Is Alaska Airlines Losing Their Mojo?

Filed Under: Alaska

Alaska Airlines has long been special as far as US airlines go. They’ve been viewed as Seattle’s “hometown airline,” and while other airlines have been devaluing their frequent flyer programs, cutting back on their inflight product, and introducing basic economy, Alaska has kept doing their own thing, which I respect.

But Alaska also faces some real challenges.

Just over a year ago Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America was finalized, so the airlines have been working on streamlining their experiences as much as possible, which is no easy task given the different cultures of the two airlines. Furthermore, Alaska has faced an attack from Delta at their biggest hub in Seattle. While Alaska can compete in terms of their regional route network out of Seattle, they’ll never be Seattle’s global airline in the same way that Delta is trying to be.

Nonetheless Alaska is known for their superior service. Unlike many other airlines, they seem to have employees who actually care. Like any company with thousands of employees, that’s not true across the board, though you’ll find more good employees at Alaska than most other airlines. Not that I put much weight into it, but Alaska has topped J.D. Power’s awards for the past decade when it comes to customer service for traditional North American airlines.

However, it looks like things may slowly be changing, per a story that The Seattle Times ran on Friday, entitled “As Alaska Air cuts costs, employee discontent grows and passenger loyalty is at risk.” If you have the time, it’s a fascinating read. It includes interviews with multiple Alaska employees and customers, and paints a troubling picture about the future of the airline.

For example, there’s this little anecdote regarding Alaska’s attempt at cost cutting with Biscoff cookies, and what flight attendants make of it:

In December, flight attendants rose up against the latest small cost-shaving measure that had been planned for January — taking away the free Biscoff cookies on flights leaving after 10 a.m., a move that would supposedly save $3 million per year.

Employees dubbed the plan Cookiegate, and the company quickly rescinded it after flight attendants complained it would alienate passengers. Management insisted, though, that cabin crew must still try to save money by handing out cookies only if a passenger asks for them, and then only one packet per person.

The story references how during Alaska’s latest round of contract negotiations with pilots they had to go intro arbitration, and the pilots may be bitter about that, along with the fact that their pay rates are 5-6% lower than “the other guys:”

“There’s a lot of anger, despite such a big pay raise,” the captain said. “An attitude of ‘us-versus-them’ has been spooled up all year.”

In part, the anger is stoked by how management refused to negotiate with the pilots union and forced the talks into arbitration.

It’s also because the arbitrator set the pilots’ pay rate 5 to 6 percent lower than at the big three airlines, accepting management’s argument that the smaller carrier needed that break to compete on cost.

While the airline categorically denies it, there’s also the claim that some pilots are deliberately slowing down planes as a way of voicing their displeasure:

More troubling for the company: Some pilots are expressing their displeasure by deliberately slowing down their planes’ ground procedures — spending a few minutes longer than necessary at a choke point between the departure gates and the taxiway at Sea-Tac airport, thereby blocking airplane traffic behind them, or taxiing more slowly to the runway.

“They are intentionally dragging their feet,” said the veteran captain.

In December Alaska did a survey of employees at Alaska, Horizon, and Virgin America, which showed that favorable views of the company were down 13% compared to the previous year across the three brands:

Employees at Horizon were 53 percent favorable, at Virgin 56 percent favorable and at Alaska Airlines 76 percent favorable. That last score was down 10 percent from 2016.

All airlines struggle, though it looks like Alaska has an especially tough road ahead. Historically Alaska has had a better financial performance than most of their peers in the US, and while they’re still making money, the other legacy carriers with their endless fees are starting to do better.

I don’t envy the position Alaska is in. Let’s take the merger out of the equation for a second. Offering a differentiated onboard product, paying employees well, and offering an industry leading frequent flyer program, don’t come cheap. If there’s one thing we’ve seen time and again, it’s that while people are big talkers, very few people are willing to pay a premium for a better economy experience (the exception is when you can buy add-ons). So while many people fly Alaska Airlines, one has to wonder whether they’re able to command a fair revenue premium.

Now add in a merger, a massive problem with their regional subsidiary, and an attack on their hub, and they’re not in an easy situation.

I’m rooting for Alaska Airlines. They’re different than the other guys. I just hope they can balance all their interests while staying true to the airline they are.

What do you make of Alaska’s current situation, especially in light of the merger? Have any Alaska frequent flyers noticed a difference in terms of the experience?

Comments
  1. We went to a wedding in the Pac NW last spring and flew Alaska for the first time ever in first class. The FAs acted like they didn’t care about the passengers at all. I was shocked after having read how great they were.

  2. “If there’s one thing we’ve seen time and again, it’s that while people are big talkers, very few people are willing to pay a premium for a better economy experience ”

    That’s true. It’s also why airlines should try to compete by offering a better economy experience *without* charging more for it. The way to do this is not to spend money on perks like cookies and free meals, but to focus on the basics of customer engagement: employee attitude, and conveying a generous, welcoming feeling (as opposed to money-grubbing, greedy and penny-pinching).

    For instance, when I choose among United, American, Jet Blue, Virgin and Delta for my transcon trips, the economy price for a nonstop is often comparable across all of them. So I choose the airlines that are least likely to have surly FAs, and where I can still choose an aisle seat for free. Jet Blue and Virgin win (followed by Delta) – and it’s not because those airlines provide perks and amenities that cost them more money than UA and AA spend. It’s because their employees are generally polite and upbeat, and the overall experience is far less agony-inducing than on UA and AA.

    (One small example: My Delta flight a while back was delayed by an hour or so. Delta staff at JFK came around the gate area handing out cookies and snacks. I couldn’t have cared less about the actual food items – but the generosity and sense of empathy was appreciated, and struck me as far different from anything I’d ever experienced on UA or AA.)

