A wish fulfilled: Captain Tristan reports for pilot duty at Alaska Airlines

In July, Alaska Airlines welcomed its youngest pilot: 11-year-old Make-A-Wish recipient Tristan. (Ingrid Barrentine)

Photography by Ingrid Barrentine

For years, 11-year-old Tristan has piloted his imaginary “Infinity Airlines” flights wherever he is: in his bedroom, backyard, or spending a long night within the four white walls of his hospital room undergoing treatment for a rare heart condition.

“I don’t wish it on anyone,” said his mom, Ebru, of the moment Tristan’s doctors diagnosed him with a critical illness four years ago. “It’s so rare no one really knows what to do; there is no cure. There are only therapies we can do which we do daily.”

Each moment Tristan spends in his imaginary airplane soaring high above the clouds or studying his flight simulator app is an escape from the realities of therapies, exhaustion and many unknowns that come with pulmonary hypertension.

Captain Scott Day helped Tristan get ready to fly with his own official uniform.

That’s why when Tristan found out he would receive a wish from Make-A-Wish®, he immediately knew he wanted to be a pilot. But not just any pilot: Tristan wanted to fly for Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines has been a proud Make-A-Wish partner for more than three decades. Back in 1986 Alaska Airlines flew the very first local wish child to Disneyland. The partnership has expanded over the years—helping thousands of wish children and their families reach the destinations of their dreams. Alaska Mileage Plan members also contribute by donating their unused miles to Make-A-Wish.

These wishes fill a vital need for children facing critical illnesses. Research shows that wishes have the potential to give kids the hope and strength they need to fight harder. For children battling a critical illness, a wish can give them and their families the chance to believe anything is possible.

That’s exactly what Tristan and his family found when they arrived at Alaska Airlines Flight Operations for Tristan’s wish in July. Inside, Tristan received his official pilot identification card, a welcome letter and official uniform – custom made by Unisync, which also manufactures the uniforms for Alaska Airlines. Then, it was off to work for Alaska Airlines’ newest pilot.

Captain Tristan impressed Captain Scott Day and Alaska CEO Brad Tilden with his extensive knowledge of aircraft.
Being a pilot is more than flight simulators and uniforms. Tristan also learned about systems, engines and schematics.
Josiah Reimers, an Alaska Airlines supervisor of inflight training, discussed exit-row protocol on an Airbus aircraft with Captain Tristan during the inflight portion of his training.

“It’s fun, you get to fly all over the world, you get to hear the engine sounds, you get to see all kinds of scenery,” Tristan said as he listed off the reasons he wanted to become a pilot. “You get to meet lots of different people, I get to meet the pilots and ask them questions.”

He went through onboarding and paired up with Captain Scott Day, chief pilot, and Captain Jeff Severns, director of training. As the trio reviewed manuals, the young aviation buff listed the airplane models in Alaska Airlines’ fleet. He even visited flight dispatch, where he spoke to pilots in the air.

And Tristan filled the day with questions. “He’s brilliant. His body is frail but he’s a mental giant,” said Tristan’s dad, Michael. “Because he can’t go out and play—which is hard for him to see other kids play when he can’t—he’s become cerebral. He reads at an 11th grade level and he’s about to start fifth grade.”

Anne Shaw, Alaska’s director of inflight safety, made sure Captain Tristan’s training covered a full range of inflight protocols.

Tristan astounded the crew with his knowledge of aircraft—including at lunch with CEO Brad Tilden where the two chatted pilot-to-pilot about which airplane engine “sounds the coolest.”

Tristan and his new crew even spent time in the flight simulator where they did takeoffs and landings; practiced flying in rain, snow and sunshine; and got a feel of what it’s like to pilot a commercial aircraft.

Captain Tristan felt right at home in the pilot’s seat.

“It was super fun; there were lots of cool noises and it was super-realistic,” said Tristan.

“He was a natural,” said Michael. “Maybe this will be the impetus to become a commercial airline pilot. I couldn’t be prouder of him. He is the bravest of any person I’ve ever known.”

While Tristan’s flights were simulated, about 80 percent of wishes granted each year to children in Alaska and Washington state involve airline travel; it’s one of the largest wish-granting expenses. Using airline miles donated from individuals is the number one way we are able to stretch our donated dollars.

You can help by donating unused airline Alaska Airlines miles to Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington. These miles are used to send wish children and their families, like Tristan, to the destinations of their dreams. Donate miles now at

“We’re all about taking care of people and that’s why today is so great; we’re taking care of someone today too,” said Cydna Knebel, executive assistant at Alaska Airlines.

Captains Jeff Severns and Scott Day welcomed Captain Tristan into Alaska Airlines’ pilot ranks.

That’s what wishes are about: bringing our community together to help a child realize the limitless possibilities of their imagination.

Tristan’s wish day will have a lasting impact on everyone involved.

“I’m extremely proud of our company, how involved we are in the community and with Make-A-Wish,” Day said.

“You made my day today,” said Tristan. “I feel really refreshed, amazing and good about myself. Thanks to everybody over here, they helped make my dream come true!”

Thanks to Alaska Airlines and our community for making wishes like Tristan’s possible. When you grant a wish, you help wish children replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope. Connect with Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington on social and get started today @MakeAWishAKWA.

Tristan summed up his day perfectly: “I had bundles of fun!”

Make-A-Wish recipient Tristan had an unforgettable day as an Alaska Airlines pilot.

