Alaska Airlines takes education and equity to the skies with newest aircraft

Photos by Ingrid Barrentine

We are on a journey to make Alaska Airlines a place where everyone belongs and has opportunity. We also believe education is the key to equity and representation, with the power to transform the lives of young people––opening doors to careers in aviation and beyond. In partnership with UNCF, this special aircraft is a symbol of our commitment to education and advancing racial equity at Alaska Airlines, and we hope it inspires others as well.

One of our diversity, equity and inclusion commitments is to help create career pathways for young people by supporting programs like UNCF, the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization, who we’ve been working with for more than 15 years. Today, we are proud to reveal a special aircraft that symbolizes our support for education and equity – called “Our Commitment.” We know there is much more to do, and this airplane is a flying reminder of the journey.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.” – Dr. Maya Angelou

Inspired by these words and designed in partnership with Alaska’s Black employees, allies and UNCF, Our Commitment aircraft features profiles of the next generation of leaders — the children, grandchildren and mentees of Alaska’s employees along with teachings from extraordinary social activists. Because when we create belonging, we can be our best and soar together.

“As a company, we know we are not yet where we need to be when it comes to diversity, but we are inspired and guided by our value to do the right thing. With this aircraft, we are doing the right thing by amplifying the conversation around education, equity and belonging and taking it to the skies,” said Ben Minicucci, Alaska Airlines CEO. “This aircraft will continue to be an inspiration for us on the journey.”

‘Education has the power to transport us from where we are to where we want to go.’

This aircraft will fly throughout Alaska’s network, inspiring conversation, raising awareness and spreading the word about UNCF, an organization dedicated to enabling under-represented students to become highly qualified college graduates.

In 2017, UNCF became one of our LIFT Miles partners, enabling guests to contribute airline miles alongside the company to ensure travel does not hold young people back from pursuing their dreams. Today, our company and guests have contributed more than 13.4 million Alaska Airlines miles to fly students to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for college tours, career development events, and other UNCF programs.

As part of our commitment, Alaska will donate one million miles annually to support students attending HBCUs. We’ve also established a scholarship fund through UNCF to help students overcome the financial obstacles of getting a college education. Learn more about donating miles here.

Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF says, “While small in number, our HBCUs are landmarks to our past and keys to our future. They enable us to keep a legacy — by their very existence. HBCUs are much more than schools. They are places where Black students can feel safe, welcomed, and embraced by the college community. Additionally, the nation’s HBCUs make up just 3% of America’s colleges and universities, yet they produce almost 20% of all African American graduates and 25% of African American graduates in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics  —  the critical industries of the future.”

We are proud to reveal a special livery to celebrate our commitment to equity in education – introducing the “Our Commitment” aircraft. Revenue service for the aircraft begins on April 27, with an inaugural flight from Seattle to Washington D.C.

Our Commitments

Earlier this year, we shared our commitments to racial equity.

Our commitments are not simply a statement of values, they are a statement of actions and accountable goals we believe are essential to making our guests feel welcome and our employees feel valued, respected and seen.

Based on input from employees, we set three areas of focus:

  • Representation: Increasing the racial diversity of our leadership to reflect the diversity of our frontline employees.
  • Culture: Cultivating an inclusive culture so employees feel welcomed and that they belong.
  • Public Leadership: Working with community-based organizations to positively impact the lives of young people through education and career development.

We are expanding our programs for outreach, recruitment and career pathways to cultivate and support diverse talent and continue to work closely with our employee business resource groups and external partners to learn and improve. See our latest DEI progress.

About the aircraft

Where did the idea come from?

As an airline with the unique asset of aircraft, we have a long history of wearing our values on our wings, including our “Honoring those who serve” aircraft, which honors the brave men and women of the U.S. military. We use our aircraft to drive awareness and inspire conversation around topics of importance to our company and the communities we serve.

Alaska employees inspired the aircraft following conversations with Alaska’s Black business resource group known as ABEA or Alaska Air Group Black Employees, Allies & Advocates, around last summer’s civil unrest.

De Marco Best, a Duty Manager of Simulator Operations in Seattle, who has been an ABEA leader since its inception in 2006, says this aircraft is a small part of Alaska’s equity and inclusion efforts. It represents the most visible part of its commitment for the next decade and holds us accountable for creating an equitable future, says Best—for our children, our grandchildren, and us all.

“This airplane supports kids and education. I happen to have an affinity for education and kids, especially underserved youth and those who look like me. I think all kids could be inspired by this plane to find a career that they’ll love. If every child can find a career—not a job— that they are passionate about, it could propel them and create lasting change that instills the power of education,” said Best.

We focused on one key question: How can Alaska do something lasting, inspirational and impactful? With aircraft as our biggest tool, we realized we could create a flying reminder of the work toward equity.

Who are the faces?

The custom-painted Boeing 737-900 ER features artistic renderings of 14 students connected to Alaska’s employees, along with quotes from legendary social activists, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and former South African President Nelson Mandela, whose leadership and words continue to drive our commitment. Learn more about the students represented on Our Commitment aircraft.

Who are the designers?

The typography and color palette on the aircraft were created by Adé Hogue, a Chicago-based artist and designer who found inspiration in Civil Rights Movement-era imagery.

“At the beginning, my mind went to protest posters from the 60s and the shape of the design slowly shifted into what you see today,” Hogue said. “A lot of the sort of lettering pieces I do, especially with things like this, I try to use the subject matter as a basis for things I’m creating. I think we integrated something that feels strong and impactful.”

Hogue worked with designer Jonny Mack, who has previously designed ten of Alaska’s special aircraft, to take our employees’ vision and make it a reality.

“Designing artwork for an airplane is incredible. It’s a big challenge and there’s lots of things that go into it. We knew we wanted to illustrate actual people instead of generic profiles that didn’t mean anything—we decided ‘let’s feature real people and have a real story to tell,’” said Mack.

The type treatment, he added, was a critical piece.

“The quotes from activists, thinkers and world changers on the plane are just as important as the people … and are a heavy weight to put on somebody—Adé was the first person I thought of for this project because I’ve seen his work and saw what he was doing in this space for social justice,” said Mack.

Adé Hogue and Jonny Mack met in 2019 at a Letter West design conference in Salt Lake City, sponsored by Alaska Airlines.

What can flyers expect onboard?

Onboard, guests will be able to learn more about the aircraft through a custom seatback card and digital resources featuring bios of the students on the aircraft, details on Alaska’s DEI commitments, and information about UNCF, including how to donate miles to support college students.

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