OP-ED Alaska Airlines new slogan: We don’t do frills
By Ken Robinson
Before there was a third runway, before there was that confounding maze of a parking garage, before cops on Segways and long before federal employees began patting people down, airline travel was a special and wonderful experience.
Airplane seats now are smaller, jet engines are noisier, flight attendants are surly or devoid of personality, so-called food is almost inedible and flight schedules mean nothing.
By September of this year, we had accumulated enough airline miles after four years of going nowhere to be able to fly first class to Hawaii. Trepidation about contracting Covid had kept us from flying anywhere. Family health issues also constrained us from leaving town while relatives struggled. Then, the uncle for whom we were caregivers died.
We decided we would take the chance to travel, asking other family to keep us posted on the changes with another elderly parent.
We chose Alaska Airlines because the flight to Hawaii was direct, and because it was cheaper than Hawaiian Airlines.
The old saw “Buy cheap, get cheap” began to unfold soon.
In our seats, within spitting distance of the cockpit, we settled in for the flight. The last stragglers were still filtering in, huffing and puffing because they were late, lurching down the narrow aisles to find their assigned seat.
Someone seated near the aft portion of the plane begged a flight attendant to hold the plane until her son could board. The plane was full but the door was still open and we waited, about 30 minutes, for one more straggler.
Everything felt like the plane was loaded and ready to fly when a wild-eyed young guy with a mop of dirty hair burst off the jetway and into the plane, demanding to know the location of his seat and asking for a guide to show him. The guy seemed highly agitated, burning rocket fuel.
The flight attendant urged him forward and he threaded down the aisle. A short time later, something caused a flight attendant to ask the tweaker to exit the plane. He did. A cop car showed up on the tarmac, the mother came to front of the plane and tearfully bellowed about how much she loved her son, who it seems was in custody of authorities.
This charade made take-off an hour late.
No explanation from Alaska Airlines, no “Can we offer you a beverage.” Nothing.
The Return Flight
We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up in Hawaii. The taxi waited but charged us for waiting 90 minutes beyond the scheduled pickup.
Glad to be on vacation, we rolled with this inconvenience.
We walked on the beach, swam in the ocean, ate too much pineapple, looked for whales.
Our return flight was the day after the Ironman competition. The flight was scheduled 10:05 p.m.
The little airport was extremely crowded with bikers heading home, with their bikes. We were seated late. Then, looking out the window, we could see the slow process of loading big containers of bicycles onto the plane. This process delayed departure by about 90 minutes while the flight attendants did nothing.
Finally, a voice from the cockpit said we should be getting going pretty soon and that weren’t we glad that everyone’s bike would also make the trip? We weren’t glad. Alaska Airlines should have anticipated the extra time it would take to load the bikes and either told the bikers THEY would have to take a different flight or find a different carrier. And then left on time.
Our seats were against the forward bulkhead. Three flight attendants clustered a few feet away in the vestibule between us and the forward head.
Even though we were now 90 minutes late from departure, none of the flight attendants offered anyone in First Class (or elsewhere on the plane) any refreshment. In fact, even though we had expressed a preference for a “cheese plate” for a dinner selection, no food or drink was offered the entire flight.
Instead, the flight attendants huddled nearby and chattered loudly and persistently while passengers attempted to sleep on the flight. The “cheese plate” supposedly was available to other passengers in the less expensive seats for $8.
The lesson here about travel on Alaska Airlines is that being on time is a laughable notion, that even first class passengers can expect to be treated indifferently, that incessant chitchat between flight attendants in the norm.
How dare the passenger expect any fair level of service!
Like cattle headed for slaughter, you are jammed into a conveyance, transported to another place and pushed out.
The flight crew sees you as a ‘head’ like cattle that assures the airline of a source of revenue. All human connection is gone. You are a seat number. You must like the slamming of the overhead luggage bins, the too-small seats and the shockingly loud PA system in the plane, the indifferent crew who wear their authority like prison guards, swaggering down the aisles supposedly examining seat-belts connections.
Airplane seats now are smaller, jet engines are noisier, flight attendants are surly or devoid of personality, so-called food (if offered)is almost inedible and flight schedules mean nothing.
When I read a story this morning in The Seattle Times about the uptick in profitability at Alaska after a long period of falling revenues, I had to shake my head. First, the CEO painted the picture for the reporter, who happily reported the good news so that he is assured of future access.
When the shroud is peeled away like the skin on a 737, the gritty reality from a passenger point-of-view is revealed .
New broom Ben Minicucci, CEO of Alaska Air, is making his mark on what was a better company when Highline High grad Brad Tilden was at the helm.