We Make Flying Matter: Alaska Airlines’ Charity Miles program

Make-A-Wish is one of nine organizations supported each year by Alaska’s Mileage Plan members through the airline’s Charity Miles donation program. Members raised more than 17 million miles in 2018, and are well on their way to reaching that goal again in 2019. Learn more.

At Alaska Airlines, honoring the fallen and their families

The 11th Fallen Soldier cart was delivered to Fairbanks International Airport in time to be of service before the Fourth of July. (Photo by Alessandra Jenkins)

On the airfield, one cart is reserved for heroes.

For the families of the fallen, the cart with American flag curtains and the insignia of the five branches of the military — the most visible part of Alaska Airlines’ Fallen Soldier Program — means their loved ones will be surrounded with respect and honor from those who accompany them on their final journey.

When a flag-draped coffin is carried off a plane and placed on the cart, the flight, maintenance and baggage crew members stand at attention on the tarmac — a powerful sight for a grieving family, says Julia Schmidtke, an Alaska flight attendant. Her 25-year-old son, Hunter Schmidtke, died in 2018 while serving at Fort Riley, Kansas: “It was amazing and meant so much to see all the working groups come together,” she says.

The 11th cart was delivered to Fairbanks in July 2019.

The experience was so important to Schmidtke that she became a program volunteer – and she was in Phoenix when the tenth Fallen Soldier cart was delivered to Sky Harbor International Airport in May. “It’s important to know what a Gold Star mom looks like,” she says.

Alaska employees delivered the 11th cart in the program to Fairbanks International Airport in time to be of service just before the Fourth of July. The carts are crafted by a team of Alaska’s Mechanical and Engineering department and are stationed at airports around the country. They’re available to honor members and veterans of all branches of the military.

Alaska’s Fallen Soldier Program employee training now includes this video shared by the Schmidtke family. In addition to photos from Hunter Schmidtke’s life, it shows the “Honoring Those Who Serve” plane that carried their son to Sea-Tac.

The interior of the Fairbanks cart is customized with a metal crafting of the Alaska state flag. The cart’s sections were flown from Seattle to Anchorage, where the cart was assembled and then escorted to Fairbanks by the Patriot Guard Riders and police.

In addition to Fairbanks and Phoenix, Alaska Airlines has dedicated carts in Anchorage, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Washington, D.C., Dallas and San Francisco. While the carts remain under Alaska’s care at each airport, they are available for any airline to use when transporting remains.

When the Fallen Soldier cart was delivered in Phoenix in May 2019, a custom “Honoring Those Who Serve” tug was given to the team to bring back to Seattle. On the tug: James Rea, Alaska lead line avionics technician; and driving the tug, Joe Burdolski, designer of the tug and a resident of Chandler, Arizona. The tug is now at Sea-Tac, where it is used with the Fallen Soldier cart. (Photo by Tim Thompson)

Brian Bowden, a line aircraft technician and Air Force veteran, helped start the Fallen Soldiers Program in 2011. In addition to creating the carts, the program established protocols for employees to follow when a service member’s body is traveling. Bowden notes that program volunteers include veterans and non-veterans. “We all wanted to take care of those who take care of us,” he says. “Freedom isn’t free. It comes at a price.”

“We are just trying to have soldiers’ backs and provide them with this service on their final journey home, so their loved ones know that people cared about what they did,” Bowden says. “You can never take away their pain, but you can show you care.”

As she volunteers with the program, Shmidtke often talks — and listens — to fallen soldiers’ families as they’re taking their loved ones home. “I think it provides some comfort to have someone sit with them who’s been through what they’re going through,” she says. And volunteering has helped her, as well: “It’s been a real healing experience for myself, and I’m so glad I opened myself up to it.”

The KING 5 News team in Seattle also recently produced this story on the Fallen Soldier Program:

Continue reading “At Alaska Airlines, honoring the fallen and their families”

Sea-Tac’s newest Alaska Lounge offers a Northwest-inspired oasis

The new flagship Alaska Airlines Lounge in the North Satellite Terminal – the airline’s third at Sea-Tac – opens Friday, July 12. At 15,800 square feet, the lounge is three times the size of the average lounge and features stunning views of the airfield, Olympic Mountains and downtown Seattle.

Photography by Ingrid Barrentine

At the new flagship Alaska Airlines Lounge, it’s all about the views. And, if you’re a craft beer fan, the brews.

Among the dozen beers on tap are several from Seattle’s Fremont Brewing, including Lush IPA, which is also available inflight on Alaska flights.

From the 15,800-square-foot lounge in the newly upgraded North Satellite Terminal at Sea-Tac International Airport, Alaska guests can take in expansive views of the Olympic Mountains – as well as downtown Seattle – while unwinding by the fireplace with one of the 12 microbrews on tap. Featured beers include Lounge Life IPA by Seattle’s Fremont Brewing, which was crafted exclusively for Alaska Lounges.

Designed in partnership with Seattle’s Graham Baba Architects, the new lounge offers a relaxing atmosphere. It’s Alaska’s third lounge at Sea-Tac, seventh overall – and the largest by far. The opening on Friday, July 12, reflects Alaska’s continuing investment in guest experiences, following the recent renovation of Alaska Lounges in Los Angeles, Portland and Anchorage, the opening of Alaska’s JFK Lounge and plans for a new lounge at San Francisco International Airport, coming in 2020.

