At Alaska Airlines, honoring the fallen and their families

When the new 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. (Photo by Tim Thompson)

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 the 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. And they will not be alone.

When a flag-draped coffin is carried off a plane and placed on the cart, the flight, maintenance and baggage crew members all stand at attention on the tarmac — a powerful sight for a grieving family, says Julia Schmidtke, an Alaska flight attendant whose 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,” Schmidtke says. Her son’s body was flown to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on one of Alaska’s “Honoring Those Who Serve” planes custom-painted as a tribute to members of the military. “To have him brought home on the honor plane was a really big deal,” she says.

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

The carts are crafted by a team of Alaska’s Mechanical and Engineering department, and available to honor members and veterans of all branches of the military. Alaska maintenance technicians delivered the cart to Sky Harbor with a motorcycle escort from the Patriot Guard Riders. Some veterans traveled on as part of the cross-country “Run for the Wall” event that ends at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day weekend. “I get wonderful hugs from these big, burly motorcycle guys,” Schmidtke says.

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 Phoenix cart is customized with a metal crafting of the Arizona state flag. During the ceremony to hand off the cart, Arizona resident Joe Burdolski exchanged a special baggage tug he crafted for the Fallen Solider program. Burdolski redesigned the tug and painted it to match Alaska’s military-themed livery. The tug was transported back to Sea-Tac, where it will be used exclusively with the Fallen Solider cart.

The cart delivered to Phoenix in May 2019. (Photo by Tim Thompson)

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

Brian Bowden, a line aircraft technician and Air Force veteran, helped create 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, and I’m so glad I opened myself up to it.”

In Phoenix, the Alaska Mechanical and Engineering group flanks the welcoming dignitaries: Mayor Kevin Hartke, Assistant Aviation Director Sarah Demory and Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers. (Photo by Tim Thompson)

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”

Copper River salmon 2019: First fish are the stars on the red carpet in Seattle

Chris Bryant, Executive Chef of WildFin American Grill, holds up the first fish, to be served in his Tacoma restaurant tonight

This week marks the official start of the 2019 Copper River king salmon season in Cordova, Alaska — and for many people, these salmon are the first sign that summer is on the way.

In celebration of the first catch, Alaska Airlines hosted a red carpet welcome for the Copper River salmon arriving Friday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. About 18,000 pounds of fresh fish were on the early-morning flight.

The outlook for the season is good, with the forecast for Copper River kings up from past years, and the sockeye projections holding steady, according to Christa Hoover, executive director of the Copper River Marketing Association. “We hope to see 55,000 king salmon and close to 1.5 million sockeye return to the Copper River this season,” she says.

“Cordova is off the road system here in Alaska, and we rely heavily on the passenger and cargo services that Alaska Airlines provides year-round,” Hoover says. “For nearly a decade, Alaska Airlines has flown the first Copper River salmon of the season to Seattle and beyond. In just a matter of hours, Copper River salmon is transported from the fisherman to dinner tables across the country.”

“I am an Alaskan fisherman”: A spotlight on the people who catch your fish

For the fishermen of Cordova, this moment is what they’ve been waiting for all year.

Darin Gilman started fishing with his father, Shawn Gilman, when he was only 5 years old. Growing up and watching his dad instilled a sense of pride in Darin that led him to work alongside his father at the same fishery today.

“It’s been wonderful to watch my son and the next generation of fishermen come up,” says Shawn Gilman. “I hope that they can pass our traditions and our fishery on in as good of shape as my generation was able to do for them.”

While neither man would say it’s easy work — acting as their own boat mechanics, net menders and salmon trackers — the Gilmans and other Cordova fishermen are true artisans. And they take pride in Cordova’s sustainable fishing practices. “We make sure year after year to have enough fish go up the rivers so they’ll keep coming back,” Darin Gilman says.