  3. I switched the bulk of my domestic travel to Alaska last year, going from Platinum Exec at AA to 75K at Alaska. I have not noticed the issues listed above. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. So far, happy with my decision.

  4. I’ve flown AS a few times in the past 24 months. Honestly, I saw no difference between their FAs and those with AA or UA. To me that’s not a negative: currently, anything above active disdain is a win in economy to my mind. Right now everyone in the US seems to be providing “decent” service and selling on price and routes. Since all other things are pretty much equal, I’ve been trying to switch to AS to use The Mileage Plan.

    I hear Delta is worth the premium for their fantastic service. Maybe I’ll give them a shot to see what the fuss is about.

  5. Alaska’s transcon operation is in shambles at the moment. The JFK terminal move has been a complete disaster (allegedly American/Delta told them to pack up and leave after the merger was announced), leaving tech-savvy Virgin fliers with an overcrowded, disgusting, cramped terminal with no restaurants, no precheck, no lounge, no dedicated fast lane security, and a single concession stand that’s actually run out of coffee (the pilots were quite vocal on my recent transcon about them running out after waiting in line for 30 minutes.) I’d imagine JetBlue has pretty much pillaged the VX transcon business. For east coast fliers the merger has entirely ruined the passenger experience, and it’s almost shocking how nobody at Alaska seemed to see it coming.

    I don’t understand Alaska’s long-term goal or positioning. VX’s most valuable asset was its brand, which they’ve squandered (I’d imagine most VX fliers just moved over to JetBlue, Southwest, or Delta especially given the aforementioned merger troubles.) They don’t provide the value of Southwest (companion pass + checked bags), the robust route network of the legacies, the el-cheapo pricing of Spirit/Frontier, or the premium experience of JetBlue. That leaves their really awesome frequent flier program that’s dropping partners, and really good customer service that now seems to be in jeopardy. While other airlines are entering lucrative aspirational partnerships and building loyalty with perks, Alaska seems to be arguing over whether or not a passenger should get a biscoff cookie like it’s 2003 or something.

  6. While I had heard good things about Alaska Airlines in the past, the first time I ever flew them was the single worst experience I’ve ever had flying. Flying out of Mexico, they gave up my seat to another passenger even after I had already checked in and had been at the gate for over an hour with my boarding pass and seat assignment. It also involved a gate agent being bribed right in front of me. They ended up re-accommodating me, but it involved an extra transfer and I arrived at my destination 6+ hours later than anticipated. While that was infuriating enough, the worst part was, after reaching out to their customer care department, they “investigated” the matter and claimed that the agents in Mexico did nothing wrong. For that reason, I will never fly Alaska again.

  7. Even though there’s cost-cutting being implemented by AS mgmt, their F prices are up $200-$500 when compared to last year for the same routes.

    Yes, oil is not cheap like last year. But wow! A $950 F flight is now $1750.

  8. Loyal AS family here — all Golds. However I shot for and made Diamond on Delta this year and prefer the Delta in-air experience.

    The only reason we stay with AS is the huge flexibility to change paid and mileage tickets on a whim, online, for free. Delta makes me call in, and gives me a hassle over changing paid tickets. So for now, we are flying AS on paid tickets and then when Delta has cheaper fares by 25-50% (getting very common) then we go with Delta, preferably on mileage tickets.

    The other factor is Delta is greedy with Unaccompanied Minors and that swings our equation by $150 in Alaska’s favor (free for MVPs, not needed at 13+).

    The rules change every year and we might too.

  9. After the merger I kept wondering what their plan was, hoping that a big transformation was underway. But no. It’s like they bought the beginnings of a national network but they’re still stuck in the Seattle-centric mentality. Honestly I think their long history of captive repeat customers made them ill-preparted to compete. And, y’know, believe the old industry whine about “Economy passengers won’t pay one single dollar for a better experience” at your own peril. I regularly pay extra to fly JetBlue because a 6 hour transcon flight in Economy just goes by so much quicker when there’s live sports on the seatback IFE and free Wi-Fi on board.

  10. The weird thing is that they paid an exorbitant amount to acquire VX and now they’re saving money on cookie cuts. What they should’ve done is keep the VX brand (and maybe even change their company to that, the way US Air did when acquiring American.)

  11. I would expect that things will stay rough during the integration. I don’t remember a merger that went completely smooth. Overall it’s been mostly good from my experience – with some stumbles.

    I’m just glad they probably won’t look at making any changes to Mileage Plan for a while.

  12. Gold 75K and hadn’t experienced any negative trend as far as I could tell (very satisfied). And as far as those dry, hard, tasteless cookies that I always throw away, I would have been excited to see them dumped; I’d rather eat the in-flight magazine.

  13. Alaska is the mistress that wants to be your girl friend but you (third person you= blogger) use her like cheap whore (mileage plan) and then tell your friends(readers of the blog) how to do it too.

    No wonder a few times bitten now very shy! Let’s just hope she didn’t get any diseases.

  14. “If there’s one thing we’ve seen time and again, it’s that while people are big talkers, very few people are willing to pay a premium for a better economy experience (the exception is when you can buy add-ons).”

    Again this cannot be overstated! I understand the FAs’ frustration here. Guess who has to deal with tighter seats, smaller seat pitch, reduced amenities and nickeling & diming, flight attendants and gate agents. People are more irritable and most likely take that out on the front line staff, but as long as that quote above is true, there will never be an incentive for an airline to revert. What is the measurable economic impact of a disgruntled work force, and how does that impact measure up to spending more money on the customer experience?

