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#FillBeforeYouFly: Why Alaska is urging guests to bring their own water bottles

Carrying a prefilled water bottle helps reduce plastics – and it’s a good reminder to stay hydrated while flying. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)

Mason jar packed with greens and veggies? Yep. A complete set of bamboo utensils? Got ‘em.

And maybe the most important item on Alaska Airlines flight attendant Rosie Tran’s pack list? Her own reusable water bottle – a key part of her holistic approach to wellness. “We can do so much for our own health, and for the health of the planet at the same time,” says Tran, who posts her tips on Instagram at @kaleintheclouds.

Today, Alaska is inviting guests to join flight attendants like Tran and #FillBeforeYouFly – a new initiative encouraging guests and employees to bring their own water bottles and become active partners in the airline’s goal to reduce single-use plastics. Members of Alaska’s Green Team, a group of employees devoted to education and innovation around environmental issues, will be at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport this morning to hand out water bottles provided by environmental leader MiiR, and to direct guests to water-filling stations. (See the Port of Seattle’s map for Sea-Tac locations.)

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, guests can find water-refill stations near every concourse. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)

“This is so exciting to get guests involved because it takes everybody to make a difference,” says Kim Fisher, Alaska reservations call center specialist and co-leader of the Green Team. “It can be so overwhelming to think about the environment, but the truth is everything we do counts.”

“We’re passionate about working with our guests, employees, airports and partners to reduce waste, protect habitats and improve water health,” says Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of external relations. Plastics are among the top items found during beach cleanups worldwide, environmental organizations report. “Land, water and animals are incredibly special parts of the places we live and fly,” she says. “If just 10% of us flying Alaska bring our own prefilled water bottles when we fly, it would save over 700,000 plastic water bottles and 4 million plastic cups per year. That’s a big lift.”

To extend the initiative’s effect, Alaska Airlines is partnering with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to plant a tree for every passenger who brings a prefilled water bottle on an Alaska flight and posts it to social media with the hashtag #FillBeforeYouFly. BEF’s goal is to plant 1 million trees on the West Coast to help reduce pollution and restore habitats for local fish and wildlife.

The “fill before” part of #FillBeforeYouFly is critical to the effort because Alaska policy doesn’t allow for personal water bottles to be filled directly during inflight beverage service. The policy is in place to manage the limited quantities of water available on flights.

The Green Team hopes guests will embrace #FillBeforeYouFly, which builds on years of efforts by Alaska and Horizon employees to reduce plastic waste throughout the companies:

  • In 2018, Alaska was the first major American airline to replace plastic straws and citrus picks on planes with marine-friendly alternatives. The effort, achieved in partnership with the environmental nonprofit Lonely Whale, eliminated 22 million pieces of inflight plastic waste each year. Lonely Whale is also a key partner in the #FillBeforeYouFly initiative, which aligns with Lonely Whale’s #HydrateLike campaign, popular on social media channels and inspiring individuals and companies to rethink reliance on single-use plastic bottles.
  • Alaska also recently replaced bottled beer with aluminum cans, which are lighter and easier to recycle.
  • In 2017, David Clarke, then a Horizon Air maintenance supervisor at Portland International Airport, found money in the budget to buy the Portland maintenance technicians their own personal water bottles and install three water fountains around the hangar and near the breakroom. The goal was to save the cost of buying pallets of plastic water bottles during hot summers, Clarke says – but the benefits multiplied: “Yes, it was an economic win by saving money,” he says. “It was also an environmental win in saving plastic. And a health win by encouraging people to drink more water.” Those water fountains, which have counters on them, have saved 176,621 water bottles so far just at the Portland hangar.

Alaska continues to look for ways to reduce its environmental impact – and has begun exploring alternatives to plastic water bottles and cups – but everyone realizes there is a lot of work ahead.

“We know this is a resource-intensive business with many stakeholders involved in the journey,” Birkett Rakow says. “We’re working with supply-chain partners and employees to come up with solutions to reduce waste, adopt sustainable practices and eliminate single-use plastics inflight.”

“Change takes time,” she says. “We value the collective impact our customers and employees can make today.”

Tran is excited to spread the word about #FillBeforeYouFly to her tens of thousands of social media followers, and she points out that an extra benefit of carrying a personal water bottle is that it’s a tangible reminder to hydrate regularly – vital for anyone who flies. “If you’re not careful, it can be so easy to use so much waste while traveling,” she says. “How I carry my food and hydrate can make a big difference.”

Green Team co-leader Fisher also has eliminated single-use plastics as much as possible in her life: She doesn’t use plastic bags ever – “If we forget one, we walk out of the store with a handful of groceries!” – and she always carries a reusable bottle and bamboo utensil kit. “Little things can have such a big impact,” Fisher says. “And let’s be honest: It’s not going to kill us to make these changes.”

The lost-luggage checklist: What to do if your bags are delayed

Remember to be thorough about labeling your bag. Attach a tag with your name to the outside and also be sure to tuck identification – such as a business card – on the inside. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)

Air travel brings adventure, memories, joy — and, unfortunately, sometimes stress. Reaching your destination to find that your bag isn’t waiting for you can quickly turn travel excitement into travel frustration.

We understand that a delayed or missing bag is not a happy start to anyone’s trip. At Alaska, we pride ourselves on getting our guests their luggage in a timely manner, which is why we have our 20-minute baggage service guarantee: If your bags take longer than 20 minutes to arrive at the carousel after your plane reaches the gate, talk to a customer service or baggage agent to receive Mileage Plan miles or a discount off a future flight.

But even though on-time baggage service is our top priority, disruptions happen— and when they do, we will do our best to get you reunited with your belongings and keep you informed every step of the way. “With delayed bags, time is really of the essence, and we do everything we can to get our guests taken care of in that moment,” said Katie Wilbur, a central baggage agent with Alaska. “We want you to know how much our agents truly care about our guests as individuals and about their specific situation to get you reunited with your luggage and on your way.”

If your bag is delayed getting to the carousel, here are some steps you can take while we work behind the scenes:

Stay at the airport. If your bag doesn’t immediately arrive, don’t just leave. When bags stop entering the carousel, ask a local agent about the status of your flight’s baggage.

Check the oversized baggage area in case your bag is there. Near each carousel, you’ll find signs explaining where to pick up oversized luggage. If you cannot find the oversized baggage area, ask one of our local uniformed employees for directions.

For late luggage, claim your discount. If your bags are delayed longer than 20 minutes after your aircraft arrived at the gate, talk to an agent at the airport for your $25 discount code or 2,500 miles for our baggage service guarantee. You need to request a voucher within two hours of your flight’s arrival. Read more here.

If your bag didn’t arrive, file a claim at the baggage office. If your luggage hasn’t arrived when the carousel stops, speak to our local baggage team at your arrival airport to file a claim. Be sure to give your contact information, so agents can reach out when they have more information. File a claim with them before leaving so we can work to get your bags back to you as quickly as possible.

Getting updates on the status of your claim: Airport agents try to update guests on the status of delayed bags at least every 24 hours. If you need to reach the airport, baggage phone numbers can be found here. If agents don’t answer, leave a message with your information. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive a quick update as the team will call you back when they have information to share. If your bag is still missing after five days, contact Alaska’s Central Baggage office at (877) 815-8253.

