Tag Archives: Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines decorates N287AK in winter “snowflakes”

Alaska Airlines has made this announcement:

Our holiday spirit is certainly in the air! Today, we unveiled our newest special edition livery, complete with aircrafted-to-perfection snowflakes! Watch the seasonal aircraft come to life now and look for the winter wonder in the skies.

All photos by Alaska Airlines.

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Buy a Starbuck coffee and get early boarding on Alaska Airlines for the next 3 days

From Alaska Airlines:

‘Starbucks holiday cup holders get priority boarding.’

How does it sound to be one of the first guests to board a flight while you take a sip of your Starbucks Peppermint Mocha?

Well, ‘tis the season. We’ve joined forces with our hometown partner, Starbucks, to kick off the 2019 holidays. Starting tomorrow, anyone traveling with a Starbucks holiday cup gets priority boarding on all Alaska Airlines flights, Nov. 7-10.

What does this mean exactly? Starbucks holiday cup-holders––anyone who purchases a Starbucks drink served in a holiday cup––will get to be in the “espresso” lane, following group B. Just be sure to listen closely to your gate agent’s announcements.

With all that holiday spirit in the air, you know we couldn’t stop there! Some lucky guests on select flights might find surprise Starbucks treats on their seats, too.

If you’re traveling this weekend, we hope you have a nice trip––and a nice sip!

Find out more about the holiday cheer taking flight below.

Holiday Priority Boarding FAQ

Q: Who is eligible for priority boarding? Only Mileage Plan members? First Class?

ANYONE with a Starbucks Holiday cup on flights served by Alaska Airlines can board early, following group B. *Any guests with First Class tickets or airline status will board first in their typical fashion.

Q: What Starbucks cup/drink qualifies to get early boarding?

It can be any Starbucks beverage (hot or cold) in any Starbucks Holiday cup, including reusable Holiday cups.

Q: Does my Starbucks cup need to have a Starbucks drink in it?

No, if you’ve already finished your beverage, your cup will still get you priority boarding.

Q: What time do I have to arrive to get early boarding?

The boarding process begins 40 minutes before departure.

Q: How will I know if it’s happening on my flight?

All Alaska Airlines flights from Nov. 7 – Nov. 10 will offer priority boarding with any Starbucks Holiday cup. Please listen for the boarding announcements for further instructions.

Q: Where/when is the holiday cup magic happening?

All airports that serve Alaska Airlines flights from Nov. 7 – Nov. 10.

Q: What if my airport Starbucks is not giving away holiday cups?

Select airport Starbucks including: SFO, ATL and MSP are piloting compostable cups, so they will not have holiday cups available at these locations. HOWEVER, beverages at these airports will be served with holiday cup sleeves, which, along with the regular cup, are eligible for priority boarding (yay!).

Q: What if I’m already eligible for early boarding? Do I get something else?

Unfortunately, no, but you have Starbucks and early boarding, so that’s a win!

Q: Why is Alaska partnering with Starbucks?

Starbucks and Alaska Airlines have been proud partners for years. We’re thrilled to help spread holiday joy with our guests traveling between Nov. 7 – Nov. 10.

Alaska Airlines partners with Surfline to offer first-ever fare sale based on the size of ocean waves

Alaska Airlines made this announcement:

Starting on November 4, surfers everywhere will have one more reason to wish for bigger waves. That’s when Alaska Airlines will kick-off “Swell Deals,” using dynamic data to generate discounts for surfers and sand-lovers alike. Partnering with global surf forecasting site Surfline, Alaska will discount up to 30% off flights to and from Hawaii based on the height of forecasted waves around the islands. The bigger the waves, the bigger the discount.

“Flyers today have access to so much more information and in turn, are making decisions based on that data,” said Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines’ managing director of brand and marketing communications. “With the start of surf season in Hawaii, we saw an opportunity to further support our flyers’ passions by using the power of data to offer better deals as surf conditions improve.”