  15. The big difference between AS and the other guys, particularly UA, becomes clear when something goes wrong. AS employees are bright, engaged and empowered to solve problems. I’ve seen it time and time again.

    Contrast that with UA where I was a 100k flyer before they even had a 1k program, earned my 1M status more than twenty years ago and when something went wrong at their end they were either unwilling and/or unable to deal with it as they admitted they had messed up (like cancelling booked reservations on a partner).

    I’m willing to pay a premium to fly AS and will continue to do so for as long as they continue to have great people because the service I value, dealing with the inevitable problems that come up with air travel, is there.

  16. @snic So true.

    @Lucky, I have no idea what this differentiated product is even supposed to be?

    No screens. Awful VOD to go along with it.

    Terrible buy on board other than the fruit and cheese.

    Ridiculously priced extra legroom seats?

    The FAs are good, indeed up there with JetBlue, the remaining bits of Virgin. And yes, on balance marginally more pleasant than Delta (which obliterates UA and AA on this metric) perhaps.

    There is no differentiated product that matters to me. If I fly JetBlue I get snacks, legroom, satellite TV and also nice FAs. If I fly Delta, I get often free food, screens/power everywhere and also nice FAs.

    Alaska has a good program for earning FF miles by flying. But to earn *those particular miles* (vs. those earned elsewhere) you have to spend lots of time on Alaska. Umm… yeah.

  17. ” very few people are willing to pay a premium for a better economy experience.”

    Why why why? Don’t people understand that you get what you pay for?

    Just flew AS to Hawaii. 32″ pitch in Y plus power outlet AND USB charging port in each seat, plus free movies on board even when wifi doesn’t work over the Pacific ocean. I’ll prefer AS over HA and WN just for these amenities alone. And friendly flight attendants both directions. Mahalo!

  18. Long time Alaska-based AS FF. I have sent two letters to AS concerning the past 2-3 years and my growing distaste with AS and their seeming change in corporate attitude. AS has not responded to my two letters, multiple tweets or comments via their bot Jenn. That in itself is very unlike the AS I grew up and have traveled on for 30+ years. To preface this, I believe it is management problem, starting with Brad Tilden, not the FAs, Pilots, Ground Crew or Customer Service Agents as they have not changed. They used to have the power and authority to make situation ‘right.’ That power has been removed as I have been told a few times recently they can’t do anything to help me. Who should then?

    AS management seems to be mainly concerned with attracting new customers, assuming existing AS flyers will either stick with them or are forced to do so due to location. I have seen status-match offers, status for getting good grades??, status for being a Seahawks fan over the past few years. What I haven’t seen is any increase in value for existing AS customers and FF. All we AS FF received the past few years where less upgrades due to status-matched flyers making the upgrade list also. Alaska isn’t all-bad, but they have always been a step apart from other carriers, I now feel they are changing it from the big three to the big four.

    AS does offer service to many remote or non serviced communities in Alaska and the West Coast, but keep in mind they are subsidized to do so by the Federal Government based on essential services (milk-run, mail, etc). I believe their assumption is wrong as myself and other Alaska-based AS FF i know are done only searching AS.com like sheep. Pursuing status for free-cancellations is wasted effort and $.

    I have moved my $ to Delta and no longer hold AS status, which I did for years. AS status from a flying stand-point is almost worthless other than allowing free cancellations; which is wonderful. Otherwise AS F hard product is terrible. The food was getting better (start Chef Douglas), but food in the past 6-9 months has been absolutely terrible. I’ve recently had two cross-country flights in F where we where served a salad with a roll, while they served warm sandwiches in the back (for a small fee..hehe). When I look at cost of F on AS I really can’t even see the value other than if it is a free upgrade. The bathroom is closer I guess. Hell, all you have to do to board the plane prior to a full fare F seat is wear a Seahawks Jersey.

    To now hear they will be swindling flyers out of included amenities and expecting them to know to ask for a cookie, versus be handed one says a lot about their current line of thinking (reminds me of olive-gate on UA I think?). If they think $3 million will change their balance sheet enough to off-set loss of almost blind following they are the blind ones. I love Alaska, it has my damn Eskimo on the tail, but like most real Alaskans and real frequent flyers everywhere there are too many choices that are easy to source (alliances) and use that loyalty is now truly earned not once, but every time one flies.

  19. I agree that AS employees are very well trained and they have attitudes to help you out when you are in trouble. I only flew them couple of times because I am stuck in DFW. But one time when AA screwed up my award ticket on AS, an AS agent went above and beyond. She called AA agents several times and made sure AA issued the correct ticket for me. Another time I had an issue with a ticket, I called in and the phone agent was extremely helpful. The inflight experience may not be that different since you normally don’t interact with FAs that much. But when things go wrong, AS employees can really take care of you. Even if I live in DFW and it’s dominated by AA and SWA, I go out of my way to fly AS or VA if there is a direct flight.

  20. I’m surprised that Alaska never pursued experimenting with long-haul trans-pacific or even European flights considering their position in Seattle. They could have easily followed Westjet’s model (another predominantly domestic/US carrier based in Calgary) by leasing a couple of 767s or 787s and starting one or two long-haul non-stop flights to NRT or HND and then building out from there. Now they’re in a tough position to defend their SEA hub from DL’s attack.

  21. I’m 75k, and aside from Horizon no longer doing a beverage service, I have not noticed anything bad or any difference at all really.

  22. I was EP with AA and switched to AS last year. Have flown over 100K miles on AS so far and my experience is quite the opposite. Clearly, they are having integration challenges, but every airline gone through a big merger had to go through this.

