Historical Overview

The Alaska Spirit is Born

For over 75 years Alaska Airlines, and the people who make us who we are, have been guided by integrity, caring, ingenuity, professionalism, and a unique spirit. A spirit that was has grown out of our geographical roots.

We are product of our history and the amazing people found throughout it. Today, that product looks like a long list of aviation milestones, paired with countless stories of people going above and beyond to help others.

All of these milestone, good deeds, and community involvement have grown us from a small regional airline to an international carrier. With more than 17 million customers a year, our route system spans over sixty cities and 3 countries. Our fleet of Boeing aircraft is one of the most modern in the industry and gives us our reputation for outstanding service.

Storied Roots

The foundation of our success was laid in 1932 when Mac McGee started flying his three-seat Stinson between Anchorage and Bristol Bay, Alaska. Finances were tight, but perseverance ruled the day—Mac and his team often worked round the clock, even when the next paycheck might be weeks away.

A merger with Star Air Service in 1934 created the largest airline in Alaska. After several more mergers, the name was changed a couple of times—until they found one that stuck, Alaska Airlines.

By the late 1940s, using surplus military aircraft, we had branched into worldwide charter work, including the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and Operation Magic Carpet, the airlift of thousands of Yemenite Jews to Israel in 1949.

In the late 1960s, we strengthened our operating base by merging with Alaska Coastal-Ellis and Cordova airlines, legendary Southeast Alaska carriers owned by aviation pioneers Shell Simmons, Bob Ellis and Mudhole Smith. At Alaska Airlines, our world now stretched from Fairbanks south to Ketchikan and down to Seattle. Even during some of the coldest days of the Cold War, we made headlines with regular charters to the Soviet Union.

A New Era

When Fairbanks businessmen Ron Cosgrave and Bruce Kennedy came on board in 1972, our airline was in a financial fight for its life. Those two men went to work setting goals and bringing people together. They won back the trust of creditors and improved on-time performance. One break that went their way was the construction of the trans-Alaska Pipeline; carrying supplies, equipment, and workers, gave our struggling airline a shot in the arm.

In the end, we decided to differentiate ourselves by offering outstanding customer service. This approach was so well received that it became the platform for us to grow our company with the unprecedented record of nineteen straight years of profitability.

In 1979, the airline industry was deregulated. For many carriers this was the end of the road. For us at Alaska, it was a new beginning. Our airline expanded methodically throughout the West Coast and in 1987 joined forces with two carriers similarly committed to outstanding customer service—Horizon Air and Jet America.

By the end of the 80s, we had tripled in size. Our fleet had increased five-fold and our route map included scheduled service to Mexico and Russia.

Continuing The Legacy

While growing into our business, and into our own identity over the years, we have continued to differentiate ourselves by offering the best customer service in the industry.

We have grown in leaps and bounds over the years. In 2001 we opened up the East Coast with our new service to Washington D.C. Since then we have established major footholds in the other cities on the East Coast and Midwest. More recently, we have headed further west flying across the Pacific with new service to Hawaii.

At Alaska, we also pioneered technologies and customer innovations that make the travel experience easier. We were the first airline in North America to sell tickets online and first in the world to allow customers to check in and print boarding passes via the Internet.

At Alaska we have blazed trails in navigation technology too, allowing us to fly into fog-shrouded Juneau, Alaska, and airspace-restricted Washington, D.C., with equal precision.

Whenever the history of commercial aviation is written, people ask how an obscure little airline in America's hinterland has continued to survive and thrive while once-proud giants disappeared. Grit and determination will be part of the answer. However, more than that, it's our people. Their caring, their resourcefulness, their integrity, their professionalism, and their spirit. The unique spirit of The Great Land where our airline was born.

History Overview
History Overview
Jet America MD-80 over the Queen Mary, Long Beach CA
Flight Attendants of Jet America
History Overview