The Honkola family and others fishing in Cordova are dedicated to the preservation of salmon and their ecosystem, recognizing that their work today impacts what others can enjoy in the future. “To be a fisherman, you have to be dedicated, patient, and most importantly, passionate about sustainability,” James Honkola says.

Reflecting on her decades-long career, Thea Thomas recalls making the decision to follow her dream to fish in Alaska — at a time when few women worked in the industry. The best advice she received came from her father, who told her: “The most important thing is figuring out what you want to do. Don’t worry about the money, just make sure this is really what you want to do.”

Thomas thinks about retirement, but can’t bring herself to do it. “I love Cordova,” she says. “I love what I do.”

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Seattle Storm and Alaska: Going the extra mile at the free-throw line

The Seattle Storm’s free throws will go a little further this season — about one million miles further.

Today, Alaska Airlines and Seattle’s defending WNBA champions announced an exclusive multi-year partnership and the “Free Throws for the Future” program, which will donate airline miles to community organizations working with young people. For every free throw made by Storm players throughout the 2019 season, Alaska will donate 2,000 airline miles. Last season, Storm players averaged 13.9 points per game from the foul line, which will now feature the Alaska logo on the Storm’s home court.

As they celebrated the new free-throw line sponsorship, Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska’s vice president of external relations, and Storm CEO Alisha Valavanis took a moment to reflect on the values of partnership, leadership — and the commitment to elevate young people in our community.

Storm CEO and General Manager Alisha Valavanis.

DBR: Alisha, you and your team are fantastic partners and champions for so many around our region. You’re recognized for your humility and drive to grow the team, to learn together, and to excel — but to never rest on your laurels. You’re national champs, and back out there this year to strive for the next level of performance. That’s a good model for business, too.

A year or so ago, we talked about taking our partnership to a new level by empowering women and girls to own their strengths — on or off the court. My own grandmother was a brainy powerhouse, but I think it took her until she was in her 80s to fully own that. As for sports, she used to remind me that sweating wasn’t appropriate for girls (so I went ahead and played ice hockey). Times have certainly changed, but many kids don’t have enough champions — people who say “who you are is amazing, and you CAN play ball, or fly airplanes, or make robots, or work in finance, or lead.” At Alaska Airlines we’ve been talking a lot about how, as a community, we lift and empower young people furthest from opportunity to realize great futures — through inclusive education, mentors and models, exposure to career options and more.

When you’re building a roster for the Storm, you’re looking for amazing basketball talent — but probably some other characteristics of great team players. Some things that won’t necessarily be taught in a classroom, but might be relevant for any career path. What are the elements of great players — and leaders — that you look for to make up a championship team?

AV: I grew up in a big family, I have an identical twin and four other siblings, so being on a team started very early. Long before I understood team dynamics and what it would take to cultivate a winning team, I learned the fundamentals from my family unit. We shared common values instilled in us by our parents: honestly, kindness, generosity and passion. There was also space for our individuality, curiosity and adventure. When I think about the kind of leader I am today and some of the principles used to build the Seattle Storm, I think about those early lessons. Successful teams share core values that create the culture needed to achieve the highest levels of success, oftentimes in the face of great adversity.

But it is also true that winning takes talent, in the front office and on the court. In the WNBA we have the most elite women’s basketball players in the world; these athletes have spent decades committed to their game. We are fortunate to have a team that has been led by the best point guard in basketball history, Sue Bird. We have an ownership group and a front office and a basketball staff that are all working from the same playbook. There is clear vision and a relentless commitment to team that is in pursuit of success and committed to it. So, if I had to put it in one word it would be “culture.” Our culture created the space for talent and teamwork to achieve the greatest results possible; championships!

DBR: Culture matters so much! At Alaska, it is one of our greatest areas of focus. But I also wanted to ask you about how you share the story of the team. I saw recently that the league secured additional coverage through CBS Sports Network; congratulations! Why is that important?