If you left an item on board: Always try to check your area before exiting the plane. If you do leave something behind and you’re still at the airport, check with a baggage or customer service agent right away to see if anything was turned in to the lost and found or recovered from the aircraft. If you realize after leaving that you left something behind, fill out this form to alert our baggage team.

Looking for more information? The best information will come from our baggage staff agents, who do the actual tracking and will contact you with updates. Our social media team is available 24/7 and is a great source for flight updates, travel questions and other resources – but they aren’t your best source for baggage questions.

More questions? We also have a general baggage FAQ on alaskaair.com.

Finally, remember there are a couple of things you can do while packing for your next trip to make the experience easier if your bag is lost: “Make sure you have your name on your bag,” said Wilbur. Be thorough: Attach a tag with your name to the outside and also be sure to tuck identification – such as a business card – on the inside. “This simple thing can be the factor between finding your bag and not being able to locate it.” And it’s a good idea to always keep medication and valuables with you. If you are traveling with a laptop, camera, expensive jewelry or necessary medication, secure these items in your carry-on bag just in case your checked bag is delayed.

Happy travels!

Customer Service Legend Judy Hatten: “We can help by listening”

Judy Hatten, Alaska customer service agent based in Burbank, California

Sometimes it’s a person’s steady acts of generosity and kindness, performed quietly and persistently over time, that make that person legendary.

For example, Burbank, California–based Customer Service Agent (CSA) Judy Hatten happened upon a sign for a blood drive more than 20 years ago and has been giving ever since, often participating in platelet donation, which takes more time than standard donation but allows a donor to give more often. Hatten recently earned her 10-gallon donor badge.

“I’m not afraid of needles and can offer at least two hours a month for people in need,” Hatten explains. “It takes so little of my time and can mean a lifetime to somebody else.”

This spirit of selflessness is evident to co-workers on the job. Hatten has been known to help with station fundraisers and has held bake sales to help colleagues make ends meet over the holidays. After her job shifts, Hatten aids her housemate and fellow CSA Liani Marriott by picking up Marriott’s children from day care and providing care herself so Marriott can work.

“Judy has definitely been one of our unsung heroes,” Marriott says. “There are times when those who work the hardest are not the ones who see their names in lights. But it would be hard to find a more exemplary employee.”

Hatten, who grew up in Northern California, has worked as an Alaska CSA in Burbank for 32 years. A highly skilled and versatile employee, she is known for her scheduling capabilities, her focus on safety and her ability to step into roles as a lead CSA or CSA trainer when needed.

Yet Hatten is best-known among frequent flyers in Burbank for her people skills—for being genuinely helpful, friendly and engaging.

“A nice day for me is when I help people get where they are going safely and make their day a little better,” Hatten says. “I try to work hard for other people.”

Questions & answers

What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy the time I have to talk with our guests—finding out what they’re doing and where they’re going.

What is your best piece of job advice?
Just be kind to everyone. Each person is an individual, and we can help by listening.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy LA Dodgers baseball games. My dad was a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson was on the team. I still bleed blue for the Dodgers.

Where have you enjoyed traveling?
I’ve visited many countries, but I also like to travel in the U.S. On one recent trip, I flew to Omaha and then drove to the Badlands of South Dakota. That was beautiful.

What do you pack when you fly?
An iPad to play games and read books—I especially enjoy reading mysteries.

Kudos from Judy’s co-workers

“Judy is a legend because she goes above and beyond. She helps co-workers all the time. She always wears a smile, makes everyone happy and tells jokes. It’s a wonderful delight to work with her.” —Scott Kaller, Customer Service Manager, Burbank

“Judy is diligent and focused, yet lighthearted enough to find humor in almost any situation. She is exceptionally kindhearted and does the right thing for Alaska Airlines and guests at all times.” —Liani Marriott, Customer Service Agent, Burbank

“Judy is a Burbank legend because of her high standards, friendliness, and willingness to help by taking initiative and being there when people need her.” —Bill McConnaughey, Lead Customer Service Agent, Burbank

“Whenever Judy retires, her name will be raised often with fondness in Burbank. She has been here a long time, and people remember her. When guests check in, they ask if Judy is working. She’s a great representative for Alaska Airlines.” —Janine Regoli, Operations Trainer, Burbank

Alaska Airlines employees such as Judy Hatten are the reason for our service excellence. Join us in creating an airline people love. Visit careers.alaskaair.com.

Beginner’s guide to Singapore

The Singapore River is lined by outdoor eateries, bars and bike trails. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

First-timers to this tropical city-state often pack along outside images of an economic dynamo – home to that space-age skyline from “Crazy Rich Asians” and an extra rule or two. (No durians on the metro!) But once you’re here, Singapore reveals itself as much more: Asia’s fabulous melting pot, where Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures merge so memorably.

Singapore is a breeze to enjoy. It’s always summer. English is widely spoken. Public transit is simple and cheap, and it’s easy to get here via Alaska’s partner airlines, including Singapore Airlines, which offers nonstop flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York and – beginning September 3 – Seattle.

Beyond the luxurious shopping and glittering lights loom golden beaches, century-old shophouses decked out in colorful tiles, pedestrian-only backlanes filled with boutiques and cafes – plus some of the world’s best street food in the city’s iconic “hawker centers.”

It’s also a hub offering easy access to much of Southeast Asia. After a few days here, you can double-up an overseas adventure by flying an hour or two to some of the world’s best beaches in Bali or Thailand, the ancient Khmer kingdom at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, or floating villages of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. But you won’t be in any hurry to leave Singapore.

Overview

A walk around Marina Bay takes in much of Singapore’s modern architectural icons. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

At 278 square miles, Singapore is a bit smaller than New York City, and is one of the most relaxing and rewarding Asian cities to visit. Most of the 5.4 million locals speak English (which joins Mandarin, Malay and Tamil as official languages).

The story of modern Singapore springs from many roots, including the Peranakan culture that grew from Chinese immigration in the 1400s, and the British colonial period, which began two centuries ago in 1819. World War II weighs heavy on Singapore consciousness, too: After Pearl Harbor the Japanese took over the entire Malay peninsula and the British-controlled Singapore by February 1942.

When colonial rulers proved unable to stop a foreign invasion, the seeds of independence were sown. Following a brief merger with Malaysia, Singapore became fully independent in 1965. Over the next half-century, Singapore left behind its humble kampong (village) origins and become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with the gross domestic product rising from US$320 per capita a year to over US$60,000.

For a fun way to learn more of Singapore’s 20th-century history, check out Sonny Liew’s cinematic and award-winning graphic novel, “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye,” which tells an alternative history of modern Singapore through the life of an aged fictional cartoonist.

When to go

Singapore is at its best after dark, when temperatures fall and the city lights up. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

It’s summer all year in this tropical rainforest climate (the equator is only 88 miles south), and regardless of rain or crowds (notably July to August) it’s possible to have a great experience any time.

It rains frequently – often quick downpours, here and gone. February to April is generally driest (and without summer crowds), while rainfall peaks November to January.

Humidity is about the same all year, usually highest in the mornings at 90%, before tapering off in the afternoon – meaning it can be wise to start the morning by shopping or going to one of the excellent museums.

