled next month, so I've been having an internal debate about wheter to proceed with them.  Generally, I've been comfortable with just thinking about the odds of something going wrong (very low).  However, I don't think you can escape changing facts about flightseeing in Alaska.

 

1.  More cruise ships are coming to Alaska every year.

2.  Bigger cruise ships are coming to Alaska every year

3.  These more frequent and bigger ships bring an increased passenger demand for flightseeing excursions.

 

These facts suggest:

 

4.  There will be more (single pilot) planes in the sky

5.   More relatively inexperienced pilots in the sky.

6.  More new companies offering flightseeing.

6.  An increased need for air traffic control in the area (presumably years away)

 

Which means the odds of small plane mishaps in Alaska are increasing with the demand.

 

My impression is that the pilots currently flying in Ketchikan are very skilled operators.  I have taken flightseeing trips before (including Ketchikan) and have never felt uncomfortable.  I'm still inclined to proceed with my flights next month.  But I can't help but think the risk of flight seeing is only going to increase with more planes in the sky. 

 

 

 

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I personally think next month will be the safest month to fly. Given the fear factor, and close time proximity to the recent floatplane tragedy, cancellations will be up, meaning fewer flights, yet pilots will be more alert than ever. Whatever you choose, have a wonderful vacay!

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No idea of your overall plans, but obviously this is a one-way cruise as you're including Denali.  

 

Let me throw a curve ball, just as a thought experiment.

 

A round trip from Anchorage on an Alaska Airlines jet to either Nome or Kotzebue will cost between $299 and $330 per person, generally less (or competitive) with Denali flightseeing from Talkeetna, and cheaper than Denali flightseeing from Anchorage.  

 

Nome is an historic gold rush town on the Bering Sea.  It's the end of the Iditarod race, and unlike most bush communities, Nome has a fairly large road system that radiates from the town into the Seward Peninsula, where there's a lot of gold rush history, lots of wildlife including muskoxen, caribou and reindeer, moose, maybe some brown bears, and lots of birds, including many species not seen widely in the rest of North America.  You can rent a vehicle or get someone to drive you out into the boonies.  There are decent hotel and restaurant options; costs will be comparable to Anchorage or Fairbanks.

 

 

Kotzebue is an Inupiat Eskimo village located on an arm of the Arctic Ocean.  It's above the arctic circle, so if you visit in June you'll have 24 hour sunlight.  There's a good Native-owned hotel across the street from the beach, an interesting Native heritage center, the chance to visit a fish camp... lots of activities.  http://www.nullagvikhotel.com/

 

 

So allocating your budget to a "night" (ha ha) or two in one of these communities might deliver some benefits, and it would certainly let you see a face of Alaska that most visitors never experience.  

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45 minutes ago, Gardyloo said:

No idea of your overall plans, but obviously this is a one-way cruise as you're including Denali.  

 

Let me throw a curve ball, just as a thought experiment.

 

A round trip from Anchorage on an Alaska Airlines jet to either Nome or Kotzebue will cost between $299 and $330 per person, generally less (or competitive) with Denali flightseeing from Talkeetna, and cheaper than Denali flightseeing from Anchorage.  

 

Nome is an historic gold rush town on the Bering Sea.  It's the end of the Iditarod race, and unlike most bush communities, Nome has a fairly large road system that radiates from the town into the Seward Peninsula, where there's a lot of gold rush history, lots of wildlife including muskoxen, caribou and reindeer, moose, maybe some brown bears, and lots of birds, including many species not seen widely in the rest of North America.  You can rent a vehicle or get someone to drive you out into the boonies.  There are decent hotel and restaurant options; costs will be comparable to Anchorage or Fairbanks.

 

 

Kotzebue is an Inupiat Eskimo village located on an arm of the Arctic Ocean.  It's above the arctic circle, so if you visit in June you'll have 24 hour sunlight.  There's a good Native-owned hotel across the street from the beach, an interesting Native heritage center, the chance to visit a fish camp... lots of activities.  http://www.nullagvikhotel.com/

 

 

So allocating your budget to a "night" (ha ha) or two in one of these communities might deliver some benefits, and it would certainly let you see a face of Alaska that most visitors never experience.  

