SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Flying the 'Fiendly' Skies
By Dave Kiffer


November 09, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - Alaska Airlines is celebrating its 75th birthday next year by printing heartwarming stories from passengers on its website -

If you log on now you can read about "how a flight attendant once brought a blanket for a newborn" or "how a pair of 'big' girls enjoyed their flight to San Francisco" or "how the planes were clean and the flight crews were friendly."

That sure sounds like something to really "warm your cockles" to quote my mother, who likely has her own Alaska Airline stories to tell.

Our family has been flying Alaska Airlines ever since it swallowed up Alaska Coastal -Ellis Airlines in the late 1960s. Not that we've had much of the choice. Over the years there has been sporadic competition from Pacific Northern, Western, Wein Air , Mark Air and a few others, but Alaska has always prevailed. And that's not always been a bad thing, but it did seem a little "cheesy" when they used to say "thank you for choosing Alaska." As if!

In fact, we can even remember back when it was known for its "Golden Samovar Service" and offered "snacks" that were better than other airlines "meals." Now of course, Alaska Air's "meals" are remarkably snack-like.

Come to think of it, we can even remember when Alaska Airlines was actually from Alaska, rather than - to quote the media - a "Seattle-based carrier."

I don't mean to quibble. In fact, I have been a proud supporter of Alaska Airlines for nearly 40 years and happy to have it as "our" state airline. I have enjoyed watching it expand its routes to Russia and the American east coast and now maybe even Hawaii or Europe? (that's probably just my mileage plan talking!).

I also want to make it perfectly clear that I believe Alaska Airlines crews are the best in the business. They have to be to make a go of it in this state. I would fly with those folks anywhere.

It's just that I feel kinda left out because I suspect that my Alaska Airlines "stories" would probably not be welcome on the website.

Like the time I spent nearly five hours sitting in a dark 737 on the runway in Ketchikan in 1995. They had a "mechanical" problem and wouldn't let us off. Unfortunately, they also wouldn't let any fresh air on.

Or the time in 1997 when I was landing in Yakutat and the airplane came through the clouds only to discover it was only about 30 yards above the ocean and the airport was a least a mile away in the opposite direction. The pilot pulled the airline equivalent of a "brody" and I was squashed into the window by the 250 pound fisherman in the next seat.We did land safely but my chest size has been compacted two inches ever since.

Then there was time in 1984 when I was on a 727 that tried not once, not twice, not three times, but four times to get into Sitka. Rather than just bag it and head back to Juneau the plane finally ended up landing in Petersburg because it was low on fuel. Those were the halcyon days when Alaska Airlines still paid for your lodging when they over-headed. But on that trip they saved a little "scratch" by arranging for the passengers to enjoy a fun-filled night on the floor of the luxurious Petersburg airport terminal.

I remember in 1982 getting on a jet in Anchorage and having it start its "roll" only to have it stop. The jet returned to the gate and they tinkered for a little while. Then it started a second "roll" and stopped again. Back to the gate. No, they did not let us get off to stretch our legs. On the third "roll" there was a loud bang and this time, they let us off when we went back to the gate. After a couple of hours, they told us the plane was ready to fly. I decided to spend the night hanging at Gwennie's in Spenard instead.

Interestingly enough, my wife has only been flying the state carrier for 15 years or so, but she already has some great stories. None of which you find warming any cockles on the AK Air website anytime soon.

In 1993, Charlotte was getting ready to take her first trip to Europe. The plan was to fly on Alaska down to Seattle in the morning and then catch a Dutch jet to Amsterdam (the mellifluously named 'Schipool' airport) in the afternoon.

But it was one of those funny, foggy weeks when morning flights are delayed or canceled and stranded passengers start to back up like so many jumbo jets circling LaGuardia. On the advice of the downtown Alaska ticket agent, we caught the first ferry over to the airport (sometime not much after 4 am or so) even though our flight was not due to leave until 9 am. The idea was that - if our flight was cancelled as several had been that week - then we'd be first in line for the next flight and might still make out connection in Seattle.

Wrong. The first words out of the counter person's mouth at the airport were "Honey, there are people who got bumped yesterday and the day before who are way ahead of the you on the list."

My wife pointed out that we'd miss our connecting flight to Europe if we didn't get out of Ketchikan by noon.

With a straight face the Alaska Airlines employee said:

"Honey, if you really needed to be in Seattle by this afternoon, you should have gone down last night."

Fortunately, we were both too tired to act on our immediate impulse, otherwise an Alaska Airlines employee would have died in the line of duty right then and there.

The story had a happy ending. Fog delayed our plane but it finally left K-town before noon and we made our connection, just barely

Another time, in 2000, my obviously pregnant wife got sick on a flight to Anchorage. She had trouble finding any sickness bags and ending up running toward the upfront lavatory. She didn't quite make it and had to use the sink in the galley. The flight attendant was apparently not the same solicitous one who brought the infant the extra blanket in the website story. Instead the flight attendant on my wife's plane treated my wife as if she was suffering from some vile deadly contagion instead of simple morning sickness.

But Charlotte's third Alaska Airlines story is by far our favorite, even though it doesn't put Alaska Airline either a favorable or unfavorable light.

Charlotte's mother and father were coming up for our wedding in 1994. Charlotte's mother had recently quit smoking, or so we had been told. So we naturally booked her into a local, non-smoking B&B.

Turns out she hadn't actually quit and was pretty danged cheesed off after spending the entire day flying cross-country on non-smoking flights and landing in smoking-restricted airports.

She didn't find out about the non-smoking B&B until the Alaska jet was on final approach to Ketchikan.

She stood up, began loudly discussing the situation, and had to be restrained by the flight crew.

Upon landing, she was escorted off and told to wait until the authorities arrived. She did nothing of the sort. She dashed off to the airport ferry, leaving Charlotte's dad to guard the luggage and make conversation with the security guard who was supposed to be restraining my future mother in law.

Later we found her calmly walking down Tongass and everything was fine.

Charlotte's mother had always had a tendency to fly a wee bit off the handle and we weren't sure how well she was going to deal with the stress of the marriage of her only child.

But - at least in part - thanks to Alaska Airlines, she blew off her steam, was perfectly composed, and the wedding went off without a hitch.

If that story doesn't "warm your cockles" then nothing will.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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