  • Alaska Airlines Swell Deals
    Alaska Airlines Swell Deals

Surfline will pull data from 14 different locations monitoring minute-by-minute forecasts around the Hawaiian Islands. The subregions for data tracking include: Oahu South Shore, Hawaii Kona, Maui South, Kauai South, Kauai North, Maui West, Oahu North Shore, Oahu Windward Side, Maui North, Hawaii South, Hawaii Hilo, Oahu West Side, Lanai and Molokai.

Between Nov.4 through Nov.8, for travel through Nov.20, Alaska will discount fares based on the following max swell heights tracked by Surfline:

  • ≤10 ft. swells: 10% off
  • 11-15 ft. swells: 15% off
  • 16-20 ft. swells: 20% off
  • 21+ ft. swells: 30% off

The discount will change daily at approximately noon and 5p.m. PST as Alaska gets the latest forecast information from Surfline. Throughout the course of the promotion, the discount level will never drop and can only increase as swells grow.

“This partnership with Alaska Airlines opens the door for surfers everywhere to use our trusted surf reports and forecasting for spontaneous adventure,” said Surfline President Ross Garrett. “Surfers are highly traveled wave warriors, and we’re sure they’ll be scooping up these fares.”

This is just a start of how Alaska will use data and experiences to help customers enjoy more of what they love. Today it’s catching a wave, tomorrow it may be getting out on the slopes when the powder is fresh.

“By leveraging data, we can give people another reason to get on a flig­­ht, just when they want it most, to enjoy perfect conditions or take that bucket list trip that they might have otherwise missed,” added Bowman.

Beach lovers can take advantage of Swell Deals between Nov.4 and Nov.8, for travel through Nov.20. To purchase tickets or find more information on terms and conditions, visit alaskaair.com/swell or call 1-800-ALASKAAIR (800-252-7522 for Hearing & Speech Impaired (TTY): Dial 711 for Relay Services). Fare restrictions apply.

According to Travel + Leisure, the pre-Thanksgiving November window is a great time to visit the islands, with lower hotel rates and tourist traffic.

Alaska offers over 175 weekly nonstop flights to the four main Hawaiian Islands from the West Coast, with destinations including Kauai, Hawaii Island (Kona), Maui and Oahu. With great connectivity from the West Coast, travelers flying to Hawaii on Alaska can depart in the morning and by lunchtime, soak up the sun.

Like waves, how about waiver? To make sporty travel easier, Alaska waives oversize and overweight fees for sports equipment so guests can fly with their surfboards for just $30 (the price of a regular checked bag). For MVP Gold 75K, MVP Gold, MVP, First Class and Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card holders, this equipment counts toward their free checked baggage allowance.

Alaska prides itself on delivering low fares with great value and genuine, caring service. Onboard, guests can enjoy a three-class cabin, assigned seating, seatback power, comfortable seats and food and drinks crafted with a range of refreshing, bright flavors inspired by West Coast ingredients. With Alaska’s inflight entertainment, flyers can watch more than 500 movies and TV shows – all for free on their own devices.

Alaska Airlines and its regional partners fly 46 million guests a year to more than 115 destinations with an average of 1,200 daily flights across the United States and to Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica. With Alaska and Alaska Global Partners, guests can earn and redeem miles on flights to more than 900 destinations worldwide. Alaska Airlines ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Traditional Carriers in North America” in the J.D. Power North America Airline Satisfaction Study for 12 consecutive years from 2008 to 2019. Learn about Alaska’s award-winning service at newsroom.alaskaair.com and blog.alaskaair.com. Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air are subsidiaries of Alaska Air Group (NYSE: ALK).

**Based on Surflines’ maximum swell height forecast for Hawaii, November 4-20, 2019.

Swell Deal terms and conditions
The Swell Deal discount is valid between Alaska Airlines cities in the US and Canada (excluding Prudhoe Bay) and Hawaii. Discount does not apply to government-imposed taxes and airport fees. The discount cannot be combined with other promotions. Valid for up to six travelers on the same reservation. Travel is valid between Nov.4 – 20, 2019. Valid for new ticket purchases only. Discount code must be applied towards purchase of ticket by 11:59 p.m. (PT) on Nov. 8, 2019. Not applicable to Mileage Plan award reservations, Alaska Airlines Vacation packages, tour or contract fares. Discount codes may not be sold, bought, bartered, auctioned or collected in bulk. The passenger is responsible for all applicable taxes, fees, and surcharges, including checked baggage fees. Visit alaskaair.com to view complete terms and conditions.

