Alaska Airlines gets high marks from me. They get rated as the top major by those two magazines almost every year, so it has become rather anticlimatic. However, unlike it may seem, AS has changed quite a bit over the years. When I first started flying them in the mid 1970s they operated only 11 727s (they have 88 737s and MD-80s today), and only served Seattle and a handful of Alaskan cities and towns. They have re-invented themselves twice since then... In the late 70s and 80s, they expanded south of Seattle, and found their nitche as an "ultra-service" airline. Then in the 1990s they made the change to a high frequency, full service, low cost airline. Had they not made that change they would most likely have been pushed out of business by the low fare carriers, such as Southwest, and United Shuttle. Instead AS, now has considerable market-share on the west coast.
Today, they do many things very well. They have a fleet of new aircraft, and some of the most skilled pilots you'll find. Over the past 20 years, their safety record has been excellent. On-board AS aircraft, the cabins are clean and the seats reasonably roomy. The meals are not-overly elaborate, but still very tasty and of a high quality. So, in other words, the service is well above average, but don't expect any lobster tail in coach! AS has a great frequent flyer program with a seemlingly endless list of partners, including their sister carrier Horizon. You can use Alaska miles to take you throughout much of the world.
AS is also pioneering new technology. Checked baggage was once a weak spot, but in recent months they have installed new handling devices, leading to fewer mishandled baggage reports than any other major US airline. They are inventing ways to get you through the airport faster, such as "Instant Travel" check-in machines (now two years old). They are also considering adding a DIRECTV system on their planes, allowing for 24 channels of live seatback enteratainment. There are many other ways in which AS is putting technology to work. Despite their relatively small size, they are always one of the first airlines to implement new innovations. Adaptability to change is always a key to success, and this company has shown that quality many times over the years.
Earlier this year AS experienced some annoying problems with flight delays and cancellations due to labor problems. They sit in a difficult postion now, in terms of labor and other cost management issues, as they are in some ways half way between a regional carrier and a major. But, no major company is without their troubles. They are still making record profits and growing at a slow, and careful pace. Overall, the future for the eskimo looks bright.