 

That is a curve ball!  Unfortunately, I only have part of a Wednesday and most of Thursday before returning to Anchorage Thursday night and taking the train next day to Seward.  I never really thought about flying to one of Alaska's other towns and experiencing different culture.  I like the way you are thinking.

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Well, look.  I don't want to belabor the point, but "part of Wednesday and most of Thursday" could go something like this - 

 

Wed - ANC-OTZ, Alaska flt. 165, dep. Anchorage 4:25 PM arr. Kotzebue 5:55 PM

Thu - OTZ-ANC, Alaska flt 154, dep Kotzebue 8:35 AM, arr. Anchorage 10:00 AM

$299 round trip.

 

This would give you the evening to walk around, stick a toe in the Arctic Ocean, watch the sun not set 😉 and while you might not get into the cultural center, you'll have some exposure to Inupiat culture just by walking around and watching life being lived, and since the hotel is owned by the local Native community, they might well have some other things to suggest.  Of course this wouldn't give you a lot of time to explore, but there isn't that much to explore anyway.  Maybe you could take a taxi out to the cemetery with its whalebone fence (and decent view of the town and landscape) or visit the grocery store and be shocked by the prices, things like that.  

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I did two flight seeing excursions during my first trip to Alaska last summer. We did a glacier landing out of Talkeetna with K2 Aviation, and Misty Fjords with Taquan Air. Both were incredible experiences, but both companies have since been involved in deadly crashes. I wouldn't hesitate to fly with them again. K2 shortened our flight and refunded part of our payment because they weren't comfortable with the conditions on one side of the mountain, and Taquan Air requires everyone to sit down and watch a safety video before you're allowed on the plane. They take safety very seriously - unfortunately accidents and bad luck sometimes happens. Driving is still far more dangerous than flying. The aerial view of Alaska is amazing and very different from what you'll see on the water or ground. I highly recommend sticking with your plans. 

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Overall, the math tells us that the number of crashes each year on average is in fact decreasing. The average in the early 2000s was 124 crashes a year, in the past decade it's down to an average of 90 crashes a year (for the state of Alaska)

 

Alaska has some of the worst rates of air crashes in the world, but they also have one of the highest rates of general aviation flights. More planes equals more potential for trouble, but overall the trend has been going down.

 

That being said, for me personally I wouldn't feel comfortable taking one of these flights. We lived in Alaska for a couple years and took two Alaska cruises and weren't comfortable enough to do them then, and still aren't. That's our personal decision and opinion though

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Gardyloo…..You are so right. On our last land trip to Alaska, we did exactly what you recommended and enjoyed it tremendously. Spent 4 days in Nome, driving every available mile of road, even went to Teller, which was an eye-opening experience. I think I recognize a couple of those musk ox! Got some up close and personal pictures very similar on the road by the schoolhouse just outside of Nome. We also got a spectacular view of The Mountain on our flight back to Anchorage.

 

We're doing just a cruise next month and have flightseeing in Ketchikan (with Michelle at Island Wings) and another flight out of Haines (with Mountain Flying Service) over Glacier Bay. We had booked with Michelle on our last trip, but she cancelled because of weather conditions. That may happen again this time, but we'll leave it up to her and respect her decision.

 

Had we not taken air excursions, we would have missed some of our most memorable experiences in Alaska, including our two fly-in bear trips to Katmai. We recognize there is always a risk involved, and I have to admit I was a bit nervous on a couple of flights on those small planes, but it's not enough out of my comfort zone to consider canceling. 

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On 5/15/2019 at 9:15 AM, Mommydust said:

I personally think next month will be the safest month to fly. Given the fear factor, and close time proximity to the recent floatplane tragedy, cancellations will be up, meaning fewer flights, yet pilots will be more alert than ever. Whatever you choose, have a wonderful vacay!

 

We hope you’re right as we also have a Misty Fjords and a Denali flight scheduled in June. Not going to change our plans - after 18 months of  research and planning, we’re sticking with the decisions we’ve made!

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