Alaska Airlines: How we’re making flying matter for the long term

From Alaska Airlines blog:

At Alaska, sustainability isn’t just a word; it’s a responsibility. One of our core values is to do the right thing, and that means delivering for all those who depend on us – for the long term. And our efforts are paying off.

We’re honored the 2019 Dow Jones Sustainability Index ranked Alaska No.1 among North American airlines for the third year in a row. Globally, we ranked No. 7 and received top scores for corporate governance and efficiency.

Each year, more than 2,200 companies included in the Index answer up to 120 questions focusing on governance, environmental and social factors. The idea is that companies that tend to all of their stakeholders (guests, employees, communities and owners) will deliver value for the long-term, not just the next business cycle. In other words: they’re sustainable.

From our Green Team, a group of employees devoted to education and innovation around environmental issues, to our flight crews who sort our onboard waste, and everyone in between – our employees are at the forefront of our biggest green initiatives.

“It takes everybody to make a difference,” says Kim Fisher, Alaska reservations call center specialist and co-leader of the Green Team. “It can be so overwhelming to think about the environment, but the truth is everything we do counts.”

Here’s are few ways we’re setting ourselves up to make flying matter for the long-term – check out the links for stories and examples:

Our female independent board directors. From left: Phyllis Campbell, Patricia Bedient, Helvi Sandvik, Susan Li and Marion Blakey. Not pictured: Kathleen Hogan.

Governance:

Governance is all about how we make decisions, what we prioritize and how we operate. More than half of our independent board members are women—and we were the first West-Coast-based, Fortune 500 company to do this.

Our directors represent the communities where we live and fly, which enables us to have more diversity of thought and make better decisions for those we serve.

Environmental impact:

Carrying a prefilled water bottle helps reduce plastics.

We make conscious choices every day to reduce the impact of our operations, through big things—from purchasing the most fuel-efficient aircraft to exploring sustainable alternative aviation fuels. We also think about the little things—like eliminating plastic straws, recycling onboard items, sourcing locally-made food and beverage items and encouraging our guests to #FillBeforeYouFly.

By focusing on reducing aircraft emissions and creating less waste, we’re leading the industry, managing costs and reducing our environmental impact.

Social impact:

From the beginning, serving people and our communities has defined us. Driven by our incredible employees, we take care of each other to build culture and community. We take time to focus on volunteer activities and donate more than 50 million miles a year though LIFT miles to nonprofit partners like Make-A-Wish, and provide career connections for young people through our annual Aviation Day, grants and partnerships with local school districts and nonprofits. While we’re partial to aviation, we believe that all young people should have a chance to imagine what’s possible and build a great career in whatever field they choose.

You can learn more about our sustainability efforts here.

Alaska Air Group reports third quarter 2019 results

Alaska Airlines has issued this financial report:

Financial Highlights:

  • Reported net income for the third quarter of 2019 under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) of $322 million, or $2.60 per diluted share, compared to net income of $217 million, or $1.75 per diluted share in the third quarter of 2018.
  • Reported net income for the third quarter of 2019, excluding merger-related costs and mark-to-market fuel hedge accounting adjustments, of $326 million, or $2.63 per diluted share, compared to $237 million or $1.91 per diluted share, in the third quarter of 2018. This quarter’s adjusted results compare to the First Call analyst consensus estimate of $2.52 per share.
  • Paid a $0.35 per-share cash dividend in the third quarter, a 9% increase over the dividend paid in the third quarter of 2018.
  • Repurchased a total of 874,019 shares of common stock for approximately $53 million in the first nine months of 2019.
  • Generated $1.4 billion of operating cash flow in the first nine months of 2019.
  • Made a voluntary contribution of $65 million to defined benefit pension plans in the third quarter.
  • Held $1.6 billion in unrestricted cash and marketable securities as of Sept. 30, 2019.
  • Reduced debt-to-capitalization ratio to 42% as of Sept. 30, 2019 compared to 47% as of Dec. 31, 2018.