The new Sea-Tac lounge also marks the completion of phase one of the North Satellite Modernization Project, a partnership between the Port of Seattle and Alaska Airlines. The 255,000-square-foot expansion adds more gate seating with charging stations and showcases regional restaurants including Bambuza Vietnam Kitchen, Skillet and Caffe D’Arte.

The lounge offers plenty of room to recharge – both for guests and their electronic devices.
The lounge features cookies from Seattle’s Marsee Baking, along with other Pacific Northwest-inspired bites.

“At Alaska, we truly strive to meet the needs of the modern traveler – and the touches throughout this newest lounge reflect that care and investment,” says Sangita Woerner, Alaska’s vice president of marketing. “This welcoming space is an extension of the remarkable service we provide every day for our guests.”

How to enjoy Alaska Lounges

Alaska guests can visit by becoming a lounge member, flying first class with Alaska or purchasing a day pass. Flyers can enjoy 50 percent off a day pass when they pay with their Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card.

Scenes from the flagship Alaska Airlines Lounge

The new flagship Alaska Lounge is the largest of the airline’s seven lounges nationwide.
Seattle architect Graham Baba partnered with Alaska to make the Northwest-inspired design vision for the lounge a reality.
The lounge offers open spaces and vistas – and plenty of outlets to charge phones and laptops.
Lounge guests can enjoy a wide variety of breakfast items, as well as handcrafted espresso beverages and teas.
Espresso and tea beverages are crafted by Starbucks-trained baristas.
A dozen microbrews – including the exclusive Lounge Life by Fremont Brewing – are offered on tap.
The lounge features sweeping views of the airfield, as well as the Olympic Mountains.
The newest Alaska Lounge is the airline’s seventh and reflects a continuing investment in the guest experience.
Alongside the complimentary bites offered in the Alaska Lounge, made-to-order dishes are available for purchase. Meals can be enjoyed in the lounge or on the go, and all food features fresh, local and seasonal ingredients.
The spacious bar offers a chance to relax and unwind.

Sea-Tac and Alaska then and now: North Satellite expansion is the newest development in decades of growth

Alaska Airlines’ check-in at Sea-Tac International Airport in 1980. (Port of Seattle photo)

Did you know that Sea-Tac International Airport is home to several honeybee hives? Or that construction workers found the bones of a giant sloth while building a new runway in 1961? How about the fact that the airport was named Henry M. Jackson International Airport for about six months in 1984 to honor the state’s famous senator nicknamed “Scoop”?

This week, Alaska Airlines’ hometown hub celebrates the grand opening of its newest upgrade: the expanded North Satellite, with eight new gates and Alaska’s flagship 15,800-square-foot Lounge. The new Lounge offers sweeping views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains, as well as downtown Seattle, and welcomes guests with a grand fireplace. At the bar, guests will find a dozen beers on tap, including the Lounge Life IPA from Seattle’s Fremont Brewing, created just for Alaska Lounges.

As phase 1 of the North Satellite Modernization Project prepares for its grand opening this week, a look back on the airport’s history shows how far Sea-Tac – and Alaska Airlines – have come together.

What we call Sea-Tac today was built in 1944 to support the region’s aviation build-up for World War II. Its name is a tale of two cities, Seattle and Tacoma, combined to represent the airport’s location smack dab between the two (not to mention some investment from the city of Tacoma). Before the airport was built, customers waited for their flight in a Quonset hut heated by a single potbellied stove.

A modern terminal opened in 1949. Northwest Airlines and United Airlines inaugurated the first scheduled service, with Alaska Airlines, Pan American Airways and Western Airlines soon after.

The North Satellite under construction in 1970. (Port of Seattle photo)

As traffic grew, so did the airport. The North Satellite addition opened in 1973, bringing expanded facilities and an ultra-modern people-mover train. Back then, no one had a smart phone and travelers satisfied their daily habit with Mr. Coffee makers at home — thus no need for Wi-Fi, plug-in power or espresso stands. At that time Sea-Tac’s traffic totaled 5.2 million passengers a year, and it was the only airport in the Lower 48 that Alaska Airlines served. (The airline also served 10 cities within the state of Alaska in the early 1970s.)

Fast forward: In 2018, 49.8 million passengers traveled through Sea-Tac — nearly half of them guests on Alaska flights — and Alaska Airlines now flies to more than 115 destinations across the nation, in Canada, Costa Rica and in Mexico.

Sea-Tac in 1981.

But with the exception of a few internal upgrades, the North Satellite was stuck in time for 45 years. In 2017, the Port of Seattle and Alaska embarked on the North Satellite Modernization Project — an unprecedented working arrangement between the port and Alaska — with the goal of creating a better experience for passengers.

After “pardoning our dust” for months, Alaska guests saw five new gates open in January. The second phase of the project will be fully underway at the end of July and will close all of the old North Satellite for renovation. By 2021, the North Satellite — where Alaska is the sole tenant — will hold a total of 20 new or newly renovated gates.

