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For nearly 70 years, Alaska Airlines has served the west coast of North America. Alaska Airlines has grown from a small regional airline in 1932 to one today that carries more than 12 million customers per year. Alaska’s route system spans more than 40 cities and primarily services four countries: Canada, United States, Mexico, and Russia. Its fleet of 88 Boeing jets is the youngest among all major airlines and it has earned U.S. airline recognition from Travel & Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler magazines.
The foundation of Alaska Airlines began in 1932, when Mac McGee started flying his three-seat Stinson between Anchorage and Bristol Bay, Alaska. In 1934, a merger with Star Air Service created the then-largest airline in Alaska. By the late 1940s, using surplus military aircraft, Alaska 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, Alaska strengthened its 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. Alaska’s world now stretched from Fairbanks south to Ketchikan and down to Seattle. And in some of the coldest days of the Cold War, Alaska made headlines with regular charters to the Soviet Union.
In 1972, Alaska Airlines faced severe financial difficulties. Fairbanks businessmen Ron Cosgrave and Bruce Kennedy were hired and they are credited with salvaging the airline, and winning the trust of creditors, employees, and customers by improving time performance and customer service. In addition, construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline brought a surge in business to the airline through the transport of supplies, equipment and workers. Finally, Cosgrave and Kennedy focused on customer service.
In 1987, Alaska Airlines merged with Horizon Air and Jet America and increased its fleet five-fold. The following section provides an overview of the history of Alaska Airlines.
Alaska Airlines History by Decade
The company that ultimately became Alaska Airlines was born in 1932 when Linious "Mac" McGee painted "McGee Airways" on the side of a three-passenger Stinson and started flying out of Anchorage. In 1934, McGee merged with Star Air Service, creating the largest airline in Alaska with 22 aircraft. Flying in those days wasn't scheduled. You typically flew when the plane was full, be it passenger, furs or groceries. Finances were tight, but perseverance ruled the day. Business expanded in ‘37 with the purchase of Alaska Interior Airlines. Late that year, McGee sold Star to a group led by one of his former pilots, Don Goodman, who renamed the carrier Star Air Lines. The 1938 creation of the Civil Aeronautics Authority to regulate airlines signaled the end of the true bush-flying era.
Star Air Lines received most of the routes it wanted from the CAA but was denied the coveted Alaska/Seattle run. That went to Pan American. Star bought three small Alaskan carriers in 1942, changed its name to Alaska Star Airlines and then Alaska Airlines in 1944. The company grew despite a shortage of workers during the war, feuds with the CAB, and cash troubles that had employees paying for fuel out of their own pockets. In the late ‘40s, charter operations overshadowed scheduled service, and Alaska became the largest charter operator in the world. Using surplus military aircraft, it flew everywhere, carrying food in the Berlin Airlift and refugees to the settlement of Israel.
The airline expanded in 1950 with the purchase of two more small Alaskan carriers. Under CAB mandate, the far-flung charter business of the ‘40s was ended. But Alaska's dream came true in ‘51, when it received authority to fly from Anchorage and Fairbanks to Seattle and Portland. The CAB forced what it considered a business-saving change in management a short time later. As a result, Alaska's financial footing was improved, though still tenuous, when Charlie Willis, a decorated World War II pilot, came aboard as chairman and CEO in ‘57. A born marketer, he ushered in one of the most colorful eras in company history, and brought in-flight movies to the nation's skies for the first time.
While the jet age was just coming to Alaska Airlines in the 1960s, the marketing age was in full stride. Flight attendants wore Gay ‘90s and Russian Cossack costumes. Charters were flying to Russia, and in-flight announcements were turned to rhymes.
A life vest neat is beneath each seat.
They're stored so we won't lose ‘em.
Now fix your
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