AV: I believe the growth of this league is directly correlated to the visibility of this league. The exposure that the league gains through deals like the one with CBS Sports Network is imperative to developing new fans and exposing the country and the world to the WNBA. This season they will carry 40 live WNBA games, including six Storm games. Between the league’s deals with ESPN and CBS Sports Network, our partnership with JOEtv, and live-streamed games on Twitter and WNBA League Pass, people will get to know Storm Basketball.

DBR: Congratulations! OK, so my son loves the Storm, and proudly wears your gear. When he went to a game, he was impressed how fast the Storm players are. Makes me wonder — what are the demographics of your fan base? Does it skew female or are men watching women’s sports? Might my son be part of a new generation who does watch women’s sports?

By the way, we also recently introduced him to the Rat City Rollergirls — they are a good example of resilience! Those women are knocked down over and over, and get right back up and GO. And then hug each other at the end! Sportsmanship AND drive.

AV:  That’s awesome, Diana, I love that your little one is getting exposure to all types of sport!

One of my favorite games last year was when I got to sit next to your son because it gave me the chance to experience the game from his perspective. There’s so much joy in sports and so many fantastic role models. It’s special to see how kids respond to that. It reminds me of one of my favorite memories during the playoffs last year. I was at a coffee shop — very Seattle, I know — when a father approached me and said that his little ones were chanting “PLAYOFFS!” while eating their cereal that morning. They are part of a generation that is growing up in a time when little girls and little boys can have strong female role models on the court.

Our fan base is incredibly diverse, and as far as numbers go it’s fairly equal between women and men for attendance. But what continues to be a top priority is to get families and kids out to games. It’s awesome entertainment that has the potential to really drive positive societal change; imagine all our children given the opportunity to look up to elite female athletes as well.

DBR: Really cool, thank you for being such great role models. Now, one final question — What’s your favorite place to fly, nationally or globally, and why?

AV: I absolutely love to fly. I love traveling around the country and the globe whenever possible, and basketball has definitely given me the opportunity to do that! One of my favorite spots every season is Chicago because I get the chance to meet up with family and spend time with them. New York is another place that’s circled on my calendar every year. I love the energy of New York and the restaurant and art scene. But of course, there’s no greater feeling than coming back to Seattle, flying over Mount Rainier and Puget Sound, and finally touching down at home.

DBR: Thank you, Alisha, and go Seattle Storm!

AV: Thank you, Diana. We’re thrilled to partner and excited to team up to make a positive impact in Seattle.


‘Reach for the sky’: Exploring the many pathways to an aviation career

Sammamish High School junior London Holmes is following in her mentor Kim Fords’ footsteps. (Photo: Ingrid Barrentine / Alaska Airlines)

The first time London Holmes flew a plane, she navigated past Santa Monica and out over the ocean. She peeked at the instructor to see if he was nervous — and caught him looking down at his phone. “It was really cool to see that he trusted me,” Holmes says. She took in the view of the blue waters and the coastline. “It was so pretty. I realized then that this is definitely for me.”

London Holmes took the controls of a plane for the first time in Southern California in 2017. She was 15. (Courtesy London Holmes)

She was 15.

Now 17, the Sammamish High School junior is a mere two weeks away from her check ride — the “final exam” to get her private pilot’s license. It’s a milestone for any aspiring pilot, but for Holmes, it’s just one step in the path toward her ultimate goal of becoming a military pilot. “I really want to fly fast jets,” she says.

Holmes is following in the footsteps of one of her mentors, Kim Ford, an Alaska Airlines First Officer and Sammamish High grad who attended the Air Force Academy. Ford’s 25-year Air Force career included service in Afghanistan and Iraq, and she retired from the military as a Lieutenant Colonel. She has been flying for Alaska Airlines since 2001, starting her commercial airline career while still serving in the Air Force Reserves.

Holmes and Ford discovered they shared the same high school and a passion for military jets when they met at a regional Women in Aviation conference at The Museum of Flight in 2016.

“I was just blown away that there were all these parallels and that she had this interest level at such a young age,” Ford says.