Operational Highlights:

  • Alaska’s clerical, office, passenger service, ramp and stores employees, represented by the International Association of Machinists, ratified a new five-year agreement in August.
  • Opened a new 15,000+ square foot flagship lounge in the North Satellite at Sea-Tac International Airport in July.
  • Reallocated flying to expand offerings between the Pacific Northwest and California, increasing network utility and providing more non-stop service on the West Coast.
  • Completed cabin interior renovations of the 25th Airbus aircraft during the third quarter.
  • Installed high-speed satellite Wi-Fi on the 54th mainline aircraft.

Recognition and Awards:

  • Named “Best U.S. Airline” by Condé Nast Traveler for the second consecutive year.
  • Ranked as top U.S. airline in Newsweek’s 2020 Best Customer Service awards.
  • Mileage Plan ranked first in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Airline Rewards Programs for the fifth consecutive year.
  • Ranked as the top U.S. airline in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the third consecutive year.
  • Ranked among Forbes’ 2019 global list for “World’s Best Employers.”

Alaska Air Group Inc. reported third quarter 2019 GAAP net income of $322 million, or $2.60 per diluted share, compared to $217 million, or $1.75 per diluted share in the third quarter of 2018. Excluding the impact of merger-related costs and mark-to-market fuel hedge adjustments, the company reported adjusted net income of $326 million, or $2.63 per diluted share, compared to $237 million, or $1.91 per diluted share in 2018.

“Our teams at Alaska, Horizon and McGee delivered industry-leading customer service and operational reliability that helped drive strong third quarter results,” said Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden. “Our adjusted pretax profit margin of nearly 18% was 3.6 percentage points higher than last year – fueled by our commitment to keep costs low and by the impressive 8% revenue growth that our commercial team delivered. I want to thank our employees for everything they’re doing to make Alaska what we are today – and for helping us shape what we’re going to be in the future. They are the best in the industry, and I believe these results demonstrate that.”

The following table reconciles the company’s reported GAAP net income and earnings per diluted share (diluted EPS) for the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 and 2018 to adjusted amounts.

Statistical data, as well as a reconciliation of the reported non-GAAP financial measures, can be found in the accompanying tables. A glossary of financial terms can be found on the last page of this release.

Alaska Airlines aircraft photo gallery (Boeing):

Alaska Airlines’ newest painted Pixar-themed aircraft showcases Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure Park (along with a few well-known faces)

Alaska Airlines made this announcement:

In collaboration with the Disneyland Resort, Alaska Airlines showcased its latest special-edition aircraft livery today that offers a whimsical tribute to Pixar Pier, a reimagined land at Disney California Adventure Park.

In collaboration with the Disneyland Resort, Alaska Airlines reveals its latest special-edition aircraft livery, that offers a whimsical tribute to Pixar Pier, a reimagined land at Disney California Adventure Park.

A trio of familiar Pixar characters span both sides of the aircraft: Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Jessie of Toy Story fame. For more added fun, one of the Aliens from the popular animated movie series can be spotted on both winglets, and even Rex the Tyrannosaurus makes a special appearance at the boarding door. The plane is named “Friendship and Beyond at Disneyland Resort.”

“There’s nothing better than landing happy on the way to The Happiest Place on Earth,” said Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines’ managing director of brand marketing and advertising. “The Disneyland Resort is one of our signature West Coast friendships, and we love that we can celebrate Pixar Pier by taking these iconic characters on a brand-new adventure.”

The unique design is a collaboration between the teams at Alaska, Disney and Pixar. The Pixar Pier-themed 737-800, tail number N537AS, begins flying throughout Alaska’s route network today, welcoming guests with its artistic flair for many years to come. To get the job done, the exterior of the plane required more than 2,800 work hours over 24 days using more than 50 gallons of paint — in 44 primary colors and custom shades — to completely repaint the aircraft with the vibrant new livery.

