Alaska Airlines logoFor more than 75 years, Alaska Airlines and its people have been guided through thick and thin by a shared commitment to integrity, caring, resourcefulness, professionalism and spirit. Especially spirit - an Alaskan spirit, born in the land the airline is named after - a place where "can-do" and "neighbor-helping-neighbor" are facts of life.
The result? A long list of aviation milestones, as well as countless stories of people going out of their way to help others - both in the course of business and in support of organizations that makes our communities better places to live.
In the process, Alaska has grown from a small regional airline to one of the most respected in the nation. Carrying more than 17 million customers a year, Alaska's route system spans more than 60 cities and three countries. The Alaska Airlines fleet of Boeing jets is one of the youngest among all major airlines. And its reputation for outstanding service consistently earns best U.S. airline recognition from the likes of Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler magazines.
The foundation of this success was laid in 1932, when Mac McGee started flying his three-seat Stinson between Anchorage and Bristol Bay, Alaska. Finances were tight, but perseverance ruled the day—Mac and his team often worked round-the-clock, even though the next paycheck might be weeks away.
A merger with Star Air Service in 1934 created the largest airline in Alaska. After several more mergers, the name was changed a couple of times—until they found one that stuck: Alaska Airlines.
By the late 1940s, using surplus military aircraft, Alaska had branched into worldwide charter work, including the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and Operation Magic Carpet, the airlift of thousands of Yemenite Jews, to Israel in 1949.
In the late 1960s, Alaska strengthened its operating base by merging with Alaska Coastal-Ellis and Cordova airlines, legendary Southeast Alaska carriers owned by aviation pioneers Shell Simmons, Bob Ellis and Mudhole Smith. Alaska’s world now stretched from Fairbanks south to Ketchikan and down to Seattle. And in some of the coldest days of the Cold War, Alaska made headlines with regular charters to the Soviet Union.
A New Era
When Fairbanks businessmen Ron Cosgrave and Bruce Kennedy came on board in 1972, the airline was in a financial fight for its life. They went to work setting goals and bringing people together. They won back the trust of creditors and improved on-time performance. One break that went their way was the construction of the trans-Alaska Pipeline; carrying supplies, equipment and workers gave Alaska a shot in the arm.
Bottom line, customer service became key in this new era. And it put the airline on course for what would be a nearly unprecedented record in the industry: 19 straight years of profitability.
In 1979, the airline industry was deregulated. For many carriers, this was the end of the road. For Alaska, it was a new beginning. The airline expanded methodically throughout the West Coast and in 1987 joined forces with two carriers similarly committed to outstanding customer service - Horizon Air and Jet America.
By the end of the 80s, Alaska had tripled in size. Its fleet had increased five-fold. And the route map included scheduled service to Mexico and Russia.
Continuing The Legacy
Some things never change. Alaska is still differentiating itself by providing a superior level of customer service. At the same time, the airline has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2001, it set its sights eastward with new service to Washington, D.C., and hasn't looked back since, establishing footholds in other major East Coast and Midwestern cities. More recently, the smiling Eskimo headed west across the Pacific Ocean with new service to Hawaii.
Alaska has also pioneered technologies and customer innovations that make the travel experience easier. Alaska was the first airline in North America to sell tickets online and first in the world to allow customers to check in and print boarding passes via the Internet.
The airline has blazed trails in navigation technology too, which allows it to fly into fog-shrouded Juneau, Alaska, and airspace-restricted Washington, D.C., with equal precision. And Alaska's new Airport of the Future design is allowing customers to get from curbside to planeside in record time.
Whenever the history of commercial aviation is written, people ask how an obscure little airline in America's hinterland has continued to survive and thrive while once-proud giants disappeared. Grit and determination will be part of the answer. But more than that, it's the people. Their caring. Their resourcefulness. Their integrity. Their professionalism. And their spirit - the unique spirit of The Great Land where the airline was born.