She’s thrilled Holmes has taken advantage of opportunities available through The Museum of Flight and other organizations that now put aviation training in reach for many young people, including programs encouraging young women and people of color to explore careers in flight.

“They just didn’t have this wide variety of programs in the ‘80s,” Ford says. “I wish I could have soloed before I went to the Academy. I wish I could have had my private pilot’s license. London has been able to do all of those things that will propel her toward the higher echelons of success.”

Aviation Day: The Need and the Possibilities

One of the opportunities for students like Holmes is Alaska Airlines’ Aviation Day, which brings more than 1,200 young people from around Western Washington to the Alaska Airlines hangar at Sea-Tac International Airport. They get to meet pilots, engineers, flight attendants and technicians who work in a range of aviation jobs at Alaska, Boeing, the FAA and the Port of Seattle. They also can connect with educators, military representatives and corporate recruiters to chart potential career paths. Aviation Day is possible because of the efforts of Alaska employees who lead the event, along with partners including Boeing, Port of Seattle, Aerostrat, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and The Museum of Flight.

Now in its 11th year, Aviation Day on Saturday, May 4, allows students to get up-close to 30 different aircraft, including several military planes and a refurbished DC-3, which will be used for a World War II D-Day reenactment in France next month. The teens also can check out a 737 flight deck with pilots, look into a wheel well with mechanics and kick the tires of an F-18 or Lockheed Martin KC 130.

This will be Holmes’ first time attending Aviation Day, while Ford has volunteered multiple times: “I love to see kids walk into the 737, and they are so excited to go up to the flight deck and to sit in the pilot and co-pilot seats, and look at all the displays,” Ford says. She encourages students to not be limited by preconceptions of who can work in aviation. “There’s room in the military and in aviation for everyone to be able to lend their talents and to enjoy it,” she says. “Have courage. Reach for the sky.”

With a looming pilot shortage, airlines have an urgent need to inspire more young people to pursue aviation careers. In the next seven years, more than half the current commercial pilots in the U.S. will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65, and Boeing projects that in the next 20 years the industry will need 206,000 new pilots working in North America. Because women currently hold just six percent of the commercial pilot jobs in the U.S. — and African-American women hold only about one-half of one percent of all pilot jobs — Alaska is especially committed to helping passionate young women like Holmes find their way into aviation careers.

Ford and Alaska’s Black Employee Advocates and Allies group are helping Alaska significantly increase the number of female African-American pilots by 2025, a commitment made with the nonprofit Sisters of the Skies. And more than 170 Girl Scouts will attend Aviation Day this year.

Aircraft Maintenance: Getting in at the Ground Level

Brendan Cray remembers “geeking out” at the 2011 Aviation Day, which set him on the path to his current job as an aircraft maintenance technician at Alaska Airlines. Back then, he was a junior at Kentwood High School in Covington, Washington, who loved working on cars, and he saw an Aviation Day poster at the school library. At the event, he met some Alaska mechanics, toured Aircraft 569 (which is still in service) and got a look inside a 737 wheel well: “It’s amazing. Pipes, hydraulic lines, hydraulic fuses. I thought, ‘Imagine knowing what each of these lines goes to. Wouldn’t that be incredible to possess that knowledge?’”

Maintenance technician Brendan Cray attended Aviation Day in 2011 and started at Alaska Airlines three months after graduating from South Seattle College. (Photo: Ingrid Barrentine / Alaska Airlines)

After high school graduation, he started in South Seattle College’s Aviation Maintenance Technology Program, working his way through school while living at home. After graduating a little over two years later, he was hired by Alaska within three months. For students worried about costs, he points out that his education and testing costs came to about $16,000 over two years — less than a single semester’s tuition at some four-year universities. And aircraft maintenance technicians start off with good wages, Cray says. “The rate of return is huge.”

The opportunities for people who share Cray’s passion for plane mechanics are growing at Alaska and Horizon Air because more than a third of the airlines’ current maintenance technicians will be eligible for retirement in just three years. And when Cray gets the chance to volunteer at Aviation Day, he looks for those students whose faces reflect the same level of excitement he felt when he first looked inside a wheel well.

“It’s nice to know there are people who love planes as much as me,” he says. “You never know where aviation can take you. And there’s no greater feeling than waking up every day to go do something you love.”

“There are so many people who want to help”

Holmes urges young people who might want to try flying to start with programs like the Private Pilot Ground School at The Museum of Flight. And she shares a list of other resources, including educational organizations and scholarships. (Check out Holmes’ list) “It’s the perfect time to become a pilot,” she says. “Especially for teenagers and young adults, there are so many scholarships out there. There are so many people who want to help.” The costs of her own private pilot training have been covered by a scholarship from the LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation.

Holmes keeps a sharp focus on her goals and takes Aeronautical Science Pathway courses after school. She’s looking forward to a summer internship at Boeing, where she’ll see how the Navy P-8 Poseidon is made. “It’s basically a 737 that carries missiles,” she says. “It’s pretty cool.”

But first, that check ride coming up on May 18. Holmes has a waitlist of passengers eager to fly with her. At the top: her mom, Sherrie Holmes. “Being around people who support you and believe in you is very important,” London Holmes says. “My mom is always there, uplifting me.”

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One young pilot’s tips for others who aspire to fly

London Holmes checks out an Air Force Academy plane in Houston. She’s looking forward to a seminar at the Academy in Colorado Springs in June. (Courtesy London Holmes)

London Holmes grew up fascinated by the planes she could see from her house as they took off from Boeing Field and Renton Municipal Airport. By age 14, she was immersed in aerospace education programs — and now, at 17, she’s poised to get her private pilot’s license. Her plan is to become a military pilot, and possibly eventually fly commercial airplanes, too. “I’m a huge aviation nerd,” she admits. “I can live, drink and breathe aviation.”

Holmes is attending Alaska Airlines’ Aviation Day for the first time on Saturday, May 4. Now in its 11th year, Aviation Day brings more than 1,200 young people from around Western Washington to Alaska’s hangar at Sea-Tac International Airport. They get to meet pilots, engineers, flight attendants and technicians working in a wide variety of aviation jobs at Alaska, Boeing, the FAA and the Port of Seattle. They also can connect with educators, military representatives and corporate recruiters to chart potential career paths. Aviation Day is possible because of the efforts of Alaska employees who lead the event, along with partners including Boeing, Port of Seattle, Aerostrat, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and The Museum of Flight. (Read more about Holmes’ story and Aviation Day.)

Holmes appreciates the support she’s received from organizations that help aspiring young pilots, as well as from mentors like Alaska Airlines First Officer Kim Ford. And she’s eager to share what she’s learned. “It’s important for me to give back to other girls in aviation because I have had really great mentors,” Holmes says. “I’ve had really great opportunities. I’ve received great scholarships and I want to give back because I know how amazing it feels.”

For people who worry about the costs of pilot training, Holmes reassures them that it’s possible with help. “I could not pay for flight training by myself. It’s just too expensive,” she says. Her pilot-training costs are covered by a scholarship from the LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation. “It’s just a really great time to be in aviation because there are so many resources.”

Here are several organizations that Holmes and Ford recommend aspiring aviators check out.

Educational Programs

Private Pilot Ground School, The Museum of Flight

Holmes says this should be the first stop for young people around Puget Sound who are curious about aviation. “I know that some people aren’t sure about aviation. This is a great introductory course — especially if you live in the area because it’s free. And these are people your age who also have an interest in aviation.”

Aeronautical Science Pathway program. The Museum of Flight

Holmes attends this after-school program for juniors and seniors two hours a day, four days a week, and she’ll earn both high school and college credits. “It’s really cool because six of the students that I took the Private Pilot Ground School course with when I was 14 years old are in the class now.”

