If you’ve been reading my posts regularly, I’m sure you picked up that I live in a rural area. It’s beautiful, and I wouldn’t trade it for city life. But being stuck with a tiny regional airport as your primary air service is certainly a frustration. I’ve often dreamed of being able to catch mass transit to the airport, arriving there in a mere half hour, and being able to fly nonstop to some far off city.

Instead, I choose to live here in Humboldt County and endure our little airport. But not all is bad. It has limited service and operational mishaps that might seen excessive for an airport of its size, but I find that it is worth braving more often than not.

Officially, the airport is (still, I think) the California Redwood Coast – Humboldt County Airport. That’s a mouthful. The idea behind having “Redwood Coast” in the name was to draw tourism, but I don’t think this ever worked as intended. Instead, most people call it the Arcata–Eureka Airport. This is also kind of funny, as it is located in neither Arcata nor Eureka; the airport is just north of the unincorporated community of McKinleyville. It’s our gateway to the outside world, and the gateway for visitors to our famous redwoods.

History of Arcata-Eureka Airport

The Arcata-Eureka Airport (ACV) has an interesting history. The airfield was build by the Navy during World War II for testing foggy landings. The weather of the northern California coast is perfect for this, especially when the edge of the airfield is just 400 yards from the ocean. In 1947, planes were landing “blind” at ACV using fog-dispersing oil burners and ILS. Things haven’t changed much, although regulations likely have. Fog at ACV has often caused flight delays, cancellations, and diversions for commercial air service when the minimum visual conditions aren’t present for the pilots to land.

The airport is non-towered, controlled through SFO (I think). The flight to the Bay is the quickest at approximately 40 minutes. You’re often left waiting on the ground when operations at SFO are busy, as they are finding us a slot in the traffic. In addition to commercial service, the airport sees a good amount of private traffic.

Arcata-Eureka Airport has been served by various commercial airlines over the years, including Pacific Air Lines, Pacific Southwest Airlines, and Republic Airlines. United even used to fly mainline flights into ACV. Now service has dwindled to regional jet traffic.

CRJ-200 at Arcata-Eureka Airport

United’s Monopoly

United has provided the bulk of air service to ACV over the past couple decades. Well, we’re really served by SkyWest, dba United Airlines. We also had Delta for a couple years (also operated by SkyWest), followed by PenAir, which had the most horrible delays imaginable. Neither Delta Connection or PenAir lasted long (although I wish Delta would resurrect the ACV-SLC service). United has been the one steady player at ACV.

But steady has also meant expensive. Fares are often so bad that driving the 3.5 to 5 hours to another major airport is worth it for many people. I’ve known lots who’ve flown out of Sacramento, Oakland, or San Francisco when traveling across the country or world. I’ve done it myself many times.

At least United has played ball with us in getting service to new hubs. Rather than only SFO, which can be miserably delayed in the winter when the weather is bad, we have had service to both LAX and Denver. The latter did better than anticipated, if I recall correctly. Even though the service was suspended during COVID-19 (along with the hop to LAX) both are back. I hope they are here to stay.

But United’s stranglehold was eventually broken again.

Recent Expansion

I’ve been ecstatic this year about our airport’s growth. It isn’t the number of passengers, although that has gone up as well. The real growth is in the airlines serving our airport. When we just had SkyWest (dba United Airlines), prices remained high. Even if you wanted to go to San Francisco or Los Angeles, you could expect to pay around $300 round-trip. Flights with connections to destinations on the other side of the U.S. were often around $500 at the cheapest. Forget close-in. I once billed a flight to Virginia to work for over $1,000.

Avelo has broken the mold. At least you can now fly nearly the length of the state for a little over $100. I’ve pointed several friends at Avelo, and some quickly booked tickets. Although service could get the axe, given that the airline is new and is experimenting in various markets, I expect ours to stay. It’s the business connection. I’ve been told by someone in the cannabis industry that Hollywood is one of the good markets for premium product. Arcata to Burbank hop? Could make a lot of sense.

Adding American has just been gravy. It opened up another alliance for award travel, which has been amazing. Not to mention flights have been reasonably priced. I might end up flying them more often. Prices on some United destinations have dropped as well. Looking at Google Flights, I can find tickets to most places in the U.S. for $200 to $300 over a fall weekend. This was never the case before.

The actual passenger numbers over the years are interesting. Here’s how Arcata-Eureka Airport has performed over the past decade in terms of originating passengers:

  • 2003 – 90,184
  • 2004 – 96,287
  • 2005 – 108,581
  • 2006 – 103,499
  • 2007 – 105,758
  • 2008 – 106,428
  • 2009 – 102,435
  • 2010 – 93,338
  • 2011 – 70,231
  • 2012 – 61,614
  • 2013 – 56,623
  • 2014 – 51,683
  • 2015 – 55,052
  • 2016 – 69,619
  • 2017 – 65,925
  • 2018 – 69,463
  • 2019 – 86,137
  • 2020 – 37,977

These numbers are from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. You can see the impact of the Great Recession and lack of additional air service once Delta pulled out of the market. Quite a dip between 2009 and 2014. There was a huge uptick in 2019 as well, but then COVID-19 killed this. I’m eager to see the 2021 numbers, as I expect them to be high. With the new carriers, there has been a lot more activity at the airport. The increase in 2019 service and uptick this year is due in part to the efforts of Fly Humboldt, a local organization that helps promote our airport.

Avelo 737-800 - First Flight out of ACV

My Personal Stats

I track all my flights in OpenFlights, which makes me a bit of a geek when it comes to both my traveling and aviation in general. But it also gives me some great statistics on my travel patterns. Here are some of my travel stats when it comes to flying out of ACV:

  • Destinations flown to from ACV: 6 (SFO, LAX, PDX, DEN, BUR, PHX)
  • Number of carriers flown out of ACV: 4 (United, Pen Air, Avelo, American)
  • Types of aircraft flown in or out of ACV: 6 (CRJ-200, CRJ-700, Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia, Embraer E175, Boeing 737-800, Saab 340b)
  • Total number of flights in or out of ACV: 45 (15% of my total segments)
  • Number of CRJ-200 flights in or out of ACV: 28 (my most hated aircraft)
  • Total miles flown from to or from ACV: 14,724 (4% of my total flight miles)

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, I’m guessing I’ve not bored you to death. While I hate the operational issues that local fog plus SFO poor weather can cause, I truly love our little airport. It’s so nice to arrive just 10 minutes prior to scheduled boarding, knowing that this is sufficient time to park, walk the 60 seconds to the terminal, and pass through security. You simply can’t do this at a large airport.

I’m excited for the future of ACV. If both American and Avelo stick around, it may really revitalize air service to our county. Worst case, we’ll be back to just United in a year or two.