Here are a few things Alaska guests can look forward to as the North Satellite and the new Alaska Lounge opens Friday, July 12:

  • Bright and open spaces, with a gracefully curved roof that filters sunlight and allows for natural light
  • Fully-powered seats with outlets for each guest, and more robust Wi-Fi
  • New restaurants including Caffe D’arte, a local Italian coffee bistro; Skillet, beloved for its Seattle comfort food; and Bambuza, a Northwest family-owned Vietnamese kitchen
  • Rainwater collected to supply flushing water to the restrooms
  • 100 percent LED lighting and efficient heating and cooling

As Seattle’s hometown airline and airport, Alaska and Sea-Tac have really grown up together,” says Shane Jones, Alaska Airlines’ vice president for airport real estate and development. “The new and improved amenities in the North Satellite show how important it is to us to provide a modern, convenient and thoughtful experience for passengers flying in and out of our city.”

How to enjoy Alaska Lounges

Alaska guests can visit by becoming a lounge member, flying first class with Alaska or purchasing a day pass. Flyers can enjoy 50 percent off a day pass when they pay with their Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card.

Opinion: Mayors’ gathering in Honolulu evokes legacies of service (Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

Alaska Airlines has been flying to Hawaii for more than a decade – connecting communities in the Islands with communities on the U.S. continent. This month Alaska is a sponsor of the 87th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors in Honolulu.)

At Alaska Airlines, we recognize how vital it is to give back to the communities we serve. As part of our support of the 87th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors, held June 28 to July 1 in Honolulu, Vice President of External Relations Diana Birkett Rakow reflects on the challenges our cities’ mayors face and the commitment to create “lift” within our communities.

Adapted from a column originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on June 27, 2019.

By Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines Vice President of External Relations

Growing up in Boston, I walked to the park with my brothers to play ball or down the street to get pizza and remember a peaceful and community-oriented place. Later, I better understood the scale of challenges facing the city at that time, through continued racial discrimination and school desegregation.

Mayor Kevin White led Boston through those years. In his first term, he established “Little City Halls” to give neighborhood residents a stronger voice. The eve after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he joined James Brown for a publicly broadcasted concert at the Boston Garden to address residents’ grief in honoring Dr. King with peace. And he’s remembered by many as the first Boston mayor who, with partners across the city, was willing to publicly recognize Boston’s problem with racial discrimination, say “this is not OK,” and begin the path to address it.

Friday marked the start of the 87th annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Community leaders from every corner of America have gathered in Honolulu to share experiences, learn from one another and drive action on priorities important to people in their communities. On this occasion of celebrating our nation’s mayors, I think about Mayor White. We are all only human, but the power of listening and having the courage to act can enable better lives.

In today’s noisy and busy world, it might be easy to overlook the daily work of mayors to solve problems. They’re frontline leaders in public safety, pothole repair, growing jobs and economic opportunity. Today, we celebrate their deep commitment to – as we at Alaska Airlines like to say – creating “lift” with communities across the country.

In aviation, differential air pressure creates lift, easing planes into the sky. Over a thousand times a day, lift is the natural force enabling our passengers to move from one amazing place to another around the world. And like those in Honolulu this week, Alaska Airlines feels a deep sense of responsibility not only to understand and serve peoples’ needs, but to create lift with communities, to connect young people to career options, mentoring and training, to imagine and create possibility for the future.

This gathering marks a legacy of service to local communities, seen in our daily lives through urban green spaces in Portland, cultural centers in Seattle, revitalized neighborhoods in San Francisco, the terminals we fly into at LAX, the powerful 9/11 memorial in New York – and so much more.

Diana Birkett Rakow, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Georgette Deemer in Honolulu.

That legacy is continued by today’s mayors, including Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell who is leading through change for smart and resilient growth. This is the first time since 1967 that the annual meeting is being held in Hawaii. So after proudly serving the Islands for over a decade, Alaska Airlines is honored to support Mayor Caldwell’s effort, with the City & County of Honolulu, to host the annual meeting. We are grateful for the mission of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and to join our local leaders in this special place. And we know that local leadership is critical to create lift for generations to come.

All who enjoy the fruits of a strong community can mark this occasion by thanking our local mayors. I was once the girl who walked to the park without fear, believing my city was one of justice and peace. Now I am grateful, but also very humbled; such a simple pleasure is deserved by all. So today I say thank you, mahalo, to all our mayors, here and across the nation, for their leadership and partnership to make a great today and tomorrow for kids in all communities.

Travelers with disabilities learn what it feels like to fly – without leaving LAX

Alaska Airlines flight attendants cheer as Abril Garcia deplanes a 737 following the “Ability to Fly” event Saturday, June 22, 2019, at Los Angeles International Airport. (Ingrid Barrentine)

Photography and story by Ingrid Barrentine

The Gaspar family of five has big travel dreams: Washington, D.C. Colorado. Disney World! But for years, just getting on an airplane seemed almost impossible.

Karen Gaspar worried the bustle and noise of an airport might overwhelm her 10-year-old son. “Karlo has sensory-processing and mobility challenges. When we have a new situation, he can have meltdowns,” she says. “It’s hard on him. It’s hard on the family, and It’s not pleasant for other people on the plane.”

This June, the Los Angeles family had the chance to try out flying – without the expense of buying a ticket, without worrying about disrupting a flight, without even leaving the ground. The Gaspars were among 71 individuals with disabilities and their families who participated in the “Ability to Fly” event at Los Angeles International Airport – the first collaboration between Alaska Airlines and Los Angeles World Airports to help travelers with disabilities experience how a commercial flight feels before going on an actual trip.

Karlo Gaspar, 10, high-fives a member of the Los Angeles Airport Police before boarding the airplane.