Getting there

The new Jewel terminal hub at Changi Airport, which opened in June. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Reaching Singapore is one of the travel world’s great pleasures. Its Changi Airport has won consumer aviation website Skytrax’s annual award for best airport seven years straight, and the new Jewel terminal hub has become a city attraction in its own right. (See our recent video and review.)

Alaska Global Partners offer many flights to Singapore, allowing Mileage Plan members to earn their miles on a long-distance trip.

Passports & visas

No visa is required for Americans to visit Singapore for up to 90 days, or for Canadians to visit up to 30 days. Ensure your passport is valid for six months and has two blank visa pages.

Money

Singapore uses the Singapore dollar (SGD, or S$), which is worth about US$0.74. You’ll find ATMs using Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Plus, Eurocard networks in banks, convenience stores and malls – and most hotels, restaurants and shops accept the cards.

Singapore is more expensive than much of Southeast Asia, but it’s still generally less expensive than a visit to most American cities. You can spend anywhere from US$70 to more than US$400 per person per day, depending on how you roll. Restaurants and bars can rival high-end New York or Europe in price. A downtown restaurant serves overflowing platter of chili crab for S$90 (US$66), while pints of local Tiger lager beer vary from S$4 to S$16 (US$3 to US$11.70), depending on where you get it). But hawker centers offer excellent meals for as little as S$3 (US$2.20).

Lay of the land

Marina Bay’s SkyPark observatory offers towering views of city and sea. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Singapore is made up of more than 60 islands at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, between Malaysia and Indonesia. The main territory is the 17-by-31-mile Singapore Island, also known as Pulau Ujong. Most of the attractions fill its compact south-central districts, radiating inland from the harbor.

Just off Marina Bay, the “supertrees” of Gardens by the Sea are horizontal gardens that are free for visitors to explore. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Many visitors set up around Marina Bay, the result of a reclamation project. It boasts oversized attractions like Marina Bay Sands’ boat-shaped SkyPark and the glowing “supertrees” that tower over less artificial horticulture of Gardens by the Bay. Across the bay lies Singapore’s historic heart, the Civic District, with canalside eateries along Circular Road and promenades passing illuminated bridges.

Just inland is Chinatown, with a food street and several hawker centers. A couple of miles east is Kampong Glam, a Malay enclave known for pairing the biggest mosque in town with colorful shops and eateries. To the north is Little India, with temples, sari shops and curry houses on Serangoon Road. Orchard Road, a few miles from Marina Bay to the north, is shopping central, with more than 20 high-end malls.

Where to stay

Marina Bay Sands is – you see it right – topped by a boat-shaped SkyPark. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

You can easily fill five days in Singapore, so choose a convenient base. Civic District hotels can run over US$250. The nearby Marina Bay Sands is a US$700 splurge but offers guests infinity pool access in its SkyPark atop its three towers. Bucket-listers should consider the historic Raffles Hotel, famed for colonial-style grace and its homegrown Singapore Sling cocktails. It’ll cost you, though. The hotel reopened in August after a two-year restoration; rooms start around S$750 (US$550).

For cheaper stays, Singapore is fully entrenched in the “capsule hotel” scene, with slick offerings if you don’t mind climbing into a compact chamber and sharing bathrooms (starting at US$40 including breakfast). There are also double-bed capsules and small private rooms. Many cheaper Airbnb options run US$40 to US$60 a night, usually offering guesthouse-style apartments with shared bathrooms.

The historic Raffles Hotel reopened in August after an extensive renovation. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Getting around

Singapore’s MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) is a well-organized system where you can take buses or the 124-mile subway system using the E-Z Link card, which can be bought for non-refundable S$5 directly from subway attendants by the turnstiles. Note: machines accept cash only.

Color-coded lines are labeled by their terminus, so you’ll need to know your direction to board the right train. Grab a free subway line map for easy reference.

To ride, swipe your EZ-Link card to enter a subway station or get onto a bus, then swipe again when leaving. Fares vary depending how far you go; most one-way rides range from under S$1 to just over S$2. (Here’s an online calculator.) You need to keep S$3 minimum on your card to use it. Subway stations have “top-up” machines to add a minimum of S$10 to your card. You can buy point-to-point access with cash.

The MRT also offers a day pass for S$10, which makes sense if you’re planning on at least six rides.

In addition to taxis, Grab is the local version of Lyft or Uber, and easy to use with its mobile app. Most rides around central sites cost less than S$7. A ride between Changi airport and the center costs about S$20. MRT subway lines and buses connect the airport and city center, though they require a transfer.

Note: All vehicular traffic, as in England, runs on the left side of the street.

Essential experiences

Marina Bay’s Merlion – a part mermaid, part lion – is the unofficial city mascot. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Singapore’s attractions span centuries and, of late, heights. Here are a few things you’ll likely want to do first. And if you fly on Alaska Global Partner Singapore Airlines, you get discounts to many attractions. (See the list.)

Marina Bay Walk

Singapore’s sidewalks and promenades make for ideal walking and some sidewalks are even covered from midday sun or rains. The best is the two-mile walk around Marina Bay, where you’ll find theaters, restaurants, a Ferris wheel, downtown buildings, the city’s beloved Merlion sculpture fountain (the mystical mermaid/lion hybrid – only in Singapore!) and the iconic triplet-tower of Marina Bay Sands, where you can visit the SkyPark for S$23.

Locals and tourists alike come at dusk and for the evening light shows. Expect to accidently step in front of an Instagram shot or two.

Museums
Singapore’s museums, like the National Gallery Singapore, offer far more than just an AC break. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Singapore has invested in showcasing its cultural achievements. And you’ll want to visit a couple of museums, which have the extra advantage of providing an air-conditioned break during the hottest time of day.

The excellent National Gallery Singapore, with its imaginative makeover of the old City Hall and Supreme Court buildings, debuted in 2015. Its towering galleries reveal artistic reactions to a modernizing era and are worth several hours.

Fort Canning Park’s Battlebox is where the British military (briefly) tried to thwart the Japanese invasion before surrendering in 1942. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

The city’s oldest museum, the National Museum of Singapore, first opened in 1887 and offers an illuminating, at times playful, look at the development of the city-state in a stunning space. It even celebrates ‘70s films with a montage you watch from a “drive-in” theater.

For war buffs, Battlebox Museum offers a fascinating 75-minute tour of the bunkers in lovely Fort Canning Park where the British army ultimately made the call to surrender to the Japanese in February 1942.

Chinatown’s free Buddha Sacred Tooth Temple & Museum – housed in a Tang-style temple that looks old but was built in 2007 – is a free attraction near Chinatown eateries that gives a helpful Buddhism overview.

Singapore is made for Instagram. Its Vintage Cameras Museum in the Kampong Glam neighborhood even has surreal backdrops set up for your selfie dreams. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)
Zoo

The Singapore Zoo is considered by many the world’s best. In the “open concept” space, natural boundaries replace fences and bars. The zoo is even open after dark for “night safaris” when critters are most active.

Shophouses

Brightly colored two- or three-story Chinese-style shophouses, built from the mid-1800s until World War II as commercial and residential spaces, are as key a piece of local architecture as the “painted lady” Victorians of San Francisco. The most elaborate, with ornate tilework and columned windows, incorporate Malay and Art Deco influences.

