Sustaining connections that matter most during COVID-19

Photo by Ingrid Barrentine

The world around us has changed dramatically, and many lives upended. People have lost loved ones or livelihoods, kids are trying to learn remotely, businesses have had to close or reset their business model. Together, we feel that loss and are deeply grateful for essential workers: our employees, first responders, health care workers, retail personnel, caregivers and childcare providers working through this time.

And yet, there are some things that do not change – spring is coming, the need for human connection and basic life supports, learning, the beauty and draw of the outdoors.

Sustainable (adj.): 1. capable of being sustained [maintained at length without interruption or weakening]; 2. of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this definition lately. It’s Earth Month, and as we honor the planet – its priceless natural resources, people and communities, and the critical work required to preserve it – our focus is also on ensuring that we and others can be sustained for a long time to come.

I am impressed by our tremendous employees who have faced many challenges together throughout our history – from the aftermath of 9/11 to the financial crisis – and with each one, have emerged stronger. Now, facing one of our greatest challenges, we’re inspired to see the values of our employees shine, alongside those of friends and neighbors stepping up to support one another. At Alaska Airlines, our values grew from our roots 88 years ago in Alaska: caring, connecting people, supporting communities and stewarding resources responsibly.

This Earth Month we’re focused on safety, on jobs, and on sustaining the places our employees and guests call home. Making flying matter, even when we’re flying less:

Safety of our employees and guests is our first priority, and in the face of COVID-19 that means enhanced aircraft cleaning procedures and other measures such as blocking middle seats to allow more social distancing, limiting interaction between flight crews and guests, and removing seatback contents (except the safety card) to limit the spread of germs.

Flying health care providers for free when they’re #GoingtheExtraMile to work where they’re most needed, in partnership with Angel Flight West. And we’re donating a free roundtrip ticket to each of those health care passengers for a little R&R when it’s time.

Donating resources like unused fresh and packaged food to local food banks, and retired entertainment tablets to people in recovery centers, addresses immediate needs.

Transporting critical cargo, including needed medication, masks and other protective equipment, to medical facilities and first responders.

Today, we know that there’s limited time to make significant change. COVID-19 has brought to life the profound impact of global change, and the fact that we’re all connected. At Alaska, even as we focus today on response to and recovery from COVID-19, we also continue work to address our impacts in carbon, waste, water, and specific efforts like sustainable fuels. It has been painful to make changes like pausing our inflight recycling program to reduce the chance of spreading germs – but we, like you, are adapting.

Horizon Flight Attendant sorting recycling during service – photo taken in 2018 by Ingrid Barrentine.

On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we’re grateful for our flight attendants who started the nation’s first inflight recycling program, years ago. We’ll get back to it. In the meantime, please don’t forget to #FillBeforeYouFly – or anytime.

What keeps us going today is caring for each other, for our guests and our communities—we want to be here, to continue these relationships, to connect, long into the future.

Flying matters, and it will play an essential role in enabling us to reconnect when this crisis is over. For now, we will continue to help our communities turn the corner together.”

Last night, my family and our neighbors had a “driveway block party.” We played Pictionary between easels 20 feet apart, strummed guitars, and my kids rode their bikes around the block.

Driveway Block Party, April 2020

The evening made me realize two things: first, how much I needed connection with friends and family. And second, on a sunny spring Seattle evening, surrounded by cherry blossoms and tulips, how much I needed to be outdoors.

We will keep working for both, and for you. Thank you for being a part of Alaska Airlines, and for inspiring us to sustain on all fronts.