Video:

From the Alaska Airlines Blog:

How many characters can you spot on our newest Pixar-themed plane?

By Ali Myers.

Starting today, guests will start enjoying flights on our Pixar-themed Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Its playful design includes some familiar faces and magical places from the Toy Story animated film series spanning both sides of the plane.

They’re all heading to Pixar Pier, a reimagined land at Disney California Adventure Park at the Disneyland Resort.

Can you spot the pieces of Pixar?

Sheriff Woody: Andy’s favorite pull string cowboy toy is certainly reaching for the sky on our plane – let’s hope his hat doesn’t fly off.

Buzz Lightyear: The evil Emperor Zurg is no match for this Space Ranger of Star Command who’s in between the tail and his friends. To infinity and beyond!

Jessie: The yodeling cowgirl can be spotted wrangling in her pals at the tip of the tail.

Rex: Look closely! You’ll spy the green head of Tyrannosaurus Rex peeking in the window near our plane’s front door. He’s there to say hell-roar to our guests!

Aliens: It’s a bird, it’s a claw … no, it’s an alien strapped to a rocket on our winglet! These identical toys, prizes from an arcade game at the fictional Pizza Planet restaurant, are painted on both winglets.

Luxo ball: It’s the ball that has enjoyed a roll in a number of Pixar movies, most notably ‘Toy Story,’ and the ‘Luxo, Jr.’ short. It sits at the tip of our plane’s nose.

Pixar Pier: It’s a sign. Pixar Pier is the latest reimagined land to explore at Disney California Adventure Park. There you’ll see beloved Pixar characters come to life from the Incredibles Park, Inside Out Headquarters to the Pixar Promenade and Toy Story Boardwalk.

Itinerary must-dos:

  • Looking for your own Bullseye? Don’t miss out on attractions such as the Incredicoaster, Jessie’s Critter Carousel and Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind.
  • Stomach starting to sound like Rex? Grab a bite to eat at Lamplight Lounge and Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats.
  • Want to wrangle goodies like Bo Peep and her sheep? Check out Bing Bong’s Sweet Stuff and Knick’s Knacks.

A terrific friendship

This is our sixth paint scheme celebrating Disneyland Resorts. It’s called “Friendship and Beyond at Disneyland Resort.” The inaugural flight flew from Seattle, with a stop in San Francisco for a gate ceremony and then onto its final destination in Orange County (my guess, next stop: Pixar Pier).

“There’s nothing better than landing happy on the way to The Happiest Place on Earth,” said Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines’ managing director of brand marketing and advertising. “The Disneyland Resort is one of our signature West Coast friendships, and we love that we can celebrate Pixar Pier by taking these iconic characters on a brand-new adventure.”

The magic behind the paint:

The exterior of the plane required more than 2,800 work hours over 24 days using more than 50 gallons of paint — in 44 primary colors and custom shades — to completely repaint the aircraft with the vibrant new livery.

The Alaska employees who make flying better for everyone

From the Alaska Airlines Blog:

By Denise Clifton.

Photo: Jesus Fuentes and his mother took part in the Ability to Fly event at Los Angeles International Airport in June. The event allowed travelers with disabilities and their families to try all the steps of air travel without leaving the airport. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)

Ray Prentice’s epiphany came when his nephew, who had been paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, arrived at Sea-Tac International Airport for a long-planned vacation to Los Angeles – only to find his power wheelchair wouldn’t fit in the plane’s cargo compartment.

Captain Bryan Burks recognized the need every time he saw the anguish on a parent’s face when a child with a cognitive disability had a meltdown on a flight.

For Gary Peterson, one of many pivotal realizations came at a funeral. Rodney Munyan, a janitor with Down syndrome who worked for Peterson in Alaska Airlines’ Seattle maintenance hangar, had invited his boss to the service after his mother died. “The whole family came up to me like I was a long-lost relative,” Peterson says. “The pastor talked about Alaska Airlines and how much that job meant, not only to Rodney, but to his mother and the whole family.” It was a revelation for Peterson, who has worked for Alaska for four decades, during which a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy forced him to switch jobs at the company.

