Watch Alaska Airlines surprise college students with the “Gift of Travel” to fly home for the holidays

Alaska is making a difference in peoples’ lives this holiday season by giving back. From flying college students facing housing insecurity home for the holidays to our Pack the Plane efforts to stock the shelves of local food banks. 

When Jaideven Tabios-Suesue moved away from the only place he’d ever called home to pursue “an opportunity of a lifetime” as a defensive back for the San Jose City College Jaguars – he knew it wouldn’t be easy.  

He was more than 3,000 miles away from his 14 siblings and didn’t have the means to visit if he felt homesick let alone during school breaks. 

This month, we surprised Jaideven and two of his teammates experiencing housing insecurity with the “Gift of Travel” for the holidays. The students were identified through our relationship with the San Jose Evergreen Community College District Foundation, a non-profit that supports student access and success through philanthropy. 

“Hearing the exciting news that Alaska Airlines would be supporting three of our students faced with housing and financial challenges by flying them home to Anchorage and Boston to be with their families for the holidays was a tear-jerking moment.”

Rosalie Gutiérrez Ledesma, executive director of government and external affairs for San José and Evergreen Community Colleges. 

Ledesma said 68% of the San José City College students who responded to a 2019 #RealCollege survey indicated they struggle with housing and 25% said they were experiencing homelessness without permanent housing. 

Two San Diego State University students identified through Wesley House in San Diego were also surprised with flights to visit their families, including Carson Timar. The senior, who wants to be a high school teacher, said he didn’t have permanent housing for more than a year before finding affordable housing through Wesley House.  

Before Timar moved from Dallas to San Diego, he had discovered a close family friend had taken his entire college savings. 

“I was talking to my roommate about Christmas and got emotional because it was such a question mark and I wanted to see my mom,” he said. “Genuinely, it means so much.” 

The “Gift of Travel” didn’t stop with flights for the students to visit their families. All five students were given $500 gift cards and $1,000 to put toward future rent. Alaska is also donating a total of $10,000 to the Wesley House of San Diego and and San José Evergreen Community College District Foundation to support the important work they do for our future generation. 

We work and live in California and want to be part of the solution of helping the most vulnerable members in our community. Care is at the core of our DNA here at Alaska Airlines and giving back to our communities is one of the best ways we can demonstrate that care,” said Neil Thwaites, regional vice-president of California for Alaska Airlines.  

About the students:  

Jaideven Tabios-Suesue currently attends San José City College as a first-year student athlete. He and his 14 siblings were adopted by his grandparents in Anchorage, Alaska after his father was incarcerated and his mother left for another state. Jaideven is the first one in his family to pursue college and is earning straight A’s as a Business major. He hopes to transfer to San José State University in pursuit of being a Spartan on-and-off-the-field. 

Jeremyah Rollins is a San José City College freshman and offensive lineman for the Jaguars, the school’s football team. The first person he wants to see when he returns home to Anchorage, Alaska is his mother, who raised him on her own. Jeremyah said his mother is his “everything” and the reason why he “is playing football today and in college.” When the family of one of Jeremyah’s teammates learned he couldn’t afford a place to live in the Bay Area, they opened their doors and welcomed him into their home. He hopes to soon find a job and afford a place of his own.  

Larissa Chacon is a first-generation Latina student at San Diego State University and is in her third year as a sociology major with minors in Women Studies and Honors. The San Francisco native works two jobs in order to pay for her affordable housing unit through Wesley House. Larissa and her brother were separated from their mother at a young age before being reunited years later. 

Mike Holt is a freshman is a San José City College freshman and a wide receiver for the school’s football team. He moved from Massachusetts and immediately found himself struggling to stay housed. He currently has several roommates and shares his room to be able to afford rent. He said that “moving across the country makes me miss my family and if I can see them, that’s all I would want for the holidays.” 

Carson Timar is a San Diego State University senior where he is an English major. His dream is to become a teacher. He currently works as a Special Education Assistant at a local high school. Before Carson moved to California from Dallas, Texas — he learned a close family friend had taken his entire college savings. He experienced housing insecurity for more than a year before finding affordable housing through Wesley House. 

Giving back this holiday season 

We packed 36 planes with food for the hungry 

When Alaska first started the Pack the Plane holiday food drive in 2009, the idea was to fill an entire virtual plane based on the weight of food and what a plane could hold. This effort grew over time to eventually include partnerships with local food banks as well as online donations. This year’s numbers are still coming in, but so far we’ve packed 36 airplanes, raised $171,000, worked 415 volunteer hours, and donated 6,400 pounds of food to 104 food banks across the cities where we fly. 

We flew children to the North Pole 

Our annual Fantasy Flight recently arrived at the “North Pole” to bring smiles and holiday cheer to dozens of Spokane-area children, many of whom live in shelters or transitional housing. 

For most of the children on board it was their first time on an airplane. Flight 1225 (as in “Dec. 25”) departed Spokane, Washington for Santa’s hometown. Upon arrival, the children were treated to an elaborate party – a true winter wonderland! Hundreds of employees and family members volunteered as elves to make the experience special. 

For children who don’t have much, the special treatment provides a momentary lift this time of year – and memories to last a lifetime. 

Employees in Milwaukee and Fairbanks filled in for Santa 

If you celebrate Christmas, writing letters to Santa feels exciting itself but imagine what a magical feeling it would be to get a reply! That’s what little ones who traveled through Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) in Wisconsin between Nov. 18 and Dec. 2 are experiencing this month. 

During that week, travelers dropped letters to Santa with a list of wishes in a special red mailbox. From there, our Milwaukee station employees shipped the mail to our Fairbanks station, along with photos of a holiday trio of stuffed animal friends who watch over the special delivery.  

@mitchellairport Santa’s Mailbox arrived at MKE and our first three letters were dropped off! Can you guess by who? #holiday#holidaycountdown#airport#fyp♬ Elf – Main Theme – Geek Music

In Fairbanks, Alaska, agents replied to every letter and, in partnership with the Milwaukee Airport, purchased gifts for the children who wrote to Santa and are mailing them each a surprise. 

This joint effort between Alaska and the Milwaukee Airport called Letters to Santa started a few years ago and brings holiday joy to every season.