As of June 16, there's a new way for Portlanders to jet to Washington's San Juan Island—one that literally passes over the I-5 traffic and that slow-chugging ferry from Anacortes.
Albion Air, the one-pilot airline that is Mark Hills and his twin-engine Piper, now flies twice weekly—on Fridays and Sundays—between the Portland area's Aurora State Airport to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. (A Saturday morning "daytripper" flight additionally runs direct from PDX Airport to Friday Harbor.) The 80-minute excursion, which Hills plans to offer year-round, will have Portlanders splashing their kayaks in no time for day and weekend getaways.
Hills, a British expat who has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2000 and Portland since 2015, counts 28 years of previous flying experience—including instruction at Oxford Air Training School in England. The June announcement marks the launch of the first regular route for the carrier, which has operated since 2012. Of the decision to launch the service, Hill says, “I never get bored with this route. I remember flying back from San Juan and thinking: if I could do this every day I’d be happy.”
The cost to soar in the Piper, which seats four passengers, runs $1.75 per pound (the weight of you and your luggage combined) for a one-way flight from Aurora, and slightly more when flying from PDX. That's right: the lighter you pack, the cheaper your flight. Hills estimates this unique pricing structure will average $300–350 per person each way. (Editor's note: we initially misreported Hills's estimates.)
The lush, Canada-hugging San Juans have long been a popular escape for Seattleites. But never before have Portlanders been offered such a short cut. (The drive from Portland can easily surpass six hours.) Once there, summer activities revolve around the island's outdoor attractions, as a sparsely populated wildlife haven. Spend the day whale watching or kayaking through the harbor. Explore some of the plentiful hiking and bicycling opportunities speckled with rich local history. Saunter through the local farmers market or take a leisurely shopping trip in downtown Friday Harbor.
Voyagers can also hop on a ferry and explore more remote islands in the area, such as Orcas or Lummi Island (home of the famed Willows Inn). Unwind for dinner at one of San Juan’s many restaurants, like the Backdoor Kitchen or Cask and Schooner.
And now, you just might enjoy the journey there in equal measure. Says Hills: “It’s a beautiful flight and great destination.”