You’ll see them across town, including Little India’s Serangoon Rd, at the open-air eateries in Chinatown or the pub scene of river-facing Circular Road, and on boutique-filled lanes of Kampong Glam.

Outdoor Activities

It’s known for urban glitz, but Singapore offers many ways to enjoy the outdoors. Pulau Ubin is a vehicle-free island near the airport, reached by a S$3 “bumboat” ferry; there you can rent bikes to explore a relatively untouched nature, including wetlands and mountains with views back on the city and the sea.

Another great place – particularly for families – is Sentosa Island, an amusement park hub with the nicest beaches.

Eating

Singapore dining brings a lot of surprises. The unsigned Dragon Chamber is reached behind a “beer fridge” door. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Michelin stars and awards run rampant in Singapore, from food stalls to classy dining like Odette in the National Gallery. You will eat well, regardless of how much you spend.

Foodie events run all year, including the two-week Singapore Food Festival in July. The array of beloved staples (Hainanese chicken rice, Malay laksa, Indian roti prata flatbread) reveal how diverse Singapore is – and delicious.

Try atmospheric dining areas like riverside eateries along Circular Road (for seafood and pub fare) and Kampong Glam’s palm-lined pedestrian streets (for Middle Eastern and Malay food).

The 100-plus hawker centers are a revered link to street food heritage, each packed with endless options of cheap, excellent food that give a local spin to Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Indian and Western recipes. “Crazy Rich Asians” fans will want to go to Newton hawker center, where Rachel goes for a hot, spicy plate of chili crab. There are many more options.

Shopping

Facing the Singapore River, Circular Road is a popular open-air night spot. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Singapore has been Southeast Asia’s capital of shopping for generations. Its Orchard Road is the region’s Champs-Élysées, lined with glitzy malls and high-end boutiques.

Kampong Glam is more like hipster Singapore, particularly the boutiques on the pedestrian strip of Haji Lane. A block away, Arab Street is good for imported textiles and rugs. You’ll find many colorful knickknacks in Chinatown and at Little India Arcade off Serangoon Road.

If you’re looking for food products, most hawker centers have markets – particularly helpful if you’ve fallen for the coconut jam used in kaya toast.

Learn more

Explore how you can earn and redeem miles on trips to Singapore and other destinations in Asia by flying on Alaska Global Partner airlines.

Mystery solved: Why some of our aircraft have a windowless window seat

The view from seat 11A on Alaska’s 737-900ER.

You board your flight to Maui and head to your seat – 10A. You’re excited to have a view of the Pacific Ocean for the next five hours. However, when you get to your seat, you come to find that you’re in the only one on the aircraft without a window – the windowless window seat.

Have you ever wondered why this seat exists?

Every aircraft in Alaska’s Boeing fleet has a seat or two, on the left side forward of the wing, with either partial access to a window or no window at all.

“That’s the spot where Boeing places the air conditioning riser ducts from the belly – where the air conditioners are located – to the cabin ceiling, where the air distribution ducts are at,” said John Melvin, Alaska director of fleet engineering. “The vertical ducts are located behind the passenger compartment sidewall panels and they prevent the installation of a window in one row on the left side. This is standard on all Boeing 737 aircraft, not just ours.”

On Horizon Air’s Q400 fleet, there is also a partially blocked window at row 11.

“There is an obstruction of the view from the window due to electrical conduits that pass through that area similar to the Boeing 737,” said David White, Horizon director of fleet engineering. “It’s not a complete obstruction, but the windows are located pretty far forward and aft at that seat, so the visibility is not so good.”

So, there you have it. Mystery solved!

Here’s a breakdown of our aircraft with partial access to a window or no window at all:

• 737-700 – No window in Seat 9A
• 737-800 – No window in seat 10A
• 737-900/900ER– No window in seat 11A
• Q400 – Limited window view in row 11

Customer Service Legend Ron Wallin: “He leads by example”

Ron Wallin

On exactly the 46th anniversary of Ronald (Ron) Wallin’s hiring at Alaska Airlines, he officially became a Legend of Customer Service, the airline’s highest employee honor. Wallin was among 15 award recipients at the April 30 ceremony in Seattle that celebrated the 2019 Legends class.

According to the co-workers who know him best, however, this Ramp Service Agent who works in the Air Cargo Warehouse in Seattle achieved legendary status long ago—for his dependability, watchful commitment to safety on the job and willingness to lend a hand.

“I started working with Ron in 1977 in Ketchikan, and I’ve known him for 55-plus years,” says Larry Tinney, a Lead Ramp Service Agent who still works with Wallin, now in Seattle. “Ron has always been a positive and helpful person who works well above any standards.”

Born and raised in Ketchikan, Wallin hired on with the airline as a ramp agent in his hometown. He and his wife moved to Seattle in 1985, after their children finished high school.

Wallin, who has had different roles on the ramps in his career, now works as an early-morning runner for priority packages shipped via Alaska’s GoldStreak service. He ensures that packages are assigned to the correct flights and then rushes them from the warehouse to planes, ensuring there is time to load them.

Over the years, Wallin has handled a variety of intriguing incoming and outgoing cargo, including medical shipments—even transplant organs—that must be kept cold. He has also enjoyed participating in the airline’s annual rush shipment of the first Copper River salmon to Seattle. It reminds him of his Alaska roots.

Whatever cargo Wallin is in charge of, customers can be sure it is handled with care.

“It’s all about service,” he says. “When I want something delivered to me, I want it to arrive as soon as it can, safely. I want the same for our customers.”

Questions & answers

What’s the best thing about your job?
It has always been the people I work with. I also like doing something physical. I go to work, and I get a workout. I enjoy that.

What advice do you have for new hires?
You just have to execute on your job. That is what we always try to do.

Where do you like to travel?
Pretty much all my wife and I do now is try to spend as much time as we can with our grandkids. They are in Kansas City now, but they have moved around a bit. Visiting them has been a great way to see different parts of the country.

What do you pack on trips?
We take very little. We like going to warm places, so we bring gear for warm weather.

What should people know about you?
I’m an early riser. I work from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m., and I love the morning shift.

Kudos from Ron’s co-workers

“Ron is a Legend in my book because he leads by example. He comes to work every single day, does his job, does it really well, is always in a good mood and never calls in sick.”—Scott H., Air Freight Cargo Operations, Seattle

“Ron knows how important it is to our customers that they receive their cargo in a timely manner. He goes above and beyond to ensure that their shipments are on the flights, as expected.”—Mary Q., General Manager, Cargo, Seattle

“If you need help, Ron steps in and helps out. And he always has a good story to give you a laugh. Also, Ron always shares his cookies!”—Kim B., Supervisor, Cargo Operations, Seattle

“Ron always shows up for work with a smile on his face. He genuinely cares about the things that we ship. I love coming to work every day and working with him.”—Helene R., Lead Customer Service Agent, Air Freight Cargo Operations, Seattle

Alaska Airlines employees such as Ron Wallin are the reason for our service excellence. Join us in creating an airline people love. Visit careers.alaskaair.com.

How Alaska Airlines Foundation helps students ClimbHI – creating lift and inspiring Hawaii’s future tourism leaders

ClimbHI’s college interns help coordinate the annual LEI program, which brings together 1,000 student participants from 42 Hawaii high schools to learn about opportunities in the state’s number one industry: tourism. (Photo courtesy of ClimbHI)

Even in high school, Geraldine “Denden” Ilan knew she wanted a career in sharing aloha.