Families went through the major steps in airport travel: check-in, security screening and the boarding process. Once they were aboard Alaska’s “Toy Story 4”-themed 737, the plane taxied to LAX’s remote gates to simulate taxiing for takeoff, and then returned to the gate. The pilot, Capt. Rick Russek, volunteered for the event because his 12-year-old nephew has autism. “I’ve been with him a lot at a young age and I know the things that could be scary for him,” he says.

For the Gaspars, the event made Disney World feel just a little closer. “People have been answering his questions, and he’s been getting special attention,” Karlo’s mom says. “So far, he loves it!”

“These events are intended to help alleviate the anxiety commonly associated with air travel for individuals with disabilities and their families,” says Ray Prentice, Alaska’s Director of Customer Advocacy. Alaska participates in four to five similar events each year at airports around the country. “There are great benefits to Alaska as well,” he says. “Our volunteers become disability advocates for life, after attending a single event.”

Flor Hernandez shares in a moment of joy while taxiing aboard the 737.

A few families shared their stories as they embarked on their travel adventure:

The Jaronczyk family: “They explained everything to him”

Emmitt Jaronczyk, 5, waits to board the Alaska Airlines aircraft.

Elyse and Evan Jaronczyk learned about “Ability to Fly” through a Facebook group and brought their 5-year-old son Emmitt, who has a sensory-processing disorder, and his 2-year-old brother, Easton.

Can you tell a little about what Emmitt’s experience is?

Elyse: “We have a lot of issues with sensory sound and noise. It could feel like a full-on meltdown. With kids on the spectrum, you don’t know why they’re going to freak out, and it’s good to know that he is calm about this. I think how they treated us VIP-like was nice because they explained everything to him, and he knew what was happening. Now that he knows this and has a memory of it, we’re comfortable to come back and fly.”

Captain Rick Russek shows Emmitt Jaronczyk how to power up the 737.

The Livio family: “I think I was more nervous than she was”

Kahlen Livio, 9, takes in the sights from her window seat. The 737 taxied to LAX’s remote gates to simulate the process of taxiing for takeoff.

Keith and Elin Livio of Torrance, California, travel frequently and had been searching for a program to help their 9-year-old daughter, Kahlen, experience air travel so she can join them on longer trips. Through Kahlen’s therapy for autism, they learned about “Ability to Fly.”

Has Kahlen flown before?

Elin: “This is the first time we actually got her into the airport. Before, we could not even drive in because of her fear of new situations. She gets terrified if you don’t give her a story, like ‘Where are you going?’ This time, we said ‘We’re going to go on an adventure.’ We’ve been talking to her for days. We’re very impressed; she’s just doing very well. I was nervous about how she was going to react with the TSA check-in – and keeping her with us because she likes to wander off. They were very kind and it was so easy. I think I was more nervous than she was. I think we’re ready to actually fly.”

Where would you like to go?

Elin: “Hawaii! She loves the beach. And maybe Florida because she wants to go to Disney World.”

Keith: “That’s the fear – the risk of paying thousands of dollars for an entire trip and then at the end of the day, if she has a meltdown, we’d have to back out. So that’s why being here helped, to go through the motions.”

Elin: “My fear is that she’s going to melt down in an airplane and what am I going to do? How is the staff going to react? If she does, I want to make sure she’s safe and people around understand, ‘OK, this is what’s going on.’ Those are the kinds of fears I have, but everyone here is very well-trained.”


More scenes from “Ability to Fly”

10 travel tips for one of the busiest summers yet

SeaTac security line

Summer travel season is here. More travelers than ever are driving to the airport, searching for parking and trying to get through longer-than-normal security lines. We want to make sure you catch your flight – and feel those vacation vibes as soon as you get to the airport.

Here’s a few tips for making your experience as hassle-free as possible:

1. Check in and reserve parking ahead of time

Check in for your flight online or with the Alaska Airlines app to save time waiting in ticket counter lines. Those flying out of Sea-Tac International Airport should especially prepare for long airport lines this summer.

Parking garages are filling up early. You can reserve a parking spot in advance at many lots to avoid delays.

2. Arrive early – extra early

Get to the airport at least 2.5 hours before your domestic flight departs, and 3 hours before your international flight. This should give you plenty of time to park, see a ticket agent, check your bags and make your way through security.

Continue reading “10 travel tips for one of the busiest summers yet”

Best West Coast destinations for beer lovers

Old Stove Brewing has a view of the Great Wheel from its Pike Place Market location in downtown Seattle. (Courtesy of Jenna Haar Photography)

Beer tourism is a real thing. For hardcore aficionados, these adventures take the form of singularly focused “beercations” – but for most travelers, visiting local taprooms is simply part of the overall vacation plan. More than three-quarters of respondents in a 2016 Travelocity survey said they would like to go on a trip that included visiting craft breweries and sampling local beers.

It’s hard to define, but a taproom feels different from other drinking establishments. Something about visiting a brewery feels authentically local – providing a greater understanding of a place and its people. And of course, sampling beers you can’t get at home is its own reward.

Good news for thirsty travelers: Alaska Airlines offers flights to the West Coast’s top beer destinations – and features regional craft beers inflight to enjoy along the way. Throughout the summer, outdoor festivals in each city offer the chance to sample a variety of craft beers and soak up the sun at the same time.

