Alaska Airlines' Head of People: Responding to Social Unrest & COVID Concerns

Alaska Airlines is the 5th largest airline in the US serving over 46 million guests annually and flies to over 115 cities across the US and over 900 destinations worldwide. They are based in Seattle with hubs also including Portland, Anchorage, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

During this session, Andy shared with us the trials and tribulations that faced Alaska Airlines over the past 15 months, how they managed through them, and where they are today.

Call Highlights & Discussion:

  • The events of the past 15 months would have been much more catastrophic had the culture of Alaska Airlines not been as strong as it was. They feel that due to the strength of their culture, a significant number of employees were willing to take a voluntary leave of absence when they experienced a major decline in business; the company lost 95% of its revenue stream basically overnight.  In addition, the CEO and COO both cut their salaries entirely and many other executives volunteered to take pay cuts to help the airline get through this crisis.
  • In order to ensure customers who chose to fly felt as safe as possible, they implemented an even higher level of care around cleanliness of the planes. more touchless options when paying by credit card, mandating masks for all on the plane with a zero tolerance policy for those who refused. To get the word out to as many current and potential customers as possible, they put together a marketing campaign which included the following video (very worth the watch!) -
  • The company is now back to pre-pandemic revenue for leisure travel (which is 70% of its business), and anticipates it will be back to around 50% pre-pandemic levels for business travel by the end of 2021.  
  • The social unrest of the past year was also a huge area of focus for Alaska Air. While they’ve had a strong relationship with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF for many years, offering scholarships to students among many other things). However, for these times, they felt they needed to do more. After much discussion and in partnership with the UNCF, The Commitment Plane was launched – a 737 painted completely black and which includes quotes by Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Maya Angelou on one side and silhouettes of children of some of the Alaska employees on the other. The Commitment Plane also serves Alaska Air employees and guests as a visual reminder of the company’s focus on diversity and inclusion, and will be in the air for another decade or longer (
  • To further their DE&I efforts, Alaska also came out with revised commitments to racial equity, conducted a deep dive into their culture, are doubling down on continuing to improve on their inclusion index, and are looking at more creative avenues for talent acquisition and internal mobility with a specific eye on diversity and inclusion.
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