CEO Brad Tilden: My week in Alaska job shadowing frontline employees

This trip was the first of many for our leaders at Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air for the coming year. Called “Leader Immersion,” our managing directors and up will spend a week in the operation. It’s kind of an “Undercover Boss,” without the disguise, as one of our employees said.

The Great Land is beautiful, even in January. The low temperatures create a beautiful frost on the trees and there is something really wonderful and peaceful about the mornings here, (where it is currently staying dark until around 10 a.m.). I was in Anchorage, Alaska for a week in early January on the suggestion of one of our employees, who challenged me to job shadow – walking in our frontline employees’ shoes. It sounded like a good idea to me.


My week started with my flight from Seattle to Anchorage. The Seattle-based flight crew – Shannon Novito, Angela Bolton, Kris McCloskey and Kimberly Sagmoen (pictured above) – were awesome. I had a great time visiting with them, interacting with our guests onboard, and serving a beverage or two. I sat on the flight deck for the last 40 minutes of the flight and was impressed with the expert airmanship of Captain John Lien and First Officer Levi Breidenbach who navigated us into Anchorage amidst a low blanket of fog.

I spent the next several hours in the Anchorage airport learning from Kiana Baluyut, a designated trainer customer service agent. Kiana was extremely patient with me, even when she had to explain the same entries and transactions many times. She taught me how to check-in, scan and tag bags, and deal with special service requests. It was wonderful getting to meet so many of our guests while at the ticket counter.

Dutch Harbor

The next day, I was off to Dutch Harbor on PenAir, one of our commuter partners. Alaska Airlines provides scheduled service to 20 cities in the state of Alaska, the majority of which have populations of under 10,000 people. And we provide jet service in many cases, several times a day! This is something that truly makes us unique as an airline.

Ramp & cargo operations

When I got back to Anchorage, I headed over to the ramp operations center. This important team schedules airport operations, such as baggage and cargo connections and manages the departure coordination process. Niki McDade is a fantastic departure coordinator. Here, she helped me work Flight 155 from Anchorage to Nome and Kotzebue.

I spent the bulk of Wednesday in our Anchorage cargo operation, an experience I can only describe as humbling. There was an amazing sense of teamwork among our folks there, and a clear focus on our customers who live in small villages in the state of Alaska. Here I am with my coach for the day: Jacob Scanlan.

Maintenance & Engineering

Later that night, I began the night shift with our Maintenance & Engineering team, and with our Stores team (who provide all the aircraft parts). It is amazing to see maintenance technicians start their shift. There isn’t a lot of talking, but hangar doors start opening, bells are going off, tugs are getting hooked up to airplanes. It’s great teamwork and a finely tuned operation. I was able to observe Sig Sigurdson, Tom Genziano and Marc Sheldon conducting a borescope inspection on one of our aircraft engines.

Thursday, I joined our ramp team. In the photo above, I am sending Flight 80 off with Jose Inga, Bill Trivett, Mike Freeman, Josephine Calderra, Eric Henry and Todd Seitz. Below, Josephine and I loading bags in the aircraft belly. I want to thank Eric, my ramp coach for the day, the entire Anchorage ramp service agent team who were very kind and welcoming and who tolerated all of my questions and mistakes.

Red Dog Mine

I then flew out to Red Dog Mine to see our operation in the Arctic. It was a clear day and Alaska’s natural beauty really came through. The photo above is of Runway 3 at Red Dog, on our approach.

Terminal & baggage services

My last day was working in the terminal and in baggage services. In the photo below, I am working with Mary Graham as control agent on flight 96. And then I had a great flight home with an awesome crew.

I find myself smiling from ear to ear as I recount my visit.  I have a deep sense of gratitude. Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air have the best employees in the industry, and it was uplifting to spend more time with them. Like many of our employees, I came into the airline business because I love aviation, I love Alaska Airlines, I love being around our people and our guests. This was the perfect way to start a new year.


  1. Excellent Leadership. Thank you for leading the way for your other senior leaders.

  2. Shout out to your gate agent Sharon in EUG. When Alaska cancelled, she got me on a competitor, first class no less..My first time in 40 years

  3. I fly from Fresno California to Portland several times a year to see family. Alaska airlines is the greatest.

  4. Thanks for coming to Alaska to learn about our unique challenges and how vital Alaska Airlines is to keeping our state running.

