Alaska-Virgin merger expands options for connecting worldwide

Alaska Airlines started in 1932, when Linious “Mac” McGee began flying a three-passenger Stinson out of Anchorage. A lot has changed since then. It now serves more than 40 million customers to 119 destinations and five countries. Smart Meetings checked in with Alaska Air Group to find out what changes in the industry and a merger with Virgin America means for frequent travelers.

What are the values that have stayed the same? What has had to change to accommodate the realities of air travel today?

Our employees embody something that is known as the “Alaska Spirit.” While our airline has grown tremendously since our humble beginnings, Mac McGee’s pioneering spirit has remained a core part of our airline. We are passionate about what we do and we continue to operate a safe and reliable airline in some of the most challenging environments.

It’s this same pioneering spirit that has allowed our airline to innovate—developing Required Navigation Performance (RNP) to land aircraft in difficult airports, selling airline tickets online and creating an airport of the future with mobile check-in and self-tag bag tags.

Today, we are the fifth-largest U.S. carrier. While our name and spirit remains Alaska, we now serve 119 destinations across the United States and to Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica and Cuba.

What will the merger with Virgin American mean for frequent travelers such as event planners?

Together with Virgin America, we are working to become the go-to airline on the West Coast. Our goal is to connect guests to the places they want to go. For frequent travelers and event planners, this means they can experience Alaska’s award-winning service to more places and with more frequency. And with our award-winning Mileage Plan and Alaska Global Partners, we can take you almost anywhere in the world.

As the industry has grown, how is your airline balancing the need to make customers comfortable while keeping prices reasonable?

We’ve set the ambitious goal of “creating an airline people love.” At Alaska, we’ve consistently kept our costs and fares low. With our continued merger with Virgin America, we are hoping to take the best of both airlines to create a unique customer experience.

This includes power at every seat, investments in satellite internet and mood lighting throughout the cabin. Alaska now offers Free Chat, allowing our guests to connect with friends and family on the ground, and Alaska Beyond entertainment, where guests can stream their favorite movies and TV shows free of charge.

In 2016, we unveiled our Premium Class cabin, adding more leg room, premium snacks and free drinks. Together, we believe we can offer a reliable, low-cost, fun experience for our guests.

How has an increased emphasis on safety at airports impacted your business and how airlines interact with customers?

Safety is at the core of what we do. We’ve empowered every employee to take an ownership mentality when it comes to safety. We feel personally responsible and invested in taking care of ourselves, taking care of each other and taking care of our guests.

What tips do you have for event planners who travel both within and outside the United States?

Alaska Airlines offers a discount for groups planning meetings in the cities we serve. Whether you have one large group coming in for a convention or a group traveling to one city from various other places, our meeting and convention travel discounts can save money for attendees.

What do you wish people knew about airline travel that would make everyone’s experience more pleasant?

At Alaska Airlines, we owe a lot of our successes, including our 10 straight J.D. Power awards, to our incredible employees. We believe that a better customer experience begins with empowering our employees to do the right thing.

Today, you read a lot of stories in the news and on social media about air carriers doing the wrong thing. I think it can be easy to overlook the good. Every day, I hear stories about our employees going above and beyond for our guests. Whether it’s an employee understanding a guest’s divorce and keeping their Mileage Plan account active or singing Disney songs for a Make-a-Wish child boarding a flight, our employees are some of the best in the business.

How might the industry look one year, five years or 10 years from now?

We are always working to make the travel experience more seamless and hassle-free. We were the first airline to sell a ticket online, and today our award-winning mobile app and giving our guests the ability to print their bag tags at home has made the travel experience easier for many.

And, as an airline, we burn a lot of fuel. While we’ve made significant strides in the customer experience, we’ve also made tremendous efforts to be more green. We have added winglets to our newer aircraft, which allows our aircraft to fly more efficiently and burn less fuel. And in 2016, Alaska flew its first commercial flight powered by biofuel.