“I have a disability, but I’ve worked my whole career,” Peterson says. “I had never understood how important Rodney’s job was to his family.”

Prentice, Burks and Peterson are among the legions of Alaska employees whose personal experiences have inspired them to become advocates, creating new opportunities for fellow employees with disabilities and making air travel more accessible and inclusive for all of Alaska’s guests.

These efforts come together every year across the country in events like Wings for Autism in Seattleand Ability to Fly in Los Angeles, which have offered hundreds of travelers with cognitive and developmental disabilities including autism – and their families – the chance to go through the steps of air travel without ever leaving the airport. During October, which is Disability Employment Awareness Month, Wings for Autism events will be offered in Seattle and Spokane in partnership with The Arc, and separate events will be offered in Portland and Redmond, Oregon, in collaboration with the Oregon Society of Autism. Another one in Anchorage, co-hosted by The Arc of Anchorage, will come later this fall. Event registration and outreach are handled by the co-hosting disability organizations.

Canine Companions for Independence puppies reported for duty at Sea-Tac recently, flying Alaska with their volunteer puppy raisers to start four to seven months of professional training. When they graduate, the pups will provide expert assistance to children, veterans and other adults with disabilities free of charge through CCI. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)

Alaska also collaborates with Guide Dogs for the Blind and Canine Companions for Independence to provide airport access for puppies in training, partners with the Paralyzed Veterans of America to improve employee education for the proper handling of guests’ mobility devices, and is working with United Spinal Association and other organizations to increase the hiring of individuals with disabilities.

And this fall, Alaska will launch a free app in the Apple Store and Google Play called Fly for All. Designed for first-time flyers, unaccompanied minors and those with cognitive and developmental disabilities, including autism, the app will help ease the anxiety of air travel by walking guests through the steps they’ll follow when getting ready to fly.

“Alaska has really been one of the pioneers in accessibility in aviation,” says Eric Lipp, executive director of the national nonprofit Open Doors Organization, which advocates for travelers with disabilities. That includes about 25 million people in the United States. When Lipp started the organization in 2000, one of his earliest partnerships was with Ray Prentice, who started Alaska’s disability advisory board the same year. Prentice is now Alaska’s director of customer advocacy. “Having that longevity from people like Ray makes a huge difference,” Lipp says.

Lipp points out that Alaska’s website is one of the few airline sites to link to accessibility servicesprominently on the homepage, and he says Alaska’s collaboration with its home airport on recent North Satellite terminal renovations resulted in larger lavatories and more relief stations for service animals. “Sea-Tac has created a more accessible landscape, and a lot of that can be credited to their work with Alaska,” Lipp says.

Behind the advocates at Alaska Airlines are countless personal stories and lessons they are eager to share. These are just a few.

Captain Bryan Burks has traveled all over the world with his daughter, Rachel, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)
“I remember how hard it was to travel with my daughter, Rachel, but we did it and she got better at it. And I can recognize a kid who’s maybe on the autism spectrum. I can definitely see the stress in a parent who’s traveling with them. So, my heart goes out to them.”

– Captain Bryan Burks, Alaska pilot since 1995

When Rachel Burks was diagnosed with autism around age 3, advocacy was one of the furthest things from her father’s mind. “At first, it was all survival mode,” Burks says. “Rachel didn’t want to be held and loud sounds, noises and different textures were really hard for her.”

Burks’ wife, Ruth, left her Alaska flight attendant job to have more time for Rachel and her fraternal twin, Kathleen, who does not have autism. But the Burks family had always loved traveling, and they vowed that the sisters would enjoy a globe-trotting lifestyle. They learned how to travel together through trial and error, and found that repetition was key. They discovered the importance of being organized as they prepared Rachel for what she should expect. And practice paid off.

“Rachel’s been to Africa. She’s been to Europe. She’s been to South America,” Burks says. “She’s been all over now.”

