Mr. Wahto retired six years ago, but not before seeing the transformation of flying in Alaska and of the airline where he spent his career. Alaska Airlines is puny compared to the major carriers: it has 124 planes, while United Airlines has more than 700 and four times as many passengers. But because of the state’s topography and extreme weather, it was the first to develop satellite guidance, a navigation technique that has transformed landing at Alaska’s tricky airports. The technique is now at the heart of the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to modernize the nation’s air traffic system, a project that is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars over the coming decades.
Alaska Airlines, in fact, had the industry’s best on-time performance for the third consecutive year in 2012, with 87 percent of flights landing on time, according to FlightStats, a data provider.
Megamergers, most recently of US Airways and American Airlines, have redrawn the boundaries of domestic carriers, concentrating the business as never before. Alaska Airlines, for its part, has cultivated staunch independence. Unlike carriers that have faced bankruptcy or acquisition, Alaska has turned a profit for 33 of the last 39 years. In 2012, it had a record $316 million in net income, up 29 percent from 2011.
Alaska Airlines uses more advanced technology to provide better service to their customers, and in exchange it has been far more successful at consistently turning a profit than its competitors. Funny how that works.