(Courtesy of Boundary Bay Brewery)

BELLINGHAM, WASHINGTON: Located along Interstate 5, 50 miles south of Vancouver, B.C., this small city (population 90,000) boasts a dozen breweries. Nearby access to year-round outdoor activities attracts all types of adrenaline junkies and nature lovers, but the density of breweries in this laid-back burg make it a destination for beer enthusiasts. The oldest brewery and pub, Boundary Bay Brewery, remains a local favorite, while newer breweries like Chuckanut Brewery and Wander Brewing have earned regional and national acclaim. For more on Bellingham’s breweries, consult the Tap Trail.
Coming up June 29: The Sixth Annual Bellingham Beer and Music Festival

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: There are more than 60 breweries within city limits, so you won’t have trouble finding one regardless of where you’re staying. The Ballard neighborhood offers the greatest density with 11 breweries within walking distance of each other. Don’t miss Stoup Brewing and Reuben’s Brews, two rising stars on the local beer scene. At Fremont Brewing, which crafts the Lush IPA offered on Alaska flights, visitors can settle into an urban beer garden setting. Downtown at Pike Place Market – a favorite destination for crowds of visitors and locals alike – be sure to check out Old Stove Brewing’s MarketFront location, where the brewery and tasting room offer an expansive view of Elliott Bay and the majestic Olympic Mountains. For more on the Seattle beer scene, check out my Washington Beer Blog.
Coming up July 12-14: Seattle International Beer Fest

The 32nd Oregon Brewers Fest on the Portland waterfront will feature more than 100 craft beers and ciders – all produced in-state. (Photo by Timothy Horn, courtesy of Oregon Brewers Fest)
Cascade Barrel House. (Courtesy of Kim Sharpe Jones)

PORTLAND, OREGON: Aptly nicknamed “Beervana,” Portland embraces craft beer as an essential part of its identity. Plenty of proud locals claim it’s the greatest beer town in America – and they’re probably right. You’ll have no trouble gathering recommendations about which of the Rose City’s more than 60 breweries to visit, but adventurous beer drinkers should not skip Hair of the Dog Brewing or the Cascade Barrel House. The Oregon Brewers Festival, held in Portland in July for more than three decades, typically attracts more than 50,000 festivalgoers. Dive deeper on the Portland Beer Blog.
Coming up July 24-27: Oregon Brewers Festival

The Crux Fermentation beer garden. (Courtesy of Kim Sharpe Jones)

BEND, OREGON: In the heart of the Cascade Mountains, Bend boasts 22 breweries and a population of just 80,000, making it one of the nation’s leaders for breweries per capita. In winter, earn your beer by swooshing down the slopes at nearby Mount Bachelor. In summer, daydream about beer as you float lazily down the picturesque Deschutes River, which bisects the town. Don’t miss Deschutes Brewing Company, one of the oldest breweries in Oregon, and be sure to catch a breathtaking sunset from the beer garden at Crux Fermentation Project. Plot your path on Bend’s Ale Trail.
Coming up Aug. 15-17: Bend Brewfest

Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. (Courtesy of Russian River Brewing)

SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA: Located at the north end of Sonoma Valley, a region renowned for its wine, this is home to one very important brewery: Russian River Brewing, makers of Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, two of the nation’s most ballyhooed beers. (They make a lot of other fantastic beers, too.) They release the ultra-rare Pliny the Younger just once each year, in February, and the event draws about 16,000 beer tourists from around the world. A 2016 study found visitors hailed from 40 states and 11 countries. Any time of year, all the beers at the company’s two brewpubs are exceptional, making Santa Rosa a mecca for America’s beer enthusiasts. Learn more.
Coming up Aug. 3: NorCal Brewfest

(Courtesy of Societe Brewing)

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: If perfect weather, palm trees, sandy beaches and bronzed bodies on surfboards are not enough to entice you, know that there are more than 100 breweries in the area. North of town, in nearby Escondido, Stone Brewing Company’s World Bistro and Garden offers a 1-acre alfresco beer drinking opportunity in what is described as an organic beer garden. If you’re looking for a more typical San Diego brewery experience, visit Eppig Brewing or Societe Brewing, both great examples of the smaller, friendly breweries that dot the city’s neighborhoods. Learn more.
Coming up July 21: San Diego Beer and Music Festival

Sports equipment flies for just $30 on Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines works behind the scenes looking for ways to make the travel experience as seamless as possible for our guests. And knowing that adventures are always better with the right gear, we’ve waived oversize and overweight fees for most sports equipment. Guests can check the equipment on this list for the same cost as any other checked bag.

This means that most sports equipment that exceeds our normal checked baggage weight and dimensions flies for only $30 for the first bag. This is a big win for sports enthusiasts and sports teams who can take their gear along as one of their two checked bags. In the past, many of these items have carried an oversize fee of $75.

As an added benefit for our MVP Gold 75K, MVP Gold, MVP, First Class and Club 49 guests, sporting equipment on the approved list now counts towards their free checked baggage allowance. The same applies for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card-holders’ free checked bag. Additional baggage charges apply for items that exceed the free checked baggage allowance.

The same sports-equipment policy applies to any itinerary that begins with an Alaska Airlines-issued ticket, including Horizon Air and SkyWest-operated flights. For a complete list of Alaska’s baggage fees, refer to the baggage policies page on

Alaska accepts sports equipment listed below as checked baggage, provided each piece is properly packed in a soft- or hard-sided case designed specifically for the equipment.  Overweight fees will apply if the packed sporting goods cases contain other items that make a case too heavy.