Ruth, Rachel, Bryan and Kathleen Burks at Waimea Canyon, Kauai, in 2016. (Burks family photo)

When Seattle’s first Wings for Autism event came together in January 2014, Burks immediately volunteered. “Most of these families had no idea that air travel was even an option until they had this opportunity,” he says. About 50 to 60 families attend each event, and registration often fills up within an hour of opening. The families go through the complete process of booking a ticket, checking in, clearing TSA security, boarding a plane, listening to inflight announcements, and taxiing down a runway before returning to the gate.

“I have been in those parents’ shoes,” Burks says. “I’ve felt those pressures. To have the opportunity to train airline employees in how to interact and support these families – it becomes just as rewarding for the employee.”

Burks has recruited other parents to volunteer for Wings for Autism events, including Captain Mark Aown, who is also based at Sea-Tac. Aown’s 27-year-old son, Isaac, uses a wheelchair and has a cognitive disability, but he loves to fly because his parents have worked through the obstacle course of airports and airplanes. “It can be such an emotional roller-coaster just to get ready,” Aown says. “Then there might be four elevators, plus TSA security, and family restrooms are always in short supply.”

Aown sees Wings for Autism as a way to raise awareness among flight crews. “I figured I could relate to the families,” he says. “We should make every effort we can to lift the burden.”

Burks says Alaska employees who participate in the events gain new strategies for helping families. “They’ll realize that if they talk to the parent and ask what calming techniques work for your child, they can have a more positive outcome,” he says.

And while many employees have personal reasons for volunteering for Wings for Autism, the events always create more advocates at Alaska, Prentice says: “You attend one event, you’re changed forever.”

Gary Peterson, right, says he’s learned a lot about disabilities in working with employees such as Chris Thomas. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)
“People used to tell me they didn’t see my chair. And now I say, ‘I hope you see my chair. I’m hoping that you look internally to see if you have any biases.’ Everybody has biases against people with disabilities they are unaware of. I know because I have them and they surprise me once in a while.”

– Gary Peterson, Alaska line maintenance supervisor who recently celebrated 40 years at the company.

Peterson came gradually – and sometimes reluctantly – to the role of advocate. For his first job, fresh out of technical school, he was hired at Alaska as a mechanic in Anchorage, and a couple of years later he transferred to Seattle. In 1985, a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy diverted his career path. It was five years before the Americans with Disabilities Act would prohibit workplace discrimination, but Peterson found advocates within the company as he looked for work he could eventually do from a wheelchair.

Peterson became a maintenance coordinator – leveraging his mechanic expertise – but it was hard to open up about his disability. “A lot of it was probably self-imposed,” he says. “When I first started using a cane, I didn’t want to use it. My vanity got in the way. I went to a scooter, and my vanity got in the way.”

“But one of the most difficult things I’ve had to face, other than the physical barriers, is that I’ve always felt like I had to push myself a bit more than the next person,” he says.

Peterson became a line maintenance supervisor in 2005. That year, his staff grew to include Rodney Munyan, who has since retired, and Chris Thomas, a janitor with Down syndrome who still works for Peterson. Thomas enjoys working at the hangar where he cleans facilities, and he gives a friendly hello or fist bump to colleagues throughout the day.

“The guys here have taken him under their wing and they’re very protective of him,” Peterson says.

As they worked together, Thomas and Munyan taught Peterson about some of his own biases. “When I first started working with two janitors who had disabilities, I thought they were more work,” he says. “After a while, I realized they turned out to be less work. They show up on time. They’re always trying harder to please.”

Because Peterson’s wheelchair makes his disability obvious, he is often urged to be an advocate for accessibility. Three times, he was asked to be a leader in the ACCESS Business Resource Group, an internal organization for employees with disabilities. “The main reason I said no at first was I didn’t know anything about disabilities,” he says. “I knew about mine, but that’s it.”

Seven years ago, he finally agreed. He also gives presentations to all new flight attendants, educating thousands of new hires over the years about issues of accessibility and inclusion. “I’ve learned that I have to be an advocate for all disabilities, and if I remove a barrier for them, I’m actually removing a barrier for me,” he says.

Peterson points out that everyone has an incentive to be an advocate, whether they have a disability or not. “Eventually, we’re all going to get old,” he says. “We’re all probably going to have some kind of disability of our own. So why not start advocating for it now?”

