Over the next several weeks, AirlineGeeks staff writers will be completing a series focused on each of the major airlines based in the United States. We will take a closer look into the airline’s history, as well as where the airline stands today in proportion to its competition, and how it will attempt to differentiate itself moving forward in the 21st century.
When Linious McGee founded McGee Airways in 1932, he probably never expected it to get to the point that it currently is today. The original fleet of a single, three seat Stinson airplane has grown into much more than that today. Due to financial issues in 1937, McGee sold his airline to a competitor named Star Air Service. When Star Air started to run into their own financial issues later in 1937, McGee was called back to help manage the struggling airline. In the same year, McGee left the airline business for good when he arranged to sell the airline to a group of investors who hoped to make the airline a major player in the state of Alaska. By 1944, the airline had become known as Alaska Airlines, a name that it still holds today.
As for present day service, Alaska Airlines serves as one of the top rated domestic airlines, especially for those on the west coast. For some passenger comfort is key when choosing an airline, for others in-flight amenities have the upper hand. There are those that like non-stop flights to their destinations, and there are those who choose flights solely based on if they are a mileage plan member with that airline. Alaska Airlines has created a successful niche to appeal to both groups, and it has allowed for the airline to succeed over the last decade.
Alaska serves over 80 destinations from their main hub in Seattle, Washington. To some that may not seem like a large enough selection of destinations, but with a large number of codeshare partners, most destinations are within reach even if it is not directly on Alaska Airlines. The two main codeshare partners for Alaska are two other airlines based in the United States, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Delta and Alaska have slowly begun removing their alliance due in part to Delta’s attempted takeover of travel from Seattle, leaving American as the major player assisting Alaska. Along with their domestic partners, Alaska codeshares with many international airlines as well, including Emirates and Icelandair. Icelandair operates nonstop flights to Iceland from Alaska’s three main hubs in Seattle, Portland and Anchorage. Through Iceland, passengers can connect to many destinations within Europe and add an extra stopover in Iceland for no extra cost. For those who are enrolled in the Alaska Mileage Plus Plan, it is very easy to earn miles on all flights with codeshare partners, with some airlines even giving you double miles just for flying them.
Alaska makes travel very easy with their numerous steps that can help save you time at the airport. With online check-in, in which they were actually the first to invent, you can skip the long lines to print out boarding passes at airports and print them at home or have them sent directly to your smart phone via the Alaska Airlines application. Along with boarding passes, one can pay for checked bags online and select new seats if they wish to do so. In early 2015, Alaska introduced yet another step to save passengers time at the airport. Instead of going to the airport to have your luggage tag printed, passengers flying out of certain airports can self-tag their checked luggage. Self-tagging is not a fancy way of saying that you get to put the big, sticky bag tags onto your suitcase, it is much more convenient than that. For a passenger self-tagging is as simple as printing out the luggage tag, putting it in one of Alaska’s free self-tag holders, and attaching it to their luggage that they wish to check. Even completing these few simple things that they offer can prevent lots of standing in-line while at the airport.
When it comes to in-flight amenities, Alaska has many items that help make the travel process much more enjoyable. Almost all of the aircraft in the fleet are equipped with GoGo In-Flight Wi-Fi to keep passengers connected even at more than thirty-thousand feet. Along with GoGo Wi-Fi, Alaska offers personal entertainment on your own smartphone of tablet. All a passenger has to do to access this feature is to follow a link provided on Alaska’s in-flight entertainment card. Once connected, the passengers are able to view movies and videos, some of which can be accessed for no extra cost. All passengers, no matter what class they are seated in, receive complimentary soft drinks and a small snack package. Like some other airlines, other food options are available for purchase. The food varies per flight, however there are snack boxes that have almost the same contents on all flight. For parents traveling with young kids, it is sometimes hard to find food offerings that the kids will enjoy, but with Alaska, that is not an issue as they offer a snack box made for kids with contents that the younger travelers enjoy. On all regional flights operated by regional-carrier, Horizon Airlines, passengers over the age of 21 are offered complimentary alcoholic beverages.
A large majority of the Alaska Airlines fleet, is outfitted with the new Boeing Sky Interior and Ricaro slimline seats. The Boeing Sky Interior features larger than normal overhead bins on board, LED mood-lighting in the ceiling, plus many other improvements over older Boeing 737s. The Ricaro seats feature winged headrests that are adjustable for extra comfort, and the slim nature of the seats allow for a little extra leg room for those passengers with longer legs. The seats also feature in-seat power that is capable of charging devices that range in size from a smartphone to a laptop.
Even though Alaska provides excellent service and comfort, they are still a growing airline and that shows in places. At some airports, they are placed in the older terminals that lack the luxuries passengers like to take advantage of such as power outlets and dining options. Being a majority West Coast-based airline, their route network in the Midwest and East is fairly weak compared to other airlines in the United States, but this continues to change as they add new airplanes and open up new routes.
What has become surprisingly the biggest challenge for Alaska has been the growth of Delta at its hub in Seattle. For quite some time, Alaska served as the primary carrier for business and leisure travelers based in Seattle. However, Delta now sees the city as a great opportunity for a new hub, and has ramped up efforts to create both domestic and international service from the airport to around the world. It has even offered bonus miles as an added incentive for travelers to abandon their loyalty to Alaska. What is possibly most shocking about this development is that Alaska and Delta used to have a very strategic alliance, which has since deteriorated due to the challenges in Seattle. Alaska has begun ramping up its flights out of both Seattle and Los Angeles to compete with Delta, but faces an uphill battle as it attempts to compete with one of the biggest and most business traveler friendly airlines in the world.
Alaska is a great airline to fly in the United States, and while they may not have the biggest route network, they continue to offer a great experience for those looking to travel on the West Coast. They most certainly face some significant challenges ahead, primarily with Delta operating so heavily now in Seattle. The airline has been able to challenge this by expanding their relationship with both American and Emirates, and is fighting back to keep its growth on track here in the US. While the future may look difficult for Alaska, the airline will continue to serve as a great airline for years to come.
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