The 2016 graduate of Waipahu High School on the island of Oahu was inspired when she joined the Leadership, Exploration and Inspiration (LEI) Program offered by ClimbHI, a nonprofit based in Honolulu that gives young people the chance to explore careers in Hawaii’s number one industry: tourism.

Geraldine “Denden” Ilan at work during her internship with the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. Ilan is a former LEI program student participant and college intern. (Photo courtesy of ClimbHI.)

“At the time, I still wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do in the industry, but I knew that I wanted to spread the same aloha spirit that I was given during my time with LEI,” says Ilan, who is now a student at Hawaii Pacific University with an internship at the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association.

This combination of inspiration and opportunity is just one way that the Alaska Airlines Foundation is creating lift – investing in community programs that enable young people to imagine and reach new possibilities. (Learn more about how Alaska is creating sustainability through lift.) For 20 years, the independent 501(c)3 Alaska Airlines Foundation has been investing in communities through grants to nonprofits like ClimbHI.

“We’re here because of our communities, and our aim is to thrive together for generations to come,” says Diana Birkett Rakow, chair of the Alaska Airlines Foundation Board of Directors. “As we look out over the horizon, we will grow and expand the foundation and work with partners to help inspire, empower and equip young people to connect to career opportunities and realize strong futures.”

Julie Morikawa, ClimbHI president and CEO, with LEI program college interns. (Photo courtesy of ClimbHI.)

ClimbHI founder Julie Morikawa says her “ah-ha” moment to create the organization came when she returned home after working on the mainland in the travel and tech industries. “It became clear there was very little connection between our education system and the main industry in Hawaii,” says Morikawa, now ClimbHI’s president and CEO. “Through ClimbHI, we provide career exploration at a critical time when students are asking themselves, ‘What next?’”

“We are that bridge in connecting their current high school work and the endless opportunities that await them on their next journey,” Morikawa says.

Over 1,000 students across the Hawaiian Islands participate in ClimbHI’s LEI program each year – just one way the organization helps students explore careers in hospitality and tourism. “Whether or not a student decides to go into the (tourism) industry, the program is really about them finding their confidence to believe in their dreams and follow a path to making those dreams a reality,” Morikawa says. “We provide the inspiration and confidence so our students can follow their dreams and succeed.”

Ilan, who is also a peer mentor at Hawaii Pacific University, appreciates the wide range of experiences. “There is always something to learn about each day, and I love that there is never a dull moment in this industry,” Ilan says.

Over the past two decades, the Alaska Airlines Foundation has supported communities with cash grants to nonprofits totaling over $2 million – focusing on programs that benefit young people in the communities served by the airline.

“We’re making a long-term commitment to young people, especially those who don’t start out with easy access to opportunity,” Birkett Rakow says. “This round of donations pays homage to the Foundation’s history and commitment to communities while beginning to chart a new course for the future.”

In the first half of 2019, the Alaska Airlines Foundation made grants to the following 24 organizations:

Alaska:
Anchorage Museum
Covenant House Alaska
Girl Scouts of Alaska
Ilisagvik College
Junior Achievement of Alaska
Seward Association for the Advancement of Marine Science
Story Works
Volunteers of America – Alaska

Hawaii:
Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii
ClimbHI
Friends of Hawaii Robotics
Girl Scouts of Hawaii
Malama Learning Center – Islander Scholars
Nalukai Foundation

Washington:
After-School All-Stars
Asian Counseling and Referral Service
Communities in Schools
College Success Foundation
El Centro De La Raza
Juma Adventures
Reading Partners’
Seattle Education Access
Washington STEM Center
YouthCare

The Alaska Airlines Foundation is currently updating its grant guidelines, and in 2020 will expand to add grant opportunities in California and Oregon.

It’s happening! Flights between Everett’s Paine Field and Spokane now on sale

When it comes to adding new destinations from Paine Field, we heard your love for the Lilac City loud and clear. So, Snohomish County – say hello to Spokane!

We’re excited to launch daily, nonstop jet service between Paine Field in Everett and Spokane in Eastern Washington starting Nov. 4 – just in time for holiday travel.

You can buy your Alaska Airlines tickets now for our 10th announced destination from Paine Field.

Here’s the flight schedule:

Effective Date City Pair Departs Arrives Frequency Aircraft
Nov. 4, 2019 Everett-Spokane 7:55 p.m. 9:10 p.m. Daily E175
Nov. 5, 2019 Spokane-Everett 7:40 a.m. 8:55 a.m. Daily E175

“When it comes to flights at Paine Field, our guests have been eager for one city to be added above all others right now – they said make it Spokane,” said David Besse, our manager of network planning. “We believe this route will be very popular, easily connecting family and friends, workers and businesses, between two dynamic regions of the state.”

Our start of service at Paine Field began just five months ago. In that short time, flying in and out of Everett has become a popular, convenient option for many travelers, especially those who live north of Seattle. It prevents a drive to Sea-Tac Airport. As of late July, nearly 300,000 guests have flown with us at Paine Field.

All Alaska flights at Paine Field are operated by Horizon Air with jet service using the Embraer 175 aircraft, which features a three-class cabin. From Paine Field, guests can currently fly to eight destinations: Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Orange County, California; Phoenix; Portland, Oregon; San Diego; San Francisco; and San Jose, California. Alaska recently announced Palm Springs will become its ninth destination from Everett, with tickets already on sale.

The sky really is the limit from Paine Field. Our guests can connect with our Global Partners at our gateway airports on the West Coast – such as Los Angeles and San Francisco – to fly to more than 900 destinations around the globe. Flyers can also earn and redeem miles with our highly-acclaimed Mileage Plan program.

Creating lift: Imagine what’s possible for the environment, our communities and our people

Alaska Airlines’ annual Aviation Day has given thousands of young people the opportunity to explore aviation careers. Aspiring pilot London Holmes attended the 2019 Aviation Day with her mentor, Alaska First Officer Kim Ford. (Ingrid Barrentine photo)

If you’ve flown with a kid lately, you know that the moment the airplane leaves the ground, it feels like magic. In fact, the Alaska Airlines employees-turned-elves Fantasy Flight crew in Spokane, Washington, have made that magic very real the first weekend of every December for the last 20 years—giving kids who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity a ride to “Santa’s workshop” for holiday cheer, warm clothes and a gift request come true.

That magical moment is thanks to the physics concept of “lift.” Centuries upon centuries after sailboats used this concept to cross oceans, engineers built curves into airplane wings—forcing air above the wing to travel farther, and therefore faster, than air below the wings, lifting the plane into the air.

But what if we could translate this idea, the collective force of air particles acting around a wing, into our environment, our communities and the people who make up our business? In its origin, lift was a bold idea—seemingly simple, but creating infinite possibilities for people, commerce and connection.

For us, it’s both our past and our future. It’s why we work here. We love aviation, and we know that being a resilient, responsible business requires us to create lift on all fronts. It means investing in our people, cultivating a diverse and talented workforce, innovating to reduce our environmental impact and resource use, using our flying to support those in need, and enabling and inspiring young people to pursue their dreams.

