Alaska Airlines positions for coronavirus comeback | Don Brunell

Despite the long odds, the airline continues to grow.

Alaska Airlines positions for coronavirus comeback | Don Brunell

It is no secret that airlines were clobbered by the coronavirus pandemic. What started as a promising year quickly went south. The COVID-19 outbreak has all but shut down travel.

Today, airlines operate at a fraction of capacity. The 3 million passengers carried by U.S. carriers in April 2020 was a 96 percent decline from April 2019, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports. To absorb the sudden blow, airlines parked planes, drastically cutback schedules, furloughed workers, and sought federal financial relief.

Like the rest of the airline industry, Alaska faces tremendous challenges. “Between business, international and leisure—people are worried about traveling,” Alaska Airlines President Ben Minicucci told Forbes. “With all these negative demand drivers, we see 2021 down 20 percent.”

Alaska Air Group, consisting of Alaska, Horizon and now Virgin America airlines, is Seattle-based. It is an important part of our economy. Nearly more than 40 percent of its 22,000 employees work in Washington. When indirect employment is tallied, it created nearly another 22,000 jobs statewide in 2017.

Alaska is the nation’s fifth largest domestic airlines behind American, Delta, Southwest and United which combined carry the bulk of the U.S. passengers. Alaska flew 7 percent of passengers before the pandemic arrived.

The airline industry is fiercely competitive. Alaska, which once partnered with Delta on frequent-flier programs, is now joining the OneWorld Alliance with American Airlines, British Airways and nearly a dozen foreign carriers.

The company’s strategic plan calls for new 737 purchases. That’s good news for our region’s economy and workers because the 737s are assembled in Renton.

A key reason Alaska Air is positioned to better survive is it has consistently been J.D. Power’s choice for “highest customer satisfaction among traditional carriers in North America.” In 2017, The Wall Street Journal has named it the No. 1 overall U.S. carrier, an award it had won since 2013.

A decade ago, regional airlines, such as Alaska, were supposed to fade away or be grabbed up by the big guys. Some industry analysts believed Alaska would not withstand the pressure from low-cost carriers such as Southwest. In fact, the opposite happened. Alaska keeps growing, and industry pioneers, namely TWA, Continental and Northwest, vanished.

Air Transport World stated: “In many respects, Alaska Airlines is the David of a consolidated U.S. airlines industry now dominated by Goliaths who control more than 80 percent of the domestic capacity. But this Seattle-based, fiercely independent carrier is not daunted by the challenges of maintaining its leading place in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.”

ATW said, “Alaska Airlines is a carrier that certainly won’t win awards for patience. ‘If it doesn’t exist, invent it,’ seems to be the modus operandi of the airlines.” For example, Alaska developed the advanced onboard navigation system that allows pilots to fly safely into terrain- and weather-challenged airports such as the one in Juneau.

Just as other iconic Washington companies are known for innovation, it has been vital to Alaska Air. Alaska revolutionized on-line ticketing and check-in. At airports, it relies on passenger-friendly kiosks to move fliers quickly through check-in to boarding flights.

If a problem develops, Alaska moves rapidly to solve it. When it started slipping in baggage performance, Alaska began barcoding every bag going on planes. Rather than waiting for bags to be sorted in terminals, Alaska loads carts from arriving flights and delivers them directly to connecting flights.

Fifty years ago, Boeing, Weyerhaeuser and PACCAR were the “crème de la crème” of Washington’s publicly traded corporations. Twenty-five years ago, Microsoft, Costco and Starbucks joined the list. Now, when people talk about our state’s top businesses, Alaska Airlines is a key part of that conversation.

Don Brunell, retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, is a business analyst, writer, and columnist. He lives in Vancouver and can be contacted at TheBrunells@ msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in Business

Stock photo
Grocery store workers have right to wear Black Lives Matter buttons

National Labor Relations Board ruling against ban by Kroger-owned QFC, Fred Meyer

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Bush’s 9/11 epilogue needs to be America’s prologue

We needed a reminder of the way our country came together after 9/11. We got it from George W. Bush.

Carolynn Bernard, owner and operator of Bless Ewe Sheep Company pets one of the sheep on her farm in Enumclaw on Aug. 17, 2021. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing
COVID, droughts put local sheep sanctuary in jeopardy

Owner Carolynn Bernard took to GoFundMe in hopes of raising money to make it through the winter.

Don Brunell
Recycling batteries key to protecting our planet

Americans already toss about 180,000 tons per year, and electric cars are just hitting the scene.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Stop, Rethink State’s Long Term Care Law | Brunell

People need long term care. But the Washington Cares Act might not be the best answer.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Japan’s hydrogen pilot may work in Washington

The Evergreen state already excels at using renewable energy. What if we added hydrogen to the mix?

A Darigold dairy worker practices picketing as a strike is approved by the union. Photo courtesy of Julia Issa
Puget Sound Darigold workers on verge of strike amid contract negotiations

Workers cite lack of medical leave, outsourcing and bad-faith negotiations as reason for strike.

Don Brunell
Massive reforestation effort needed

Forestry effort would control future wildfires, create jobs and help fight climate change

Don Brunell
Don Brunell
Bumper car therapy | Brunell

The joy of bumping around in the small electric vehicles could mean more than family fun

Don Brunell
Power of Our Interconnected Grid with Ample Supply | Brunell

Cheers to the Pacific Northwest power grid for weathering our recent heat wave

Don Brunell
Family Tree Farms Key to Cutting Greenhouse Gases | Brunell

Small-time tree farmers are the unsung heroes of our healthy forests

Dave and Buster's restaurant and entertainment venue looks to hire 130 people to staff its Bellevue venue, set to open in August. Photo courtesy Dave and Busters.
Dave and Buster’s hiring 130 for August opening in Bellevue

Dave and Buster’s restaurant and entertainment venue opens in downtown Bellevue on… Continue reading