Columns 2000

Alaska Airlines gains credibility with me

Alaska Airlines has been getting some pretty bad press lately. As a very recent ex-patriot of a community solely dependent on them to get further than 15 miles out of town, I was routinely more than willing to add my voice to that chorus.  Thanks to the most erratic schedule ever created by man, enhanced by normally marginal summer weather where dense fogs suddenly appear our of nowhere, Alaska Airlines has a reliability factor somewhere south of zero for most Barrow residents.  Such grumblings about our local airlines had not been heard in Barrow since MarkAir attempted to post a round trip ticket to Anchorage at over $1000.

And then I found myself in the position of moving my little family to Anchorage.  Like it or not, I was going to have to trust all my belongings and my animals to Alaska Airlines, the airline that had once lost my baggage four straight trips in a row (though only once was the bag missing for more than a month).

I will be the first to admit that I was a basket case as I approached the Alaska Airlines counter with my four birds and dog.  My friends did their best to pretend they didn’t know who the slightly crazed woman was at the desk. I stood there pigeonholing every person I could find in an Alaska Airlines uniform. I explained how important my animals were to me. I told them how worried I was that they would end up in Dutch Harbor where they would sit on the runway for three days while waiting for someone to enter them into the computer so they could be found. 

The pilot made the mistake of getting off the plane to stretch his legs.  I backed him against the counter and repeated my story.  At this point, my friends mercifully pulled me away before I could be denied boarding based on general mental imbalance.  I waved good-bye to my pets while my stomach tied itself into knots.  After I boarded the plane, one of the ticket agents came on board to tell me that the pilot had taken a personal interest in the animals and would be with them throughout the flight.  Despite knowing that it was highly unlikely he actually had the carry cases in his lap and was comforting the birds with little whispered reassurances, I clung to that mental picture till we landed in Anchorage.

Two friends met me at the airport. I wanted to race immediately to baggage. One friend suggested we wait and make sure we saw the birds unloaded.  We stood at the window and watched as the pilot and copilot emerged, each carrying two bird travel cases. They stood on the tarmac till they were sure the birds had been loaded onto a cart and were being brought to the baggage area.

I felt Alaska Airlines’ credibility soar inside me.  How bad could an airline be that employed pilots like that – pilots who understood just how much those four silly birds meant to someone and went out of their way to deliver them safely.  That feeling was tested four days later when they still couldn’t locate the igloo with all my belongings that had been shipped out of Barrow the same day I left.  Then I looked at my birds playing in their aviary and my dog discovering squirrels in the back yard and figured that they got the important things right and maybe I should cut them some slack.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say that now that I live in Anchorage and don’t have to depend on the morning plane to bring my newspaper.  But still, it’s nice to know there are people like that out there, isn’t it?