Ray Prentice and other Alaska employees cheer on 2018 Special Olympics athletes. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine
“We hire wonderful caring people and that’s our secret sauce. We’re simply asking our front-line team members to do what comes very natural, in sincerely asking, ‘How can I best help you today?’ ”    

– Ray Prentice, director of customer advocacy, who recently celebrated 30 years working for Alaska

When Prentice’s nephew was turned away at the gate more than 13 years ago, it was his first attempt to fly after the motorcycle accident that made him quadriplegic. He and his wife had planned the vacation for a year, and it was ruined. Their pain stays with Prentice.  “I’ll never forget how helpless I felt,” he says. He’s made it a mission to turn other devastating experiences into teachable moments.

One particularly hard lesson came in 2017 when accessibility advocate Kenny Salvini’s power wheelchair was damaged on a cross-country flight – the second time within a year that his chair was broken by an airline. Salvini, who is paralyzed from the neck down, uses the chair to conduct his business, to use his phone, to access his home – for every aspect of his life. “The chair is more than just my legs,” he says, “it’s also my arms and an extension of my brain.”

Salvini posted about his broken chair on social media that night, and woke up to several voicemails from Alaska executives and employees. Prentice invited Salvini to meet with Alaska leadership and employees from a variety of work groups. “I was pretty fired up when I came in and it was a tough conversation at times,” Salvini says. But he appreciated getting insights into the challenges for ground crews and baggage handlers. Since then, he’s also spoken to new flight attendants, and has participated in the airline’s disability advisory board. “That transparency goes a long way, and it’s made me a lot more brand-loyal,” he says.

“We’re committed to getting it right, but sometimes things just go wrong,” Prentice says. “And when they do, we will learn and get better.” He sees accessibility training as an extension of Alaska’s commitment to good customer service. “Every guest, from business professionals to families traveling with young children, has a unique story, challenge or something going that’s creating stress,” he says. “But when we see a child is melting down and Mom’s all stressed out, we help educate our teams that our first thought shouldn’t jump to bad parenting. Our first thought should be, ‘Wow, something’s going on here. How can I help?’”

Improving the experience for disabled travelers is also good for business. The Open Doors Organization found that a third of travelers with disabilities flew at least once during their two-year study – and 1 in 10 flew multiple times – spending about $9 billion on air travel.

Lipp, founder of ODO, calls Prentice a guiding light across the aviation industry. “He always sides with the customer,” Lipp says. “Here, in the office, when a new situation comes up, we ask ourselves, ‘What would Ray do?’”

Keanu Napoleon, diagnosed with autism as a toddler, has become a seasoned world traveler. (Napoleon family photo)

Flight attendants such as Robert “Nappy” Napoleon always have Alaska’s customer-service mission in mind, taking extra care when they learn that a family with special needs is on the plane. “We go up to the parents and say, ‘This is going to be a great flight,’” says Napoleon, who has been flying with Alaska for 22 years. “Just by that, we make the experience so much better and then they travel more.”

Napoleon’s son, Keanu, was diagnosed with autism at age 2 — and is now a world-traveler at 16. “He’s a million-miler, that kid!” he says. The family’s experience inspired Napoleon to volunteer for three Wings for Autism events, hoping to increase awareness among flight crews who can then help families gain confidence in air travel. “All children are different, of course,” he says, pointing out that crew members gain a wide range of experiences by working a single event that includes dozens of different families. “It also helps with helping anyone who has anxiety around flying.”

“We want to be an inspiration to other families and say, ‘You can do it!’” Napoleon says. “You can take that vacation and Alaska is here to help.’ ”

A version of this story appears in the October issue of Alaska Beyond Magazine.

All About People: How Alaska creates lift through sustainability

The Fly For All app and accessibility events like Wings for Autism are a few of the ways Alaska Airlines strives to be “All About People” – part of our values to lift up our people, our communities and our planet. Learn more and read the report

For a list of Alaska Airlines’ accessibility services and information on how to request assistance, see the accessible travel services page at alaskaair.com