These aren’t easy things, and we don’t have all the answers. We value the chance to partner with those who are also on the path to fly and live greener, better, more sustainably. In 2018, we worked hard across Alaska and Horizon toward our social and environmental impact goals and priorities:

  • Removing 22 million plastic straws and stir sticks from our aircraft in favor of sustainable alternatives
  • Improving our inflight recycling—already the best in the business—by Integrating our inflight service training across all aircraft types in our mainline fleet
  • Half of our independent board members are women—and we were the first West Coast based Fortune 500 company to do this.  This means better diversity of thought, and ultimately better decisions
  • Bringing the total number of Airbus 321 neo aircraft in our fleet to eight, each over 50% more efficient than the older Airbus 319s.
  • Signing memorandum of understanding agreements with Sea-Tac International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Neste, a sustainable fuels company, to continue to figure out ways to be more fuel-efficient and to make sustainable aviation jet fuel a commercially viable and locally-produced option

How we are creating lift at Alaska Airlines

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(Graphic by Jason Wilcox, Alaska Airlines)

We also began to focus our social impact to inspire, empower, and enable young people—especially those who don’t start out with a lot of opportunity—to make career connections and improve economic mobility. We’re making a long-term commitment to hone our own version of lift: fueling to explore and learn critical thinking and critical skills; mentoring and enabling programs for kids to find their voice and believe in their strengths; providing internships for young people to explore work pathways; and hiring, training and promoting a diverse workforce. We’ll continue to learn with and from our people, our partners and our communities about where and how we can best contribute.

We’re made of up 23,000 and the many more who’ve served our company over the decades. Millions more fly with us, inspire us and keep us striving for better ways to serve. Many of these remarkable people started with us as young people themselves, growing families, exploring new realms of aviation or growing their careers to finish school and try new things. As our hubs and the beautiful places we live and fly continue to grow and flourish, we owe it to each other to be strong, resilient and thriving for the long term.

That kind of lift will take all of us. Thank you for being part of this journey.

Learn more about how we are creating lift through sustainability.

Capturing the journey: A photographer’s guide to making great photos from your airplane seat

Flying above Mount St. Helens – with Mount Adams in the background – at sunset. Camera data: Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-70 2.8 lens, ISO 100 Aperture 4.5, Shutter Speed 1/400

Photography by Ingrid Barrentine

There’s a bit of a wow factor to the job title, staff photographer at Alaska Airlines. It does include glamorous moments: celebrity partnerships, behind-the-scenes views, and of course, my favorite part – the airplane travel. To be fair, not everything is dazzling. There is constant pressure to deliver perfect images and I spend a lot of days (and nights) away from my two young girls and incredibly supportive husband. But the positives far outweigh any negative as I frequently – meaning, more than 70 flights in the past 12 months – find myself jetting up and down the West Coast.

Ingrid Barrentine on the 2017 Great American Eclipse flight.

My love of travel isn’t new. I grew up in a small town where travel meant road trips, and my family of six was good at them. We loved them so much that we took a year sabbatical, crammed into an RV, and meandered across the United States. It was on that trip, while in the red rock canyons of the American Southwest, that I began to see photography as a way of capturing the journey. I was 15 and my father, who loved landscape photography but had discovered an interest in camcorder-crafted video, handed me his Nikon film camera and asked me to help document our adventure. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was hooked. I had to travel. And I had to travel with a camera. Fast-forward to my first time on an airplane – at 17 – and that wanderlust exploded. I spent the better part of the next few years traveling – with a camera – to Europe, where I worked in Romania as a volunteer educator. Once back in the U.S., I went to school for photography and landed an internship with my local newspaper. Learning how to tell stories with a camera turned into career gold and I’m forever grateful that I get to do what I love. Every. Single. Day.

Enough about me! Let’s talk about my office – the airplane. The romantic notion of photographing air travel can be quickly dashed by the realization that an airplane is NOT an easy place to make nice images. It’s often crowded and you have no control over the light. That said, here are some things you can do to ensure that you document the story of your trip from the start.

What are some tools for creating good photos on a plane?

Do you own a professional camera or do you make images with your phone? You can capture good photos with both! The key is to plan ahead.

For a DSLR, make sure your ISO and/or shutter speed are high enough to stop motion. Choose a versatile lens. I personally like the 24-70 2.8mm or the 35 or 50 1.4mm. These lenses are small and can be handheld with no issues.

If a phone is your camera of choice, make sure you have enough free memory to handle all your vacation images. And don’t forget your charging cable! Good natural light always helps a phone image look better, so try and snag a window seat. A multitude of apps help make phones powerful storytelling tools. You can capture video, stills, and create time-lapses. Just remember to focus lock on your subject. (Google it for your type of phone.) Photo-retouching apps like Snapseed are affordable and offer a lot of customization options. Social media powers like Instagram allow you to share your adventure in real time. And they provide some pretty fun tools – boomerangs anyone? – to help you get creative as you capture your journey.

What apps might help me take or alter that perfect shot?

For mobile:
Snapseed: A popular image editing app.
Lightroom: The phone app is my mobile editing method of choice.
ImgPlay Pro: A fun gif maker – think IG stories.
iMovie: A great app for cutting video clips on the fly.
Unfold: A lovely IG story layout app. Makes those stories pop!
LightTrac: Want to know where the sun will be at any given moment in a specific location? This is your friend.
FlightAware: This is handy if you’re interested in watching your flight’s path.

For laptop:
Adobe Creative Suite: Photoshop and Lightroom are the perfect tools to edit your images.
PhotoMechanic: A photojournalist’s best friend! And a fabulous software for ingesting, sorting and tagging imagery.

What are three things people can do to get a great shot out an airplane window?

1. Choose a window seat.

It is more challenging to get good inflight images from an aisle seat, so I always opt for the window. Choose your seat based on what side of the plane will have the most interesting scenery. Look up the flight route on a map. And this site lists all aircraft seat maps. For example, if I’m flying from Seattle to California, I’ll choose a window seat on the left side of the plane (the A seats), so that I will be able to capture imagery of Mount Rainier as I’m flying by.

Pro-tip: Add a screen wipe or soft cotton cloth to your travel bag. Sometimes the windows need a little cleaning.

If your window seat is in the front of the plane, you can capture unobstructed views of the landscape like the image of Molokini on the approach to Maui.

Camera data: Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-70 2.8 lens, ISO 640 Aperture 3.5, Shutter Speed 1/3200

Whereas if you’re sitting on the wing, you’ll have to incorporate it into the view.

One of our aircraft – the Airbus A320neo – has a unique small round window mid-cabin. I love how the shape of this window perfectly frames the wing. Camera data: Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-70 2.8 lens, ISO 400 Aperture 5.6, Shutter Speed 1/8000

And if your seat is in the back, the wing will frame the landscape below like in this next image above downtown San Francisco.

Pro-tip: If you’re flying to SEA from SFO, choose a window seat on the A side. More often than not, you’ll have a fabulous view of the city as you circle it after takeoff.

Camera data: Canon 5D Mark IV, 70-200 2.8 lens, ISO 145 Aperture 2.8, Shutter Speed 1/5000

Incorporate storytelling aircraft elements like the window or wing to give the viewer a sense of place.