Accepted sports equipment:

  • Archery
  • Bicycles
  • Boogie boards
  • Bowling
  • Golf Clubs
  • Skis/Snowboard
  • Fishing
  • Hockey/Lacrosse
  • Pole Vaults
  • Scuba
  • Skateboards
  • Surfboards/Paddleboards
  • Windsurfing

Note: This post was first published in July 2017, and updated June 19, 2019, to clarify current policies.

Don’t get grounded! Make sure your ID is ready to fly Oct. 1, 2020

At a security checkpoint at Sea-Tac International Airport, travelers are reminded that beginning Oct. 1, 2020, their driver’s licenses will need to be REAL ID-compliant. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)

Imagine heading to the airport for a long-awaited vacation to Maui or off to Phoenix to visit family – when suddenly you can’t even make it past the security checkpoint. TSA’s reason? You don’t have the right driver’s license anymore.

Cue massive frustration.

Many of us use our driver’s licenses as a primary form of government-issued ID, especially at the airport when flying domestically. It’s something we typically always have with us. But a big change is coming – and it goes by the name of REAL ID.

Here are some key things to know:

  • Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, your driver’s license will need to be REAL ID-compliant if you want to use it to fly within the U.S. It’s part of a law passed by Congress. If your license is not compliant, and you don’t have another acceptable form of ID, you’ll have trouble getting through airport security.
  • If you want your driver’s license to be REAL ID-compliant, now’s the perfect time to make the upgrade because the rush is coming. State licensing agencies and motor vehicle departments are expecting long lines and wait times in the months leading up to October 2020. Why not check this off your list now?
  • REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and the processes to get them are different state to state, which can be confusing. In most cases, you’ll need to bring additional documentation to get a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, and you might even need to make an appointment. A few states, like Oregon, have not yet begun to distribute REAL ID-compliant licenses, so residents should refer to their state licensing agency or motor vehicle department websites for details and plan accordingly.
  • Many states identify their REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses with a gold star in the upper right corner, which indicates they’ll be ready to use at airport security checkpoints starting Oct. 1, 2020. But some states, such as Washington, do not use gold stars for REAL ID-compliant licenses.
  • You do have a choice. Your driver’s license does not need to be REAL ID-compliant for air travel. If you want to fly after Oct. 1, 2020, with other acceptable identification – for example, your U.S. passport or a U.S. military ID – you can do that instead. Just remember to bring that ID to the airport.
Some states, like California, mark their REAL-ID-compliant licenses with a star. Other states, like Washington, do not. (Samples provided by state motor vehicle departments)

“We always want our guests to have the best possible travel experience with us and at the airport,” says Wayne Newton, vice president of airport operations and customer service at Alaska Airlines. “We want to do everything we can to help spread the word about the upcoming changes with federal laws taking effect, and how our customers can get prepared.”

Click on the state where you live to find out more on how to get a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license:

District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

What goes into 7 parades: long hours, hundreds of Alaska employees — and boundless Pride

Newly hired Alaska Airlines flight attendants show their Pride before heading to the pool for water-survival training on June 11, 2019. (Photo by Adriana Head)

60,000 airplane hats and bandanas to pass out as swag.

9,000 pounds of equipment, including a plane-shaped mega-balloon.

More than 1,000 hours in donated time, sweat — and sometimes, tears.

But when hundreds of Alaska Airlines employees’ efforts come together at marches and festivities across the country, the Pride itself is unquantifiable. “From the start, this has been people who wanted to walk in the parade and be proud for our company and be proud that the company supports us,” says Chad Gabagat, workforce specialist and co-leader of the Gay Lesbian or Bisexual Employees resource group (GLOBE), which helps organize Alaska’s Pride parade appearances.

This year, Alaska has official partnerships with seven parades and employee groups will march in at least nine cities, starting in Portland on June 16. Anchorage follows on June 29, and the biggest parades Alaska sponsors — Seattle and San Francisco — both land on June 30, creating a West Coast logistical puzzle for GLOBE leaders as they choreograph floats, music, T-shirts and water for about 500 volunteers. San Diego’s march is just two weeks later on July 13, while Honolulu and Palm Springs parades come in the cooler fall months. (See the full schedule and details for the parade partnerships.)

Alaska GLOBE leaders Kevin Larson, Chad Gabagat, Alice Tam and Jeremy Naz at the 2018 Palm Springs Pride parade. Tam and Naz have taken on responsibility for much of the leg work for the 2019 parades. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)

Alaska will once again be the official airline of its hometown Seattle parade. “Alaska will help lead this year’s parade,” says GLOBE co-leader Kevin Larson, who manages the cargo call center and central baggage teams. “That means a lot to the thousands of Alaska Airlines employees who call Seattle home.”

“It is truly inspiring to see our people leading on behalf of equity and inclusion in our communities,” says Andy Schneider, Senior Vice President of People. “I’m so proud and humbled by the time commitment, passion and focus our employees have in representing our company throughout the communities we serve.”

This is the 14th year employees will represent Alaska in Seattle’s parade. The first appearance in 2006 was inspired by the parade’s move from the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the heart of downtown — and the news that it would be televised. Rick Wise, an IT project manager who has worked at Alaska for 32 years, remembers making the pitch to company executives. “Other companies that were marching were the cool companies in town — Amazon, Microsoft, Nordstrom,” he says. “We’re one of the cool companies, too. We did not want to be left out.”