  23. I’ve flown Alaska and had no problems but I confess I’m a Delta captive. Always have had good service with Delta. Seems like these mergers tend to bite them in the you know what in the long run. I wish Alaska well but the Virgin thing sorta concerns me.

  24. 30 years ago, Alaska was well known for its meals on West Coast routes, including the prayer card and the lobster stew. It also equipped its planes with HUD and Cat III landing for foggy weather, unlike some airlines.
    Now it stays ahead of the rest with its sometimes friendly staff, better frequent flyer program, 20 minute bag guarantee, credit given if airfares go down and you ask for it, etc.

    I found the check in staff helpful for IROPS, more so than FA friendliness in the cabin. I don’t get mad if the FAs are dictators, even though they’re not.

    AS has a tough road ahead but it could very well survive the fight.

  25. Add me to the list of former AS loyalists based in Seattle. When their fares in economy are good, you can usually expect a pleasant trip with friendly FA’s – no complaints there. However, where they really fall on their face is first class. To begin with, fares are frequently double what other carriers are charging on the same route, for what is in large part the same product. On top of that, there’s no meal choices except for a few “beta” routes that you’re on your own to investigate to see if you can choose a meal or not. My wife is vegetarian and gets treated like crap by most of the first class FA’s when she asks if she can substitute a cheese plate. I’m sorry, but when you’re paying $1k+ for a first class seat to Cabo, can’t they sub in a $7 cheese plate without making an ordeal about it? The responses have ranged from “I don’t want to take any of them away from the other passengers” to “I can get you one, but you’ll have to pay for it.” Half the time they end up giving her one for “free”, but not after the requisite scolding. It definitely seems like Alaska makes a point of putting their most surly FA’s in first class.

    The new and newly remodeled Alaska lounges are still nothing to write home about either. They seem to think that having a pancake machine makes them special, while completely ignoring the fact that Delta and Amex have vastly superior lounges in the same airport. My Alaska lounge membership is expiring this year and I will not be renewing it.

    I was really hoping the competition from Delta would force them to up their game and modernize their experience, but it seems like they’re just staying the course and assuming that misguided hometown loyalty is all they need to get through this little rough patch.

  26. I’m a multi-year Gold on AS. It appears that many of those commenting don’t fly Horizon frequently. I would agree that service on mainline flights is similar to pre-merger, but Horizon’s performance on the other hand has been an unmitigated disaster.

    I fly 40+ segments a year on Horizon, in 2017 more than 50% of my flights saw significant delays or cancellations…. and I don’t fly out of Portland often, which had substantially more issues than Seattle. Frequent rolling delays, lack of in-flight service due to “turbulence”, last minute cancellations with rebookings having 6+ hour differentials from the scheduled flight time. Really the words above don’t do it justice, you had to live it… month after month after month.

  27. I have been a very long flying Virgin America customer. I was short by 3000 miles of being MVP Gold and they did not even give me MVP. On top of that, they said that I could pay $480 for the 3000 miles and get gold. Seriously? It costs about $50 normally. Add to the fact that there is no more 24 hour ahead upgrades (how are we supposed to prepare food), I am now with Delta. Even if I have to take a connection, I will use up my alaska points and bid them adu. They messed up!!!

  28. ALASKA, how do you disappoint me? Let me count the ways . . .

    Let me start by saying that I am/was a Virgin America flyer. Both my wife and I have “elite” status with Virgin America — she Silver, me Gold — and have for several years. When the merger/takeover of Virgin American (VX) and Alaska (AS) was announced, initially I was concerned what Alaska would do to my all-time favorite. That said, I truly believe that AS has done a pretty outstanding job overall of welcoming Virgin fliers in the the Alaska “family” . . . even granting us MVP and MVP Gold, respectively. Until, that is, now and the EPIC FAILURE of a flight.

    Due to our status, AS upgraded us to what they call their “Premium Class” seats in Economy. According to the Alaska website, the benefits are: 4″ more legroom (a nice benefit when on a 4+ hour flight); complimentary cocktails, hand-selected wine and beer; free soft drinks, juices, and Starbucks coffee to wet your whistle; and meals for purchase inspired by award-winning chef Tom Douglas

    Additionally, the flight crew passed out little “snack boxes” to everyone in “Premium Class.” Of course neither I nor my wife received a “snack box,” and when I pointed out to a flight attendant that we hadn’t, she looked up at the overhead bin and said, “Oh. Yes, you *are* in Premium.” And that was that.

    Rather than offering a meal option on our international flight, and again, I would call your attention to the menu in the setback pocket that showed the options for flights “To Mexico/Costa Rica,” the only choice any of the passengers had in Economy was an inedible bean-filled burrito with perhaps a teaspoon of ground beef in it (so they could get away with calling it a beef burrito, but trust me, it wasn’t!), an ice-cold packet of mild salsa, and a hard-as-a-rock, stale dessert “twist” (I suppose it was supposed to be reminiscent of a churro, but biting into one could break a tooth!).

    The in-flight team (at least outside of First Class) universally had the sort of demeanor that “dared” the customer to ask a question. (Remember “Taxi Driver”? “You talkin’ to ME?”) During the meal service (of the inedible bean burrito), the FA literally said to my wife and I, “You want this or not?” A lukewarm bean-filled burrito, a cold packet of “salsa,” and a stale “dessert”? (Oh, how could one refuse such an enticing meal?) Is THIS the sort of Customer Service that Alaska is proud of??? And whoever decided that serving a bean burrito to people inside a sealed metal tube?

    If I wanted no-frills, I’d be flying Spirit!

    My theory is that, if your catering service — for whatever reason — FAILS to properly provision a flight, at least inform the passengers in the gate area so that they might have an opportunity to avail themselves of some of the “to go” food options offered within the departure airport.

