NO 'FRIDAY FRUMP': Kudos to Alaska Airlines!

When one of my suitcases came off a recent Alaska Airlines flight damaged beyond repair, the airline demonstrated why it consistently ranks among the best U.S. airlines in terms of customer satisfaction.

Returning from a trip to California for a visit with some of our grandkids, I noticed that my appropriately named Travelpro® bag appeared to have been rather severely damaged. Because it was the end of a tiring weekend and because the line at the airline's baggage service counter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) was long, I decided to assess the damage once we got home and unpacked, then take whatever actions were necessary.

Damaged luggage frame

The next morning, I took the bag to my trusted luggage repair professional. He took one look at the bag, saw that the frame had been broken, and pronounced the bag, “Toast.” Back to Alaska Airlines’ (NYSE:ALK) Baggage Services counter I went with the bag, photos of the damage, and my baggage claim check in hand.

During my fairly short wait in line, I observed the agents as they interacted with several people whose baggage had been damaged, delayed or misdirected. One agent repeatedly apologized “for the inconvenience” as she tried to explain to an inexperienced traveler that “scuff marks on the outside of a suitcase are normal.”

As experienced travelers know, the purpose of a suitcase is to protect its contents, ensure that they remain together, and arrive at their destination undamaged. The suitcase itself will take a few hits along the way, resulting in some dents, scratches and/or scuff marks; it is what they are designed to do. Nonetheless, Alaska’s agent offered to credit the passenger’s Mileage Plan account as a gesture of goodwill.

When my turn arrived, I stepped up to the counter with bag and paperwork. The agent looked at the bag, the photos, the baggage tag, entered some information in her computer. She then explained that, while the bags they had were not the Travelpro brand, she could offer me a replacement. After disappearing for just a few moments, she reemerged with an American Tourister bag that was identical in size to my damaged bag, then asked if I wanted to see other options. When I declined, she also apologized for the inconvenience before I went my way.

Simple as that.

Yes, I had to meet Alaska’s criteria for reporting damage to my luggage. Specifically, I had to go to the airport in person, and within 24 hours of completing my flight, but I believe those criteria are quite reasonable.

It is important to understand that it likely was not Alaska Airlines personnel who were responsible for the damage to my luggage. The airline contracts with an outside vendor for its baggage handling services, as do many airlines. But unlike other airlines, Alaska accepted responsibility for the damage, whether caused by the actions of its contractor or by other luggage shifting in flight, and made things right.

Had United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) acted similarly, it could likely have avoided the embarrassment it suffered on social media when its baggage handlers broke an expensive Taylor guitar belonging to a professional musician. United reportedly claimed that the passenger waited more than 24 hours before reporting the damage and refused any compensation. After a lengthy battle, the musician responded with the YouTube video “United Breaks Guitars,” which quickly went viral when it was released in 2009 and which has over 16 million views as of this writing.

But I digress.

My point is simply that Alaska Airlines showed once again why it is rated so well in customer satisfaction surveys. It handled my issue quickly, politely, and professionally, and in the process earned a hearty, “Well done!”

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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