Banking over West Seattle. Camera data: Nikon D4, 35mm 1.4 lens, ISO 250 Aperture 6.3, Shutter Speed 1/2000

2. Look for the light.

Select your seat based upon the time of day. Do you take off at sunrise? Do you want to shoot into the sun? Will you land at sunset? Look at the route the aircraft will take and if possible, select your seat based on where you want to be to capture the best light.

Sunrise above the clouds. Camera data: Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-70 2.8 lens, ISO 200 Aperture 2.8, Shutter Speed 1/500
Dusk and Mount Rainier. Camera data: Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-70 2.8 lens, ISO 160 Aperture 2.8, Shutter Speed 1/1250
Twilight over Boston. Camera data: Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-70 2.8 lens, ISO 5000 Aperture 2.8, Shutter Speed 1/20

3. Keep your camera with you at all times.

This sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but if you stow your camera for takeoff and landing, you might miss those interesting angles when you are nearer to the ground. I have my camera and a versatile lens – such as a 24-70mm – in my hands as we ascend and descend. Don’t have a fancy camera? A phone will do! Just make sure it is in airplane mode.

Sometimes the plane circles a destination prior to landing, which can give you an opportunity to capture unique angles.

Approach into SEA. Camera data: Nikon D4s, 24 1.4 lens, ISO 50 Aperture 7.1, Shutter Speed 1/200
West Maui – Highway 30. Camera data: Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-70 2.8 lens, ISO 640 Aperture 3.5, Shutter Speed 1/8000
Takeoff at SEA from the window of a Q-400. I slowed my shutter speed to capture the movement of the aircraft engine blades. Camera data: Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-70 2.8 lens, ISO 100 Aperture 4.5, Shutter Speed 1/125

What is your favorite inflight photo and why?

During the Great American Eclipse, I was fortunate to fly with Alaska Airlines and document the event. We had a small window of opportunity to capture totality from 35,000 feet and I wanted to make sure to show an element of the aircraft that was unique to the airline and told the story of us witnessing the event from the air. The pilots and NASA scientists worked their magic and put us in a perfect position to capture the moment. I had 30 seconds to nail the exposure, make sure I had proper focus and line the wing up with the eclipse. Fortunately it worked! The image was shared around the world and the whole experience was one that I won’t soon forget.

Camera data: Nikon D4s, 24 1.4 lens, ISO 400 Aperture 3.2, Shutter Speed 1/80

What are some fun ideas for documenting your journey on a plane? Especially if you get bored?

I personally am a fan of the Instagram story. And if you don’t have a fancy camera, it’s OK because you can make a story on your phone! Telling the story of my trip from boarding to landing is always fun. I like to capture my food (cheese plate, anyone?) and beverage and the window seat views along the way. If you get really bored, play around with Hyperlapse of the scenery or clouds going past your window.

Do you have tips for taking photos of kids while you travel?

I frequently fly with my two daughters and love to watch them process all things travel. From arriving at the airport to takeoff, most kids love to fly. So capturing their excitement is something I enjoy. When we all fly together, I snag the aisle seat and have them take turns at the window (outbound for one, and the return trip for the other). The aisle position allows me to photograph them at the window or together in their seats. As always when traveling with kids, pack your patience! I’ve given up trying to find the perfect angle and instead aim to capture them being them.

Pro-tip: Turn up your ISO and use a wide aperture like f2.8 when you’re on the plane and you’ll have much better results freezing the motion that is a fidgeting child in the darker space of a plane.

Camera data: Nikon D4s, 35 1.4 lens, ISO 640 Aperture 3.2, Shutter Speed 1/200
Camera data: Nikon D4s, 35 1.4 lens, ISO 2000 Aperture 2.2, Shutter Speed 1/80.
Camera data: Nikon D4, 24 1.4 lens, ISO 1250 Aperture 3.5, Shutter Speed 1/3200.

What about airports? Any interesting insights to offer people before they get on a plane?

As a frequent flier, I spend a good amount of time in airports. I’ve also purchased a lounge membership so I can grab a pre-flight coffee or snack in a quiet space. When traveling with camera equipment, I try and pack only what I can carry on the aircraft. I keep my cameras close so that I can make images prior to boarding. You never know when you’ll catch a rainbow before your flight!

On the ground at Sea-Tac International Airport. Camera data: Nikon D4s, 80-200 2.8 lens, ISO 200 Aperture 3.2, Shutter Speed 1/400.

How to use Alaska miles to fly globally

Lempuyang Temple. Bali, Indonesia. (Alaska Airlines photo)

As a frequent flyer – and a longtime fan of Alaska Airlines – I’ve earned and redeemed more than a million miles with Alaska over the last decade. Along the way, I’ve learned some tips that can make your international travel experience with Mileage Plan a little more rewarding.

Take advantage of free stopovers: Booking award travel on Alaska Global Partners follows different rules than you may be accustomed to with other airline loyalty programs. Each partner has its own award chart, so you can’t combine multiple partners on the same award. What you can do is book different partners in each direction, so a roundtrip itinerary can have two partners, plus additional flights operated by Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air.

Mileage Plan makes up for this with free stopovers that let you visit two or three cities for the price of one. Let’s say you’re booking a trip to Singapore. Consider flying on Japan Airlines to Tokyo: Stop there for a few days, and then continue your journey to Singapore. On the way back, you could visit Hong Kong before continuing home with Cathay Pacific. Singapore Airlines also recently became a Mileage Plan partner.

Singapore’s Changi Airport opened its new Jewel hub – with a five-story waterfall – in June 2019. Singapore Airlines also adds a new direct Seattle-Singapore route on September 3. (Photo by Kim I. Mott)

Always search for award travel one flight at a time. An itinerary with connections will require that every flight has award space. If one flight is missing, you’ll see zero results. The solution is to search for the longest flight first and consider a few alternatives before building out the rest of the itinerary.

Imagine you want to fly from Sacramento to Barcelona. Look for flights to London on British Airways that depart from San Jose, San Francisco or Los Angeles. After you find availability, look for flights from Sacramento to your local international gateway, and for a connecting flight from London to Barcelona. Record the dates of each flight and perform a new multicity search to book the complete trip.

Call on agents for assistance. When searching for award availability on alaskaair.com, be aware that award-travel options on some carriers can be more difficult to find. Call an Alaska reservations agent for assistance with partner airlines not found on the website. They may be able to suggest more options.

Earn miles while flying internationally. You can also earn Mileage Plan miles with Alaska Global Partners, including Aer Lingus, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airways, Icelandair, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and more. To earn miles with Mileage Plan, make sure to provide your account number when you book your ticket, or ask the agent to add or change your account number when you check in. Earning rates vary by partner.

Remember to check Alaska Airlines first for flights to Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica. If you’re flying internationally within North and Central America, check your options on alaskaair.com first to take advantage of the fact that when flying on any Alaska or Horizon flight, a mile flown equals a mile earned. You’ll also be able to take advantage of your Mileage Plan elite benefits, such as complimentary upgrades based on availability.