    Additionally, it wasn’t until we were already onboard that we discovered it was necessarily to download an “app” from GoGo onto our phones, should we wish to view any of your streaming entertainment on board. A little late for that, wasn’t it??? (Fortunately I had a good book.)

    Furthermore, this is an extraordinary come-down from Virgin America — not only in terms of Customer Service, but in terms of on-board catering and the quality of the food/snacks available to passengers.

    I have flown Virgin America on more than 120 flight segments. I’ve flown Southwest a total of 72 times. And Alaska? Ten. Ten times. And this was seriously one of the worst flights I have been on, on ANY airline! If this is what I should be expecting from Alaska in the future, please tell me why I shouldn’t revery to Southwest? At least I won’t be disappointed when all I receive onboard is peanuts!

  29. I have to say I love those cookies. I stay with alaska because they have a true miles for miles award earning plan

  30. I don’t know how @Mark is saying extra legroom seats are “ridiculously priced” when, depending on the route, they are more reasonable than UA/AA/DL. A $25 extra legroom seat on other legacies would be $15 for AS and you’d get a small snack box and a free premium drink…

    As for @alpha, the assertion for VX fliers is mostly wrong. Most VX fliers are based in the west, esp. CA so JetBlue’s schedule is a bit weak and at times even inconvenient, unless you live near-ish Long Beach. Southwest would be a more natural fit for VX fliers who prefer Virgin but at the end of the day want the best schedule for the lowest prices and direct service from California (with a little pep and cheer).

    The VX merger for VX fliers, at least anecdotally, isn’t too bad. The double terminal situation at SFO is annoying and the Northwest cool kind of friendliness is different from VX’s California playful happiness, but otherwise it’s been fine and most of my friends like the expansion of flights, free snacks, etc.

  31. @Ron is pretty on the nose. There is a definite difference between Horizon/Skywest Crews and Mainline Crews. Mainline crews are pretty awesome and friendly. My last AS flight which was a Horizon flight was awesome but she is the exception, not the norm.

    I’d say Alaska Mainline >>>> Horizon > Skywest. I don’t know what they teach at Skywest but generally they are no frills and frumpy whether it’s AS, AA, or UA

  32. If (and when?) they go to a revenue based “miles”/points earning formula, they will have lost their mojo.

  33. This is the company that until recently forced religious propaganda on paying passengers. Creepy.

  34. Alaska’s communication has become appalling. I had an award flight ticketed and confirmed for a flight last October. Someone decided the routing was invalid and cancelled the flight coupon but no-one contacted me. In fact I was informed several times to call regarding flight time changes! At the airport my luggage was checked, boarding pass issued and I realised there was no flight coupon issued only after checking at the gate after another (late) flight change.
    Ransom payment was demanded then and there in miles or dollars.
    I called Customer Care on Oct 16 and was told it was an epic fail (their words).
    No reply from 4 subsequent emails until today when they told me that they contacted me on Oct 16!!! (My call to them). As I replied today:
    “But yet again there was NO communication with me, no attempt at an apology…..and my complaint was about your total FAIL to communicate in the first place!”

  35. The AS-VX merger was really unfortunate. AS paid far more than they could afford simply because they had to block JetBlue from getting Virgin. That would have given customers another true full-service network carrier to compete with AA/UA/DL, which could then expand internationally. Never mind the fact that the VX and B6 fleets and cultures were much more compatible.

    Instead, AS will be forced to cut costs and service quality, all to simply remove customer choice and competition.

  36. Even the current messaging failed to communicate. At least it acknowledges that I rang to confirm the original booking just prior to flying!
    ” Looks like you had duplicate cases. xxxxxxx was the original and the notes stated to let you know if there was any changes to your reservation XXXXXX back on 10/10/17 -Sean”
    Of course no communication!
    Me: ” All I requested was some follow up. You have email, home phone and cell on record”

  37. I am a 10-year AAA XP who did AA status match to MVP 75k last year. Everything was going good until I moved to Ashland Oregon, where my Alaska flights are service by Horizon through Portland or Seattle. Those flights times are absolutely horrible, like 5 a.m. departures. Every single Airline flying out of Medford has a first class cabin accept Alaska Horizon . It is getting unacceptable . And then the 3-hour aits to go almost anywhere. And the reduction of service, like no more Medford to LAX. I give the Alaska FAs and phone staff big credit. There are management problems in Seattle. I too have sent many letters of complaints about scheduling and service issues, never to get a reply. I qualified for legitimate MVP 75k this year, but like many on this blog I am thinking of going to the cheapest first class flights no matter who the airline. Also the loss of Delta and American frequent flyer Partnerships was big for me.

  38. And the acknowledgment that Senior Management are (3 months later) looking into it (Mirror, mirror……):
    “We’re very sorry about the confusion. I can assure you that our Leadership team has reviewed all cases and is in the works of re-training our Reservations agents for proper issuing/re-issuing of tickets. -Suli”

  39. Being resident outside the US my primary focus is the once excellent, now just OK, MileagePlan program. I have has some great redemptions in the past but similar ones these days have dried up as MP loses partners, and other long-term partners clearly withhold premium seats across their entire roster.
    It’s also ‘buyer beware’ of the insidious Mixed Cabin logo, whereby you may think you are buying a all-First or all-Business award, but the only premium sector is a miniscule one, usually a start/end add-on to the main event. Or even worse, a transpac First award (hens-teeth rare!) add-on, like LAX-JFK is now AS, not Qantas or American as before! And here’s the kicker, it’s always in Coach! On their own metal! ALASKA MEANNESS HAS NO BOUNDS! It really is about time Alaska started putting some pressure on their partners to allocate them some decent award inventory to sell. After all, no-one walks into a shop with nothing decent on the shelves, right?