Wise points out that some employees had marched unofficially in previous Pride parades — but the group wanted executives’ blessing to carry the Alaska banner and wear the logo. “Being lower on the organization chart, we were nervous going to the officers,” he says. “We had our facts, and we were prepared to probably be denied.”

But executives said yes. “It was like they were waiting for someone to come forward and make the request,” Wise says.

Seattle Pride, 2006: Employees march under the company banner for the first time. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines GLOBE)

That first year, the 40 or so marchers, including Wise and Gabagat, wore whatever Alaska logo shirts they had. They borrowed a few broken beverage carts to push and handed out swag — some magazines, bags of peanuts and other trinkets. Larson was one of the employees watching from the crowd. “I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” he says.

Seattle Pride, 2015: The parade was just days after marriage equality was affirmed nationwide by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines GLOBE)

Larson now runs logistics for the seven official parade appearances, creating two-year budgets and down-to-the-minute timelines for volunteers to follow. All GLOBE members donate their time — and for the core group handling setup and teardown, that means 24 hours of heavy lifting apiece spread over each parade weekend. “We have our day jobs and our gay jobs,” Larson says.

Gabagat admits the work to coordinate the parades can be exhausting, and sometimes thankless. But then he gets emails like this from fellow employees: “They say, ‘My son or daughter just came out. I want to walk in the parade.’ That sort of thing gets me every time,” he says. “It’s so meaningful to include not just our employees who are LGBTQ, but also those with kids who are LGBTQ. They know their company supports them and their families.”

Though sponsorships are not possible in every city, Wise encourages employees who want Alaska to participate in their city’s parade to create a plan and reach out to GLOBE leaders for guidance. “In the early years, we were afraid, but we went forward and asked,” Wise says. “If you want something, don’t wait for someone else to do it. A small group can make things happen.”

Portland Pride, 2016: Chad Gabagat, right, and his husband, Ruben Alatorre. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines GLOBE)
Honolulu Pride, 2018: The Honolulu parade is one of the most logistically complex. (Photo by Jonny Mack. Courtesy of Alaska Airlines GLOBE)
Seattle Pride, 2017: Chad Gabagat and Kevin Larson express their relief that the parade logistics all came together. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines GLOBE)
Related story: On Alaska flights, sit back and enjoy the Pride

As part of Alaska’s sponsorship of Pride 2019 celebrations, the free inflight entertainment during June and July features 18 films from the LGBTQ+ media-arts nonprofit Frameline, including two documentaries by director Jennifer M. Kroot: “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” and “To Be Takei.” Maupin and Kroot recently spoke with us about the films and shared some of their favorite places in San Francisco. Read more.

Singapore airport’s new Jewel dazzles with five-story waterfall, nature walks

The heart of Singapore Changi Airport’s Jewel hub is a five-story, 131-foot waterfall. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

If airports held a World Cup, Singapore’s Changi would hold a record number of championships — winning consumer aviation website Skytrax’s annual award for best airport seven years in a row. Now its newest addition, the $1.25 billion Jewel hub, gives Changi the capacity to accommodate up to 85 million total passengers each year — and makes the case that an airport can be an attraction in its own right.

A self-described “lifestyle and entertainment destination hub,” the 10-story Jewel is set between three of Changi’s four terminals. With the opening of the Canopy Park family-oriented attractions on June 10, the hub is now fully ready to welcome 20 million visitors a year. More than half of them are expected to be locals not even bound for a plane.

Shake Shack is among the nearly 300 shops and restaurants in Jewel. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Alaska guests can check out Jewel for themselves via Global Partner Singapore Airlines, which will add a new direct route from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Changi starting Sept. 3.

In Jewel, it’s easy to forget you’re in an airport. The 455,000-square-foot complex is home to nearly 300 shops and eateries. It’s been a big hit with locals already: Shake Shack and the first Pokémon shop in Asia outside Japan each drew four-hour lines upon opening.

Jewel also has early check-in gates for more than two dozen airlines — including Alaska Global Partners British Airways, Emirates, Fiji Airways, Japan Airlines, Qantas and Singapore Airlines — as well as a cinema, a YotelAIR hotel and 2,500 underground parking spaces. The top-floor Canopy Park offers ticketed experiences like rope walks and futuristic slides below the glass of Jewel’s dramatic bulbous ceiling.

Many local eateries have found a home in Jewel, including Rich and Good Cake Shop, which makes “Swiss rolls” in various flavors that sell out by noon. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Jewel was designed by Safdie Architects, known for modern statements like Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, which has a prominent cameo in the film “Crazy Rich Asians.” The heart of Jewel — and most of the Instagram selfies — revolves around its five-story, 131-foot waterfall that appears suspended mid-air. Water rushes through a round oculus, cut from a towering dome above, then falls amidst a terraced forest valley home to 2,000 trees and 100,000 shrubs where nature walks and sitting areas look over the falls. Below, the water channels toward two underground levels encased in glass, passing Michelin-star ramen restaurants, reaching a walkway where visitors can press up against the surreal installation. Then, each evening, the whole thing gets a colored light show. It’s quite the sight.

(Photo by Robert Reid)

Book flights on Alaska partner Singapore Airlines here.

Scenes from Changi’s Jewel hub (Photos by Kim I. Mott)

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