As a bonus: If you have the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® card, remember that it comes with Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ offer. The companion fare can be used on any one-way or roundtrip flight operated by Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air, as long as there are still two seats for sale in the Main Cabin or Premium Class. The primary passenger pays the usual price, while the companion pays just $99 plus taxes and fees (from $22 roundtrip) – making it a great value for more-expensive trips such as that vacation to Mexico or Costa Rica. Even better, the companion is still eligible for complimentary elite upgrades and will continue to earn miles for the trip just as they would with any other fare. In my opinion, it is the single most important card benefit and one reason I’ve held onto the card for several years.

Scott Mackenzie founded Travel Codex, a blog devoted to maximizing travel loyalty–program value.

More Mileage Plan tips

4 ways to become an Alaska Airlines MVP

Tips from a Mileage Plan Rockstar

A mile flown is a mile earned

How to maximize your Mileage Plan elite status

The Alaska credit card program is issued and administered by Bank of America, N.A. Visa and Visa Signature are registered trademarks of Visa International Service Association and are used by the issuer pursuant to license from Visa U.S.A. Inc.

Tokyo: The capital of fun food

In Tokyo, ice cream can be shaped like adorable animals, from bunnies to pigs. (Photos by Laura Begley Bloom)

When most people think about food in Japan, sushi and tempura come to mind. But in Tokyo, the crazier and more adventurous, the better. Consider one of the latest obsessions: chicken sashimi. You heard that right. And raw chicken is only the start of what you can eat in this trailblazing city known for defining global trends when it comes to everything from fashion to food.

“Would you try a live shrimp?” my guide Asami asked me with a wink. “It’ll still be alive — and wiggling — when you eat it.” And with that, I knew I was embarking on one of the wildest culinary explorations that I’ve ever had.

Japan has more than 5 million vending machines, and you can buy everything from corn soup to eggs to beer – and even non-food items including ties and T-shirts.

Asami is a guide with Arigato Japan Food Tours, a company that introduces travelers to this complicated country through their taste buds. Whatever you’re hungry for — ramen, sushi, sake — Arigato will indulge you. My family and I signed up for two tours in Tokyo — a city easily reached via Alaska Airlines’ Global Partner airlines. The Arigato tours would introduce us to some of the city’s more offbeat dining trends.

Early one Saturday morning, we rolled up to a hip local coffee shop near the legendary Tsukiji Market. “Why aren’t you going to Starbucks?” the doorman at our hotel inquired when we asked for directions. He didn’t know the start of it. As we sipped on perfectly prepared lattes, Asami gave us the basics on Japanese cuisine and customs, from chopstick etiquette to helpful phrases. She also explained what we going to encounter on the “Classic Tsukiji Insider’s Tour of Local Market Town with Breakfast.” Tsukiji stopped operating its famous fish auctions in late 2018, but this area hasn’t stopped serving hungry travelers and locals.

An open-air stand serving beef intestine stew in Tokyo.

Asami’s number one tip: Be daring. We passed an open-air stand with a huge crowd outside. The draw? Beef intestine stew. No thanks. After a perfectly safe first course of grilled salmon and mackerel — popular Japanese breakfast dishes — our next stop was a stand selling Japanese sea snail. Served in an oversized horned shell, it was bitter and sinewy. Jack from Chicago suggested we grab some Japanese beers to wash the taste out of our mouths. It was only 11 a.m., but when you’re eating sea snails in Tokyo, anything goes.

Counters selling salted squid guts and other seafood delights in the Tsukiji Market district.

We eyed counters selling hairy crab, giant sea cucumbers, squid guts and baby sardines coated in a sweet sesame sauce. Asami snapped up whatever caught our eye. Fried eel bones? Check! Rare white strawberries that cost $6.50 apiece? Worth every penny. I said I would try fugu, the deadly Japanese puffer fish that chefs need a license to prepare. Unfortunately, the fugu stand was sold out. I was secretly relieved. There was also a stand selling wagyu beef on a stick, topped with uni (sea urchin) and ikura (marinated salmon roe).

After wandering around the market, we headed to an enclosed area for a little picnic with all the treats that Asami had gathered along the way. The star of the show was botan ebi, shrimp that is served and eaten live. Chase, a courageous 11-year-old, was the first to try it. When my husband, Jonathan, went to take his piece, the shrimp flew off the table and started jumping around on the floor, giving new meaning to the phrase “fresh from the sea.” Here’s the good news: It was delicious.

KitKats in Japan come in a rainbow of flavors and packaging colors.

Another morning, we headed to the cutting-edge Harajuku district for the “Crazy, Cute, Kawaii Food Tour” with our guides Asami and Asha. Kawaii means cute in Japanese and this is an area where the food is about as cute — and kooky — as you can get. We started off on a relatively safe note in a local gourmet grocery store, where we sampled the rice dessert mochi in a limited-edition cherry-blossom flavor. Asami and Asha also told us about Japan’s KitKat obsession and all the unique flavors you can find here: green tea, banana, sweet potato, apple and the list goes on.

Our next food stop was for ice cream made from sesame seeds. As odd as it was to eat jet-black ice cream, it was savory, yet sweet, and utterly creamy. For lunch, we sat around a table with a grill in it and cooked our own version of an Osaka specialty called okonomiyaki, which means “grilled as you like it.” It’s like a savory pancake, topped with eggs and mayonnaise. We also learned about Japan’s quirky vending machine culture. There are more than 5 million of them in Japan, and you can buy everything from corn soup to eggs to beer – and even non-food items including ties, umbrellas and T-shirts.

We cooked our own version of okonomiyaki, which means “grilled as you like it.” It’s like a savory pancake, topped with eggs and mayonnaise.
Crepes in Tokyo can be piled high with ingredients.

As we made our way to Takeshita Street, a narrow passageway at the heart of Harajuku, the crazy quotient started to rise. We passed by a shop with a line of people waiting for a novelty called roll ice cream, which has to be seen to be understood. We sampled ice cream shaped like adorable animals, from bunnies to pigs. We ordered the craziest crepes you’ve ever encountered, piled high with ingredients. The French would surely be horrified, but in Japan, the more elaborate the creation, the better.

Crawling down Takeshita street — which was crowded with pink-haired teenagers and throngs of thrill-seeking travelers — we checked out shops selling oddities like frozen popcorn, baby bottles filled with jelly-infused soda, and every kind of rainbow treat you can imagine. There was toast filled with rainbow-colored cheese, rainbow-colored cotton candy, rainbow cheese dogs, you name it.

A dish at the Kawaii Monster Café.

After a hilarious session at a purikura, a photo booth machine where you can decorate pictures of yourself, we were inspired to strike out on our own. Our destination: the nearby Kawaii Monster Café, which has been described as Alice in Wonderland meets Willy Wonka on acid. This over-the-top spot was designed by a local artist and the food is as eclectic as the colorful décor, with rainbow pasta, chocolate chicken, mad scientist cocktails and all kinds of zany desserts. As my 6-year-old daughter danced around with an oversized monster and a couple of Harajuku girls with wild makeup and pink wigs, I knew that it would take a lot to ever top dining out in Tokyo.

Rainbow cotton candy on Takeshita street.

Flying to Tokyo on Alaska Global Partners

With Alaska Global Partner airlines, there are several ways to get to Tokyo while earning and spending your Alaska Airlines miles. For example, Japan Airlines (JAL) flies nonstop from San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and New York (JFK) to Tokyo, and from Los Angeles to Osaka. This year, JAL also added a direct flight from Seattle to Tokyo-Narita.