  40. West Coast gal born and raised, and 25+ year flyer of AS. Not elite in any way, but was extremely loyal. Moved to YEG 15 years ago, and kept with AS because I love Mileage Plan and AS customer service. That said, Horizon’s YEG –> SEA flight is horribly uncomfortable and shabby (cracked leather seats… cmon!). I constantly forgave them, because it’s 1.5 hours and I’m not that picky.

    This past Christmas, one of my AS flights was cancelled, and they booked me on Delta YEG–>SEA. I didn’t know why, but it happens every once in awhile and they were gracious about booking Delta because this was a companion pass flight (normally only AS metal). Wow, what an eye opener. The Delta flight (or whatever their regional is that flies the route) was SO comfortable comparatively. I got home to find that not only was my Xmas morning route cancelled, but every YEG–>SEA morning route in 2018 was cancelled. This means that unless I’m flying a high traffic route from SEA, like LAX or SFO, I’m going to have to spend the night in SEA. Really, really pisses me off and it’s making me choose another airline after 25 years.

    It makes me sad, too, because AS customer service is great (like booking me on Delta so I wouldn’t miss Xmas with my grandma… likely her last) and I love Mileage Plan. But I can’t spend overnight in SEA every flight back and forth to the States. Such a damn shame.

  41. honestly, Ive flown with them and didnt find anything special, and them ending Virgin America left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Fly with JETBLUE though and you’ll notice a HUGE difference comparing to the other airlines.

  42. My husband and I are very frequent fliers on Alaska at least a couple of flights per month. All year we maybe had 1 flight delayed and not one canceled flight (knock on wood). But over the last month everyone that has come to visit us in Seattle has had one nightmare flight delay after another… then this weekend my sister had a delay on all 4 of her flight segments from Wenatchee to San Diego and back, which ended up being Wenatchee to Phoenix because of flight delays that led to missed flights. There was no reason given for these delays. Now we’re sitting in San Diego and suddenly our flight from San Diego to Austin is delayed an hour and a half for no specified reason other than awaiting the incoming aircraft. I’m not sure if Pilot shenanigans are behind these delays. But whatever it is they need to get their shit together. I will say I have had nothing but wonderful service from 99% of the flight attendants that have been on our flights so at least they still have that going for them!

  43. 75k annually since before 75k existed. seattle based with 12-14 flight to east coast yearly, another 8-10 to CA and a smattering of other.

    feature that keeps me, no change fees all fares guaranteed – change that and I am delta.

    I have personal experiences that are very different from much of what I read. I also have some concerns over the past year. I do fly on free upgrades about 50% of the time, so my flying experience is tainted. if not in F then I have exit row or a quality seat in PE. I also have all the security perks which I think can negatively impact a flyers mood by the time they get on board if hey don’t have it.

    I don’t think jet blue is anything better, unique or special, nor are they terrible like UA or AA.

    I once had a red eye connection via SFO to BOS. Air Traffic control delayed the AS originating flight and I was about to miss my connection. Before the gate announcement was made I was already speaking with an AS ground agent and she slipped me across to AS nonstop without a fare increase even though it was a much more expensive flight. My 5 year old saw me on time as scheduled, and you can’t buy that.

    Leaving Boston last year our flight was delayed due to pilots scheduling issues. AS handed everybody an apology letter as they boarded. The pilot was very apologetic and so was the crew. We were 3 hours late. I had a $100 voucher in my email as did every passenger on the flight when we landed.

    Leaving Boston last year catering hadn’t arrived and we were already 30 minutes late. The crew was contemplating options in the front Galley, I was in 1C. The pilot suggested taking a credit card and buying all the water that was at the concession stand so folks could stay hydrated. There wasn’t enough water to buy! Finally catering came. Catering not arriving is not an airlines fault, but AS crew acted as they were empowered to create solutions. Those are employee’s any company would want.

    Leaving LAX last year we were 30 minutes late, catering had not arrived. The pilot got on the intercom and explained that he didn’t want to hold up the entire flight for catering as there was enough beverage on board for our 130 minute flight. He offered any passenger the ability to leave the plane and be accommodated on another flight if they objected to flying without food. Nobody left. The staff was extra wonderful on the flight. We arrived within 10 minutes of our schedule. Another empowered crew providing service when they did not have to do so.

    I deplane in Seattle, walk to baggage claim. it is rare I wait more than 5 minutes and I sit in F. I don’t get that at LAX, SFO, JFK, BOS or anywhere. You do get it with Cathay F though!

    SO what’s bad? You can tell that crews are concerned with the company integration as they go through with the merger. It’s important to them. It’s their livelihood. 5+ hours in a tube and you’re gonna get some of those vibes. But you also get crews dressed up for Christmas and New Years’/ You get toddlers taken on garbage runs putting recycling in the bags. And when yo fly as much as I do for as long as I have you even get recognized now and again.

    Time and time again I have heard and seen cheese platters from the main cabin offered and delivered to vegetarian F flyers without the passenger having to ask first.

    Horizon still offers free drinks, but sometimes during short turbulent flights they do not offer anything and the FA stay seated by pilot order.

    I am very concerned about the inability to use mileage to get to Europe after KLM/AF left (luckily I already had this summer covered). The headrests are not in good enough working order just a bit too often and this really gets me upset. I think it is time to think about some larger aircraft, Gate slots are already hard enough to come by. That will help lower ticket prices. Prices have gone up but flights are running at 95%+.