ACE Aerospace Camp Experience, The Museum of Flight

These day camps are offered year-round for students of all ages who are interested in scientific pursuits.

Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program, The Museum of Flight

Created in honor of Anderson, a Washington native and the payload commander of the Space Shuttle Columbia, this free educational program is offered to Washington state middle-schoolers.

(Note: The Museum of Flight offers several additional educational programs and resources. Check out the full site here:

Civil Air Patrol

The Civil Air Patrol is a civilian public service organization offering STEM education and cadet programs focused on developing young aerospace leaders.

Flying Clubs

Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club, a chapter of the Black Pilots of America

“It’s really important to find aviation-related activities because then you’re able to network but also enjoy and have fun doing aviation-related things at the same time,” Holmes says.

Scholarship Opportunities and Other Resources

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Foundation

Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)

LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation

The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women’s pilots

Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals

Sisters of the Skies

Sisters of the Skies is an organization of black women pilots offering scholarships, mentorships and an outreach program called “Girls Rock Wings.” This year, Alaska Airlines made a commitment with Sisters of the Skies to significantly increase the number of female African-American pilots by 2025.

Tuskegee Next

Tuskegee Airmen Legacy Flight Academy

These two programs honor the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen by offering flight training, camps and STEM programs.

Women in Aviation

Opinion: Some kids need a little lift to see aviation as a career path (Seattle Times)

Originally published in the Seattle Times on May 1, 2019

By Brad Tilden, Alaska Airlines CEO

In aviation and in other realms, “lift” is the force that lifts airplanes into the sky, pulls sailboats forward, and makes propellers on windmills work. In 1738, a guy named Daniel Bernoulli figured this out.  Specifically, he figured out that as the velocity of a fluid (air or water in these cases) increases, pressure decreases.  So engineers went to work.  With airplanes, they built curves into the wings to force air above the wing to travel farther, and therefore faster, than air below the wings.  This simple idea creates high pressure air below the wing, and low pressure air above the wing, and it is what keeps airplanes aloft.  Magic!

As our region grows faster than the Seattle skyline, adding jobs and opportunities, we have a moral imperative to figure out our own version of Bernoulli’s principle, something we should have figured out a long time ago. The question is how do we lift kids from all backgrounds and circumstances into the futures that they deserve.

Over the next five years, 740,000 jobs will be added in Washington State. The majority of these will be in highly skilled positions. We’ll need teachers, nurses, technicians, builders, aviators, and more. Some 70% of these jobs will require some training or education beyond high school, but only 31% of our kids are achieving this higher level of learning today. If we don’t fix the imbalance, we’ll most likely import the talent, which means our own kids, especially those kids from more economically challenged backgrounds, will miss out on the opportunities that they so clearly deserve.

As an industry, aviation offers a diverse array of jobs, and a chance to move between them throughout a career. Our state has the largest concentration of aviation and aerospace activity of any in the nation, and Boeing estimates our industry will need 206,000 new pilots and 189,000 new maintenance technicians over the next two decades. To fill these jobs, Alaska Airlines is working with local schools and colleges to make sure we fill these key positions.

In the meantime, one thing that all of us should do is expose our young people to potential career options.  We can do this by partnering with local school districts, by mentoring and creating programs that enable kids to find their voice and believe in their strengths, by providing internships for young people to explore work pathways, and by hiring, training, and promoting a diverse workforce.  If kids can see the destination, it will help them find a way to get there.

This Saturday, Alaska Airlines employees will lead our 11th Annual Aviation Day, and we expect more than 1,200 students to visit our hangar – more than ten times the number who came more than a decade ago. Young people, largely teens, will explore aircraft designs with engineers, kick the tires of an F-18 fighter (and a 737!), and test their skills on our flight simulators.

Many who’ve attended Aviation Day have gone on to careers within the industry.  People like Brendan Cray, an aircraft technician for Alaska who credits Aviation Day for steering him toward a career in aviation.

