Tag Archives: alaska airlines

Can “different” really work? Alaska Airlines + Virgin America

Artwork credit: Alaska Airlines

It was recently announced that Alaska Airlines was scheduled to “kill” the Virgin America brand effective 2019. There has been much speculation about this since the merger of the two companies was announced. Use of the term “kill” in the headline really got me to thinking. If the brand of a company are its people, what message does using the term “kill” send to the employees of Virgin America?

So many times in airline mergers the focus is on the operation. How will the schedules be meshed? How will the frequent flyer programs and loyalty levels be integrated? What type of aircraft will be utilized? What hub cities will remain, be expanded or downsized? And somewhere in all of this, employees are often stranded at the gate as the plane backs away for departure.

Sir Richard Branson penned an eloquently stated post about this very thing. He touched on the Virgin America brand and how its people make the difference.

Cultural integration can be a tricky thing wrought with challenges. It takes commitment from senior leadership to embrace and communicate the belief: we’re all in this together, and because of this we will be better. Without this commitment, and actions to back it up, the merger is destined to be less than ideal. The employees lose, the customers lose, the airline loses. There are plenty of examples of this playing out in the airline industry.

The integration of Song Airlines into Delta Air Lines will parallel the aforementioned merger in many ways, I believe. Song was a scrappy start up (subsidiary) that made a name for itself in a short period of time. In 3 years many processes, marketing initiatives and concepts were tried and tested. Some worked. Some didn’t. When the integration of Song into Delta occurred there was lots of resistance amongst employees. There were those who, after experiencing Song, decided not to return to Delta. They could not return to the way things were. There were those who had remained at Delta that considered Song a four-letter word and made it difficult for those returning. And then there were those Delta employees who welcomed the Song Stars back with open arms and a “you guys were a part of a cool thing”-attitude. No matter which “side” you were on, change came at lightning speed. Those who embraced the changes went on to help others embrace the changes and take the “new” Delta in different direction. And the outcome has been good.

Words of advice to Virgin America employees: don’t be discouraged, “your airline” will still be visible, keep eyes open and you will see.

Words of advice to Alaska Airlines employees: be empathetic, what if it were “your airline” brand that went away, embrace the changes coming.

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, good luck and all the best with the merger.

In this photo released by Alaska Airlines, A specially painted, co-branded Alaska Airlines and Virgin America 737-900ER aircraft, painted in shimmering red, purple and blue and featuring the slogan “More to love,” lands at San Francisco International Airport on December 14, 2016 in San Francisco, CA. The newly painted aircraft is part of the merger celebration of Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. (Photo by Alaska Airlines, Bob Riha, Jr.)

Advertisements

A “North of Expected” experience at Alaska Airlines

The Spirit of Alaska

Recently had the opportunity to visit the Alaska Airlines Flight Operations Training Center. The Spirt of Alaska was very much alive and palpable here.

Located near SeaTac Airport, the center is a two-story building housing training facilities for Alaska’s almost 2800 flight attendants and approximately 1400 pilots. My first impression was that of entering a small private school. As it was early, activities had not quite kicked off; there was minimal activities in the hallways. However, behind closed doors there was a flurry of activity and things happening to keep the Alaska Airlines operation running safely, comfortably, and on-time.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 11.44.47 AM

Alaska Airlines Flight Operations Training Center

Alaska Airlines has come a long way from its humble beginnings as McGee Airways in 1932 and has grown in to a profitable airline that has 136 aircraft, and serves almost 100 cities. Alaska Airlines is adored by the industry and has a loyal and dedicated customer base as well as motivated and dedicated employees.

IMG_3257

It was via a some of these motivated and dedicated employees that I got the opportunity to see how Alaska Airlines has become, and remains, truly Alaska (the Alaska spirit).

During the visit I was shown and introduced to many people who are responsible for the safe operation of Alaska Airlines flights throughout their system. We toured the Systems Operations Control (SOC) area where I was given an overview of flight attendant and piloting scheduling, dispatch, and load control. I then received a thorough overview of the Command Center. This room becomes the center of activity during emergency situations that impact the airline. The personnel giving tours were humble, thorough, and answered the many questions I had. I also had the opportunity to look upon the flight simulators used to train pilots at Alaska Airlines.

The majority of the visit included time spent with Inflight Services. It was in this department that I could relate closely with. When I was introduced to the office staff, they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and at home.

After meeting the good people who manage inflight services we proceeded to the 737 mockup where safety and service procedures are learned and perfected. As Alaska Airlines only flies the 737, they have one mockup that is used for these purposes. As with most mockups, this one is a very fair representation of the real thing: cockpit, FC + YC galleys, FC cabin, YC cabin, lavatories. The mockup is capable of simulating different “situations” that may arise on board an aircraft: smoke in cabin, smoke in lavatory. The mockup is also used for evacuation drills via emergency window exits and doors.

IMG_3266

“Leave everything! Come this way!”

To my delight there was a flight attendant training class in session! I had the opportunity to meet the class and observe them practicing emergency and service procedures. Ahhh, the memories! Have to say they were a nice looking group of people who were excited and happy to be joining the Alaska Airlines family. One of the takeaways from the customer service training was “don’t get lost in the task, because you have a purpose on board.” To me this sums up how to give the best customer service you can. It’s about “creating moments” with each and every passenger you interact with. Deep.

There were a couple other “deep” moments spent at the training center. While watching the nicely-produced, emotional indoctrination flight attendant training video, “Their Story is Our Story”, Flight Attendant Carol S. says, “It’s not just a company. There’s something unique about Alaska. It’s spectacular.” I’d have to agree. The people that I met while on this tour are passionate about Alaska Airlines and work very hard to keep the spirit alive. They’re protective of their brand and culture. The feeling I get from Alaska Airlines is that they are a close-knit family where relationships mean everything. Because they care for each other as fellow employees, this feeling of caring and well-being is bestowed upon its passengers. Alaska Airlines has won the JD Power and Associate Award for Customer Service 7 years in a row now. They’re definitely doing many things right.

A poignant moment in the tour involved visiting the Memorial Garden, a beautiful and serene area honoring those lost on Alaska Airlines 261. The garden is reflection of the caring nature of the people who are Alaska Airlines.

We at AirlineGuys are always interested in sharing what we’ve learned and know about the commercial aviation industry. In fact sharing thoughtful, impactful stories and information are what we’re all about. The tour of Alaska Airlines was truly impactful. Seeing how other airlines operate, the impact that company culture has on customer service, and what makes each airline unique drives our passion to be the AirlineGuys.

A very special THANK YOU to Arnie Tharp. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to observe the very special culture that is Alaska Airlines. Thanks for arranging such a thoughtful, well-executed tour.

Arnie and me

 

Thanks also to Blair Kimball, Todd Horn, and Ashleigh Berlin-Stebner for giving me the opportunity to observe you impart your commitment to customer service to the Alaska Airlines trainees and for your part in keeping the spirit of Alaska alive and well (you too Arnie!).

The experience was definitely “North of Expected”!

Sylvester Pittman