    Jet Blue and Alaska are the logical merger that will happen next. Look at how little overlap there is. How will Alaska and Jet Blue compete against Delta, American and United in their respective hubs in the coming years? They will need each other and Alaska’s mileage program will win out again, they just need a couple more partners especially for Europe. I am rooting for Turkish, SAS, Swiss, and maybe something kooky like Ethiopian.

  44. To compete Alaska needs to become another Soutwest and merge with JetBlue and maybe Hawaiian. And they should have kept the Virgin brand.

  45. I started out loyal to Delta in the ’80s, was forced by my employer to go to United in the early ’90s and ran back to Delta as soon as I could. They were amazing. But then they started to suck and, living near PDX I became a loyal AS flyer in the late ’90s. The love affair continued even when I moved to SFO, which was painful, as they had little presence there in ’09 when I moved. But that I moved to the east coast to an AA hub and I was forced to the dark side. Yes, AA sucks and yes, I’m somewhat loyal to them.

    Here are my takeaways — AS is, as other posters said, amazing when things go wrong. AA stranded me overnight 4 times in ’16. I had to ping them every time suggesting they owed me something, to which they might respond with 10K points if I was lucky and persistent. One delay on AS this year and I received a $250 voucher without asking.

    I will pay more to get more, but upgrades are nearly impossible on AS even at MVP Gold 75K because they have people on every route who fly weekly and I don’t. And the killer for me is that I can often buy a seat in F on AA for only slightly more than coach on AS. So I buy the F seat on the crappy airline. F on AA beats coach on AS – at least when they don’t strand me somewhere. Although for the record, this week I’m flying virgin in paid F.

  46. AA EXP based out of DTW (Delta fares consistently 50 to 100 % more than AA). Status matched to AS for this year, but now splitting time in the southwest. Very difficult to get back and forth to DTW as needed without overnight stay in SEA or PDX and prices higher than AA. Sigh, guess I will stay on AA and use my AS status/upgrades for cheaper trip in F to KOA this year.

  47. It’s interesting: every time we return from an international First class experience on an international partner carrier, and connect back to PDX on AS, we know not to expect the same level of experience, and have even mentioned once or twice that we were dreading it, and making ourselves feel better by saying “at least it’s a short flight.”

    We couldn’t have been more wrong: on the past three ‘transitions from int’l F to AS F, we have been VERY pleasantly surprised: attentiveness, genuine smiles, caring attitude and twice seeing AS FA’s in F assist Y passengers – that’s classy. They were engaged in conversation, asked about our trip and gave the same great service to the rest of the cabin.

    Expectations exceeded, so perhaps a few bad apples are trying to sour he rest, but we as passengers don’t have to believe everything we read.

  48. @schar —> While I agree with you re: the ***ever-increasing*** “bitter taste” re: the demise of VX and the quality/experience it provided its passengers, jetBlue is simple NOT a viable option for most West Coast-based fliers.

    As has been mentioned previously, jetBlue flies to only FIVE non-stop destinations from SFO (LGB, LAS, FLL, BOS, and JFK). Compare this to VX/AS out of SFO: AUS, BWI, BOS*, CUN, ORD, DAL, DEN, FLL*, HNL, IND, OGG, MCI, KOA, LAS*, LAX (far more convenient than LGB), MEX, MSP, BNA, MSY, EWR, JFK, MCO, PSP, PHL, PHX, PDX, PVR, RDU, SLC, SAN, SJD, SNA, SEA, DCA, and IAD. That’s 35 destinations, with only four overlaps (five if you think LAX and LGB are the same place). And the story is the same out of the other two SF Bay Area airports, OAK and SJC.

    Further, these are just the non-stops — other destinations are available with a connection via VX/AS. On jetBlue, it’s often the case that “you can’t get there from here” — they won’t book you as a connection, you need to book two separate itineraries. So, for example, in order for me to fly from SFO to MEX, I have to make two reservations: 1) SFO-FLL; 2) FLL-MEX. Makes no sense.

    NOW . . . if I lived in New York, it’s a no-brainer! And certainly MINT is outstanding! But when a majority of my flights tend to be up and down the West Coast, flying jetBlue is simply not an option . . . though I certainly wish it was!

  49. @Bill Bellevue —> In an ideal world, yes: jetBlue would take over AS and switch the corporate culture and in-flight experience to something far more like B6/VX than AS, while keeping the various AS airline partnerships. Were it only so.

    As for jetBlue being no big deal, I’ll take Mint over any other domestic FC seat in the sky. Now, admittedly I’m only an MVP Gold, and *that* is thanks to my VX status. When flying AS, I too have been upgraded about 50% of the time — either to FC or PE — but FC hasn’t been worth the difference for me to consider ever paying for! VX puts it to shame, both for the F&B service, the IFE (there have *never* been any tablets handed out on any AS flight I’ve ever taken to access their in-flight streaming service), as well as the friendliness of the in-flight team . . . regardless of fare class!

  50. The problem is simple: Airlines are competing for these priorities in the order listed:

    1. Profit (Shareholder value maximization)
    2. Customer experience

    Until that trend changes for American corporations, large airlines in the US will not have great service. In my eyes, it’s that simple. Alaska used to be a smaller airline, which is why they cared about customer experience (to get more customers on board). Once they have enough customers and are big enough, they will move to priority #1: Profit.

  51. I’m a very frequent Alaska flyer and just attended MVP Gold for the 1st time. Most flying up & down the west coast or inner-mountain west but I do take 3-4 cross-country trips a year usually to BOS on AS non-stop PDX-BOS service. Overall I’m very happy with AS and have experienced nothing but outstanding flight crews and gate agents all who I’ve encountered are friendly, helpful and seem to enjoy their work. When I’ve been upgraded to 1st the service has always been above and beyond.