Like an airplane taking off, an event of this size is a team effort. As the real experts, our employees create and lead Aviation Day. But we couldn’t do this without great partners – the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, U.S. Air Force and Reserves, Sea-Tac Airport, local community colleges and flight schools. Together, we ensure kids can have new experiences, ask questions, and connect with resources for their futures.

Middle school students in Highline are some of those who inspire us. A few years ago, when we asked them about their dreams for the future, many told us they didn’t think they’d be qualified for jobs in aviation – despite growing up with aviation all around them. Some didn’t even know these jobs existed.

Our goal at Aviation Day, and beyond, is to ensure that every kid believes they can work in aviation – or another great career option. But this is a path – not a single step. We recognize that year-round efforts are needed across many fronts:

  • Our partners at Highline Schools, Museum of Flight, and Pacific Science Center fuel possibility and creativity throughout the year.
  • Scholarships at Port Jobs enable airport employees to finish their education or pursue training for career advancement.
  • Our Rotor Wing and Camo2Commerce programs support vets to leverage their valuable skills from the military as commercial pilots and maintenance technicians.
  • We pledged with Sisters of the Skies to significantly increase the number of female African-American pilots by 2025 – to hire the best pilots and ensure a pipeline of talent full of young people who can see themselves anywhere.
  • We’re inspired by Starbucks’ commitment to opportunity youth, Boeing’s Core Plus curriculum development, Vigor’s community workforce training programs, and many other local companies.

Bernoulli’s principle of lift took our world to places our ancestors would never have imagined. Let’s enable kids, including those furthest from opportunity, to reach new ones, too.

Tips from a Mileage Plan rockstar


If you’re wondering how to make the most of Mileage Plan and even work your way up to elite status, the best advice typically comes from those who’ve done it. We talked to two 30-year Mileage Plan members: John from Juneau, a current MVP Gold 75K, and Bruce from Portland, who enjoyed MVP Gold status for years. While neither John or Bruce felt they had any sage advice, we begged to differ.

Here are a few tips from the Alaska Mileage Plan veterans:

Stick to Alaska and its partners when traveling for business

Business travel is often outside of your control, but companies are increasingly making it possible for employees to choose their airline and/or enter their Mileage Plan number when booking flights. Both Bruce and John racked up a lot of miles traveling for business by flying Alaska almost exclusively.

You’ll always earn a mile per mile flown on Alaska, but you can earn even more than that depending on the type of fare you book.  First Class, and even certain economy fare classes earn additional bonus miles that get you even closer to elite status or that dream vacation faster.

And if your business travel takes you around the globe, booking with an Alaska Global Partner is a great way to ensure you’re still racking up your Mileage Plan miles.  Earn even faster if you book Premium Class seats internationally.  Earn rates vary by partner, but you can earn up to 3 miles per mile flown in Business Class or up to 5 miles per mile flown when you fly in First Class.

Spend more time in the air, not the airport

Neither Bruce nor John pay attention to racking up segments, though that is a way to earn elite status. Instead, John says he will look at the big picture of his trip: if there’s the option to have multiple segments but be stuck with a long layover, sometimes it’s worth it to book a longer, maybe slightly less direct route.


The way he looks at it: he’ll spend the time somewhere – in the airport or in the air. He’d rather spend more time on a plane, racking up miles.

Shop your way to your next vacation

Savvy members know that even if you don’t have any trips coming up, there are plenty of ways to keep your Mileage Plan balance growing.  An easy one?  Shopping! Through Mileage Plan Shopping, you can earn miles for your online and in-store shopping with over 850 participating merchants. Once signed up with Mileage Plan Shopping, you can mark stores as favorites to get alerts when additional bonus mile offers are running. There’s even a browser button you can download that will alert you when you are on a site eligible to earn miles, so you never miss out on mileage earning opportunities.

Save up miles for big trips abroad

Bruce is what you might call a Mileage Plan retiree – he had elite status for nearly 30 years and spent his miles sparingly. Now when he has more time to fly for fun, he’s using his miles to travel the globe.