  5. I was on the morning flight to Anchorage when you were on the beverage cart. Everyone around me was pretty impressed. But, after all, why fly if you can’t fly on Alaska!

  6. So awesome! I love that Brad was willing to learn and immerse himself with every step of the As/QX operation, you can only get a true compass of your company by doing this—the first sign of great management. Maybe we should shadow management so we know what some of the true challenges are! Turnabout is fair play!!

  7. My wife and I are Gold 75 and Gold on Alaska and one of the reasons we love Alaska Airlines and stay loyal is because of “staying in touch” like this. Thank you Brad for what you and upper management, as well as Alaska employees do to keep Alaska competitive and take care of us your customers.

  8. Grateful for its service of airlines alaska the best and its team of work excellent. Many thanks for its attention and priority that me they provided with my baby.!

  9. The mark of a great leader is someone who takes the time to understand, learn from and walk in the shoes of those he leads. Really smart effort by Brad and the other Alaska leaders to immerse themselves and connect with the operation!

  10. Each Alaska employee has or should have the basic requirements in providing Great Customer Service, but I hope that these employees showed you that each Station has their own unique ways to deal with problems that arise and how they solve them in a crisis. I also hope, that they have the right tools to accomplish their jobs and those problems they encounter. 50 years in Aviation, once short time Alaska employee via merger back in 1987.

  11. This is true leadership. Thank you for keeping in touch with us – the customer and the front line.

  12. As a 50 year+ resident of Alaska I have logged scads of miles on Alaska Airlines. This month I had the sad experience of flying with one of your competitors—hope I don’t have to do that again very soon.

  13. Alaska Airlines is the best??

  14. Hey, I heard about your visit to PANC from one of your MVP Gold 75Ks who saw you at the counter. As I recall, his take-home message to you was to bring back the PDB (pre-departure beverage). Great to see you here in the “Great Land” , whether you’re traveling in the big jets….or your own plane!

  15. Awesome to see that the leaders are finding out what a day is like for the wonderful Alaska Air employees! We only fly Alaska Airlines and have for years. Main reason for this is always the great service for not just us, but our various dogs that we’ve had for the last 20+ years. Alaska Airlines is our airline and will remain so!

  16. Wonderful story! So glad you shared it with us!!

  17. This was great! I loved reading about the entire experience!!! Alaska Air has been my favorite airline since moving to the PNW in 2004!

  18. Thanks for sharing your time experience for the week with many on-the-ground employees. I have flown many miles with Alaska Airlines and appreciate you and your teams service.


  20. You’re one of a kind Brad!

  21. Way to go Brad!!! Keep up the good work – Bob Gould a shareholder and friend and sometime
    adversary of your brother – Jeff – a very good lawyer.

  22. Having the CEO learn what his employees do is one of the many reasons Alaska Airlines is the best there is.

    1. Well said!

  23. Great service as always and thank you for adding the SEA to PIT route. I flew the inaugural flight September 6, 2018.

  24. Since my very first Alaska flight I’ve been a big fan. I mostly fly Horizon and am so pleased with all the employees with whom I come in contact. Well done! Brad Tilden, all CEOs should do as you did; what a great idea.

  25. Have you considered spending time in the Saver seats in the middle of the row? I love Alaska and have been – make that had been – gold for many years and lost it this year. Can’t always fly when I want because of my cancer but Alaska had allowed me to remain gold when I had to cancel trips for that reason in the past. Thanks. Your Flight crews are wonderful. Best in the American industry I’m sure. Now I’m reading that you are making all of these classifications of seats and I’m wondering if you are lowering standards and becoming more like United. I know it’s a business . . . I’ve traveled almost 600,000 with you and at least that much on other airlines because you only flew up and down the west coast and could not accommodate all my business flying. I think what you are going to do is good, but as a past national marketing director I suggest you test as a customer instead of a known employee.

  26. This was very interesting! I’m certain the feelings were mutual that you as one of the bosses, learned what all ASA’s employees are required to know on the job! I’ve flown ASA for many years as my late husband, Jack Stern, did a lot of legal work for Charlie Willis when ASA needed intra Alaska route approvals. Now, that was a very long time ago! The Bush towns were very small, but needed the air service for mail, foods/beverages, and whatever equipment required at any of those many Bush sites!

    My son and daughter learned to fly on Bush flights between Chitina, Valdez, Cordova and down the coast to Seattle.

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