    I lived through the worse-than-horrible United-Continental merger when I was based in DEN so AS-VX so far has been nothing remotely close to that disaster. I did fly a mixed AS/VIX itinerary with AS to SFO, VX onward and had no issues. I’ve flown VX a few times and liked the product.

    My only real concern is the cutback on the US domestic FF partnerships. Understandable with DL with the SEA competition, but I don’t get AS’s logic on AA reduction. It’s great AS is growing and can boast 118 destinations, however outside the West Coast hubs AS/VX has 1 or maybe 2 daily flights and if they don’t work for me, there’s not a great viable alternative and nothing domestic that will work to get AS miles. Also now to get AS miles on AA flights they have to have an AS flight number which are limited and more expensive. I can and do use WN where I need to but would prefer to use AS.

  52. @Steveflyer I agree with you I lived through the United merger while living in Denver and this mergers is night and day different. But then again Alaska is a much better airline than United ever was. As for the AA/KLM/AF changes those were because AA not AS. When AS was just a PNW regional carrier it made sense for AA to partner with them now that they are getting bigger they are too much competition.

  53. A few more items about “…the little airline that thinks they invented First Class.”
    – Seattle’s hometown airline? Wrong. If so, drop Alaska and insert SEATTLE AIRLINES
    – The JD Power Award can be purchased on line. No big deal.
    – Who cares about Biscoff cookies? Just more items for the entitled flight attendents
    to take off the aircraft.
    – Lucky is “routing for Alaska” ? We don’t see you enjoying their worthless trans-con
    service, or their limited Board Rooms.
    – DL doesn’t want Alaska
    – @Terry R: LOL. “….Senior mgt is looking into it….” Right. That’s a tired, worn out line.

  54. Alaska has made an effort to improve the inflight product in coach. Four years ago, pretty much the only IFE on an AS flight was to rent a digeplayer. Now, there is extensive free streaming entertainment fleet wide, albeit on your own device. Also there is power/usb charging at every seat on nearly every aircraft. Wifi still needs to be improved, but that is in progress. There are some new upgraded beverage options as well. Overall, the Y product is behind B6, but still better than AA/UA IMHO.

    Operationally, AS is still a pretty good airline. Sure, they struggled a bit in 2017, but still did better than most airlines. The latest WSJ survey put them a close second behind DL, but ahead of every other US carrier. B6 actually finished last in terms of operational performance! AS still has an amazing record for on-time reliability when you look at the last 9 years. I think the main things AS has going for it are operational reliability, good customer service, and Mileage Plan.

  55. The issue I see is the leaving of all the partner airlines and not being part of an alliance. I fly them a lot to help me internationally. Now I’m looking at finding an alliance that I can actually use my points with

  56. @Jarrod —> Part of the ATTRACTION of Alaska for me *is* that they are not part of any alliance, but rather that they have partnerships/codeshare agreements with all three major alliances.

    OK. So Delta, in all they predatory “bullying,” moved into SEA ostensibly to work *with* AS to increase customer traffic across the Pacific . . . we know now that was bull$#|+, and they’ve cut all ties with AS. Owning a hefty chunk of AeroMexico, they pulled them out of any codeshare/partnership arrangement, and for the very same reason, AirFrance and KLM are shortly due to depart as well . . . certainly that does NOT look good! But you can still get to Europe on AA, AY, BA, DE, EK (though not the best use of points, I grant you), FI, and probably some 5th Freedom routes I don’t know about off the top of my head.

  57. AS is over extended and out of $$. The JD Power has been bought by them for years and that’s all they have. They hate their employees and Veterans that work for them. They have been firing them at an alarming rate to cut costs! DL will own Alaska in 5 years or the government will allow DL and AA to break them up..

  58. Alaska Airlines sucks. The “rave reviews” are just from lame-ass Seattleities who think everything from the Pacific Northworst is the best. Basically, this is “Circle Jerk Airlines.” I mean, seriously, Alaska brings nothing unique to the industry–down to over-paying for Virgin America simply to kill a competitor and gutting all the routes, aircraft, and crew.

    The only people who think Alaska Airlines’ service is great are people from the PNW, who enjoy not being talked to.. and think that rude faces, lack of eye contact, and an overall put off attitude are desirable.

  59. @Connor —> Leaving aside your reference to people living in/born in the Seattle area as “lame-ass,” I think we can all agree that AS overpaid for VX, but I’ve never thought of their takeover as “simply killing a competitor.” As successful as VX was, once DL had a sizable enough stake in VS, the writing was on the wall, and VX was doomed.

    B6 would obviously (IMHO) have been the better buyer. With hubs in JFK, BOS, SFO, LAX, the combination of B6+VX could have become a serious nationwide airline — far smaller than the US L3, true, but a valid option nevertheless. I believe that “threat” would have marginalized AS even more as a regional carrier, and so there must have been a sense of (bordering on) desperation: “acquire VX at all costs!” That led to AS overpaying for the airline and the financial difficulties they find themselves in now.

    The ONE (major) benefit of the AS acquisition of VX was the numerous partners for international travel, and that is now being seriously threatened by Delta’s “heavy handed” pressure on airlines they have a stake in.

    Were it not for my MVP Gold status through 2019, and my 300k balance, I would probably consider leaving. Were I not in the SF Bay Area, most of my domestic travel would still be on WN. (Of course that would have cost me a few international flights on points…)

    In my wildest dreams, AS would spin-off their “VX subsidiary,” and B6 would acquire it, OR they’d buy AS outright. But I suspect that, at some point, AS might be forced to join an alliance just to survive.

    Meanwhile, I find AS offers a superior experience UNTIL you take off…

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