He highly recommends flying an Alaska Global Partner and paying with miles. He and his wife traveled to Europe and purchased a one-way First Class ticket for around 60,000 miles, which he feels is a much better deal than paying for the ticket with cash.

 Use miles for more than flights

Alaska Airlines Hotels gives you access to more than 400,000 properties worldwide, from unique boutique hotels to major chains.  You can either earn miles for stays – up to an astounding 10,000 miles per night – or, redeem miles for all or a portion of your stay.

Relax! You’re flying greener, just by choosing Alaska

Refillable water bottle? Check. Packed light? Yep. Took public transportation to the airport? Gold star! Globetrotters today think more and more about the impact of their travel, especially air travel, on the environment. But do you know that the smartest thing you can do to lighten your carbon footprint while flying, is something you’ve already done?  Yup, by making the smart choice to fly Alaska Airlines.

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Beginner’s guide to Hong Kong

The first time you set eyes on Hong Kong is unforgettable. A hundred mountains rise sharply from over 250 islands. Popping skyward are famed rows of sci-fi skyscrapers — many with glitzy rooftop lounges – that hug a harbor filled with red-sail junk boats. Lurking in the alleys are open-air jade markets, chaotic dim sum halls, temples filled with incense smoke, and the steaming bowls of rice noodles.

You should go.

Visiting a city of seven million that attracts 30 million visitors a year might seem overwhelming for a first-timer. It’s actually one of Asia’s easiest cities to visit, and this guide will help you plan your Hong Kong debut.
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Beginner’s guide to Tokyo

Anyone who’s ever seen the iconic film “Lost in Translation” knows that Tokyo is a whirlwind of lights and color and sound and energy. But until you experience the city firsthand, it’s impossible to comprehend the staggering magnitude of this metropolis. With more than 37 million people, Tokyo is the world’s largest urban area, and to newcomers, it can seem impenetrable. Crowded streets. Subway cars packed to capacity. Menus and signs that are impossible to read.

But the reality is that Tokyo is not only one of the world’s most exciting cities; it’s also one of the most welcoming places on earth — if you know what to do and where to go. Here’s a cheat sheet full of valuable tips, plus a well-curated address book that will help a first-time visitor plan a memorable bucket-list trip.

Getting there

With Alaska’s Global Partner airlines, there are lots of ways you can get to Tokyo while earning and spending your miles.

Of note, Japan Airlines (JAL) flies nonstop from San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and New York (JFK) to Tokyo, and from Los Angeles to Osaka. Next week on March 31, JAL is adding a direct flight from Seattle to Tokyo-Narita. And with a double miles promotion, Alaska Mileage Plan members can really rack up the points toward future free trips.
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Asia travel itineraries checking 2 countries off your bucket list

If you have at least 10 days to visit, you may want to see more than one country on your next Asia trip. Alaska has several partner airlines that fly direct routes from major West Coast hubs to East and Southeast Asia, letting you earn miles for your travel. As of April 1, you can fly nonstop from Seattle to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, and Seattle to Tokyo on Japan Airlines, making Asia even more within reach.

Knowing Asia is a lot bigger and more spread out than Europe, I’ve put together my favorite itineraries checking off two countries in one trip – without forcing you to spend your entire trip in the airport or on the road.

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Planning your first trip to Asia

Asia is everything. Beautiful, timeless, cutting edge, affordable, safe, friendly, diverse, loud, meditative, delicious. In a word, unforgettable. And it’s closer than you think, particularly from the West Coast. Seattle, for instance, is about 10 hours from Tokyo on a direct flight, slightly less than the time it takes to reach London.

If you’ve not been, this guide is here to help you plan a debut trip to East and Southeast Asia flying one of Alaska’s Global Partner airlines. Trust me, there’s benefits to doing so, especially with new nonstops from Seattle to Hong Kong and Tokyo. (More on that below.)
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