Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Response to Alaska Airlines Executives re: Removal of Prayer Cards

Dear Mr. Ayer and Mr. Tilden,

I have been a long time and loyal customer of Alaska Airlines since 1995 (Mileage Plan # XXXX1980). I am certainly not your longest tenured customer nor greatest frequent flier by any stretch, but have enough experience with Alaska Airlines to comment credibly on the change announced below. (Currently greater than 460,000 lifetime miles on Alaska Airlines) It is my hope that my comments are received by each of you for your contemplation, though I do not anticipate at this point a change in your decision will be made. I can appreciate the amount of time and thoughtful consideration each of you along with your staffs placed into making this decision. I am confident many hours of discussion, data gathering and analysis, consultative input received and the like contributed to the outcome shared in your note below.

I cannot imagine there was a purely economic driver which compelled Alaska Airlines to discontinue distributing the prayer cards as you call them. I would suspect the cost to produce them are fairly nominal to insignificant in the overall cost structure of your Airlines. Consumer behavior in the Airline industry, as in most service oriented industries, I would expect is typically based upon convenience (availability of flights in your case), price and service. So while there may be some, I do not believe there are an appreciable number of customers that have chosen not to fly with Alaska because of the prayer cards or that fly the airline because of them. I am of the same or similar opinion with this decision to eliminate the prayer cards. You will likely not see an appreciable increase in the number of passengers that choose Alaska because of the prayer cards nor those that will no longer fly the airline because of their removal. Any impact there would be is likely negligible and would offset one another. So I do not see this as an economically driven decision.

To be completely honest with you, I was surprised and impressed the first time I saw them in 1995. In a time of political correctness, I was surprised and impressed to find a private sector, non-religious entity with the courage to stand upon and publicly display their commitment to Godly principles. At first I thought it was something that was temporary or a promotional activity. As my travels with the airlines increased and I continued to receive them I realized this was not a mere Marketing scheme, but the airline was truly committed to values derived from Biblically based principles. I always found the cards to be tastefully presented, not an over the top or in your face offensive attack upon the religious or moral values of anyone. They were simply positive, motivating and inspirational Psalms as I recall. How refreshing!

Now, I can appreciate that there are many travelers with Alaska Airlines of varying religious backgrounds and affiliations. I can also imagine that some of those passengers filed complaints with the airlines about the prayer cards. After having received enough of these complaints, I’m sure you were compelled to give consideration to discontinuing the practice. I am saddened to see that in an effort to be inclusive and considerate of alternative views, that Alaska Airlines has acquiesced and abandoned a 30 year tradition that spoke as much about the Airlines and its values as it did about broader American ideals. I would have preferred to see Alaska take the courageous position, though perhaps not the most popular one, and stand behind this simple and tasteful expression of the basis of their values.

Now, my entire position, I must admit, presupposes the prayer cards are truly more than a 30 year old Marketing scheme that has run its course and that they truly reflect something more intrinsic about Alaska. If I am in error, then I have little objection to the removal of the prayer cards. However, if the premise of my thoughts are sound, though Alaska Airlines may not be defined entirely by the prayer cards, pressure from a minority of society should not be profound or leveraging enough to manipulate this change.

As I stated earlier, I do not anticipate my note will alter the course that was made public today. Nor do I anticipate it will have a material impact on my travel decisions as they are derived, like most consumers, based upon the criteria I shared earlier. However, something that once differentiated Alaska from other airlines in my mind is now gone and it has, in many degrees, truly become fungible. Fortunately for me, I will be travelling First Class on the eve of January 31st, just in time to hopefully receive one of the very last pieces of Alaska Airlines history that carried value for at least one of its most traveled patrons.

My sincerest thoughts and prayers will be with each of you and Alaska Airlines as you, along with many other American organizations, navigate the onslaught of attacks waged upon your values. All the best…

Original e-mail from Alaska Airlines CEO Bill Ayer & President Brad Tilden

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Dear Michael,

At Alaska Airlines, we have provided prayer cards to our customers for more than 30 years. A former marketing executive borrowed the idea from another airline and introduced the cards to our passengers in the late 1970s to differentiate our service.

The cards have been provided only to our First Class customers since meal tray service ended in coach six years ago. Beginning February 1, 2012, however, we'll be eliminating the cards entirely. This difficult decision was not made lightly. We believe it's the right thing to do in order to respect the diverse religious beliefs and cultural attitudes of all our customers and employees.

Some of you enjoy the cards and associate them with our service. We also know some of you consider the cards to be a tradition that reflects your own spiritual beliefs. At the same time, we've heard from many of you who believe religion is inappropriate on an airplane, and some are offended when we hand out the cards. Religious beliefs are deeply personal and sharing them with others is an individual choice.

It's important that everyone know that this decision does not change our core values nor our care for our customers. We'll continue to distinguish ourselves through the pride and professionalism of our people on every flight and in our communities.

Our priority at Alaska is to fly our passengers to their destinations safely, on time and with their bags. We thank you for the opportunity to serve you and for the chance to demonstrate this commitment each time you fly with us.

Bil Ayer
Brad Tilden
Bill Ayer
Chairman and CEO, Alaska Air Group
Brad Tilden
President, Alaska Airlines

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