Alaska Air’s Eclipsing Brand Personality

Alaska Air may have eclipsed its long history of a smiling-faced Eskimo brand personality. The airline took a cue from curious customers and slightly realigned a regularly scheduled flight from Anchorage to Honolulu to give passengers a porthole view of a total solar eclipse on March 8.

The customers were veteran eclipse chasers who realized their chances of seeing the March 8 eclipse were slim because monsoons would obscure the view in Indonesia and Micronesia, the only land areas where it would be visible. Astronomer Joe Rao, who works for the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, did some checking and noticed Alaska Air’s Flight 870 would intersect the arc of the eclipse.

There was a problem, the plane’s scheduled departure would be 25 minutes too early. Rao contacted Alaska Air officials, explained the situation and the airline switched the departure time. On the day of the flight, Alaska officials reviewed the proposed flight path and wine and weather conditions to optimize viewing the eclipse. Ground crews made sure all the windows were clean. The plane’s pilot relied on the flight management computer to hit the mark.

The 181 passengers, including more than a dozen “eclipse geeks,” were treated to a grand spectacle en route. Alaska Air won plaudits for accommodating the eclipse chasers. “It’s an unbelievably accommodating gesture,” said Mike Kentrianakis, solar eclipse manager for the American Astronomical Society and a passenger on Flight 870. “Not only is Alaska Airlines getting people from Point A to Point B, but they’re willing to give them an exciting experience. An airline that’s actually talking to their people – and listening? That’s air service at its best. It’s become personal.”

You couldn’t buy a testimonial that good. Nor could you find a way to reinforce your brand personality as an airline that shows it cares about passengers by the quality of its service.

The flight wasn’t just a mystic experience for the eclipse junkies. Dan McGlaun, who viewed his 12th total eclipse on Flight 870, brought 200 pairs of specially filtered glasses so everyone on board could witness the sun during all phases of the eclipse.

Alaska Air has undergone an image refresher since the beginning of 2016, putting more snap into its logo and imagery. Other than Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Air is the only major carrier with a human face as its brand face. The smiling Eskimo isn’t a particular person, but is intended to convey a sense of family and community.

On its website, Alaska Air says the iconic Eskimo’s visage may have been drawn from grandfatherly faces in Kotzebue, a small Alaskan community 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Before a hospital was built there in 2013, Kotzebue residents who were ill or injured “called Alaska Airlines first,” symbolizing that the carrier is “embedded into the fiber of the communities it serves."

Alaska is a company with a distinctive brand personality and an awareness of what it takes to showcase it.