ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View

Alaska Airlines

Two weeks before Alaska Air Flight 261 crashed into the Pacific, commentator Geo Beach rode an Alaska Air MD-80 on the same Puerto Vallarta-to-San Francisco route with his wife and two young daughters. Geo continues to fly around Alaska and across the country, but he's been talking to fellow Alaskans and thinking more carefully about the airline industry.

A Second Glance at Alaska Airlines
by Geo Beach

Real Audio Listen with RealAudio          help Need audio help?

Some people call the place I live in Alaska "The End of the Road," but those are the escapists and the misanthropes. For me this is the start of the journey. But the path to the rest of the world is pretty long if you're going by ground, 2,500 miles to Seattle just for starters. Basically, unless you've got all the time in the world, you can't get here from there, except by air.

And so Alaska is the "flyingest" state by far. Anchorage International is the busiest cargo airport in the United States, anchoring huge FedEx and UPS facilities. But it's not just the big boys who are sky-high in Alaska. Lake Hood is the largest and busiest seaplane base in the world. And Alaska has six times as many civilian pilots and 14 times as many general aviation airplanes per capita as the rest of the United States. And these fly-guys don't wait around for a runway. There are planes on floats and planes on skis and planes on tundra tires.

That's because Alaskans are rugged individualists and they're going to get where they're going whether it takes an airplane, a boat, a snow machine, or an ATV . . . or some combination of all of them. Alaskans are do-it-yourself-ers, so the idea of depending on big government reeks of big brother a little too much for folks up here.

But in the contrail of Alaska Airlines, even the libertarian individualists of Alaska have started to wonder if it isn't time that we invited some more government back into the airline industry. Alaska Airlines never seemed like a big company that needed a federal babysitter. It was more like part of the Alaska family. Because Alaskans fly a lot, we really got to know the people of Alaska Air at the ticket counter, at the gate, and on the planes. The airline had a deserved reputation for fine service. They had great food, superior baggage handling, a terrific mileage plan. But that service has rapidly eroded.

Alaska is a special place, and it's been great to have an airline that understands and reflects that uniqueness. Something is lost with the growing homogenization of corporations around the world. Quality, "specialness", is lost, replaced by efficiency. And it's important to remember that that word, efficiency, is a stockbroker's term that talks about a company's performance for its shareholders, not for its customers.

Listen, it's one thing if your phone call gets dropped as a result of deregulation in the telecommunications industry. You just dial again. But when an airplane drops out of the sky, it's an almost unspeakable sadness.

Notwithstanding the FAA's most recent O.K. of Alaska Airlines, Alaskans, airplane-savvy, anti-government Alaskans, are rethinking the role of government in regulating the airlines. Before I put people I love on an airplane, I want to be sure that somebody other than an accountant has inspected that plane. If that doesn't happen soon, it's going to be the beginning of a long road for me, driving down to the Lower-48. I may not have all the time in the world, but I have time to get there from here without unreasonable fear.

This is Geo Beach for The Savvy Traveler.

Geo Beach is a writer who lives in Homer, Alaska. He comes to us courtesy of Tempest studios.

American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy