Recently, I flew Southwest Airlines, which used to have the reputation for humanity now enjoyed by Alaska Airlines. At Southwest, they were very efficient and friendly, in that order. It seems like the bigger and older a company gets, the less personal it becomes. I hope the Alaska-Virgin America merger goes well and they have another few years of humanity to share.
Bloomberg Pursuits: Why Little Alaska Airlines Has the Happiest Customers in the Sky, 2017-May-24 by Nikki Ekstein
According to Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power, Alaska performs well—or wins—in every category. In-flight services are one exception: Alaska keeps up with aircraft models and onboard technology but doesn’t push these envelopes. (This is expected to change as the carrier inherits Virgin America’s tricked-out fleet.) But cost is a selling point. Flight crew get praise. And the airline wins by its widest margins in the boarding, deplaning, and baggage handling category.
“This [category] represents access,” explains Taylor. “The courtesy of the gate staff, timely flight information, and the time it takes to get on and off the plane.” In his mind, how you’re treated and how quickly you board are related: It takes smart, intuitive crew members, both behind the scenes and in the front of the house, to make the process seamless. It’s about making customers feel less like cattle, he says, and more like individuals. How does Alaska do that? “It’s not a mystery at all,” says Taylor. “They’re just very people-oriented. They empower their employees.”...
Even though Kelly flies the airline only a few times a year—mostly to TED events in Vancouver—he puts serious stock in his Alaska miles. They’re often redeemed at more valuable rates than those of other airlines, he says, to the point that booking an Emirates flight is often cheaper with Alaska miles than with Emirates miles. The carrier also sells miles cheaply, for less than 2¢ apiece. (Other carriers sell them for 3¢ or 4¢.) “All this makes it one of the most valuable programs out there,” Kelly says.
Maintaining reward status is also easier with Alaska than with other airlines. “Even in a down year, Alaska will grandfather you into your normal level of status,” says David Fowler, chief privacy officer for an online marketing company. That was an informal perk until recently: Earlier this month the airline launched a “parental leave” policy that lets new parents (or others with significant life changes) put their loyalty status on hold for a year.
For Amy Daly-Donovan, an organization development consultant, little things like upgrade reliability, free cocktails, and end-of-year thank-you gifts (like tins of cookies) allow Alaska to stand out. “They truly seem appreciative of their highest-level frequent fliers and have the best frequent perks—no change fees!” she says.