Celidh, your usually on mark with most topics, here I'm not sure.
This Alaska Airlines stake is not owned by MSFT, but rather Cascade Investments, a private company owned by Gates personally. I have a feeling that the stake is simply an investment as somehow Gates thinks AS will be worth more in the future than it is now. Any preferential treatment with MSFT employees is probably negligible if existant.
Incidentally, Cascade also owns a significant piece of Boca Resorts (PAW). PAW owns the Florida Panthers hockey team, the Boca Raton Resort & Club (I'm a member!), The Arizona Biltmore, The Registry Resort in NaplesFL, and the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel.
Clearly, Gates has steered Cascade into travel and tourism investments.
One more thing, the carrier GM and UAW had made arrangements with ProAir has filed for bankruptcy protection and had their Air Operators Certficate revoked.