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.