Today I am returning to Homer after a two week repat to the San Francisco Bay Area, and unfortunately I am not, as has become my habit, flying on Alaska Airlines.
On my first trip to Homer as Gjoa’s new master, this back in March, I had filled two large suitcases (50lb limit each), one carry-on (30lbs), and a small backpack with equipment for the summer’s voyaging. Fleeces, foulies, gloves, thick socks, hats, and three kinds of boots; first aid kit and emergency meds, for starters. Then sextant and site reduction tables; pilot charts, fids, an extra sailor’s palm, twine and wax; flashlights, headlamps, rechargeable batteries, an AM/FM radio, spare GPS; several types of knives; favorite pens and pencils, blank journals and log books, and a label maker.
Anything that could fly and had a use went in.
I’d taken that quantity and weight of bags because they travel free on Alaska Airlines for those flying within Alaska.
Initially I planned to board only with carry-on for today’s trip. But during my two weeks at home, more “absolutely necessary” items shot their way into the return pile as if magnetized to it. The cold-water wet suit and weights, plotting paper for sextant work, a box of electrical connectors, fuses, cable clamps, heat shrink, spools of red and black wire; miscellaneous shackles and Monel seizing; black, blue and silver tapes; spare prescription glasses and a handful of readers, Spectra line in various sizes not available up North, a collection of pocket-sized books, like Captain McClintock’s Voyage of the Fox, Elisha Kent Kane’s Arctic Explorations, and the poems of Robinson Jeffers.
By the morning of departure, I was full-up and actually pairing down.
Dragging my three suitcases and a backpack, I lumbered like a two-legged elephant up to the non-Alaska ticket counter in the Oakland Airport, and here I received a lesson in why I like flying Alaska.
Months ago when checking in here for an Alaska flight, I left my wallet at the counter. Just as I was entering the security line, I heard my name being called, and turning, I saw the Alaska agent running after me. She’d abandoned her station to return my wallet. “Sorry sir, but I believe you’ll need this…,” she said, smiling. (Note the courtesy of an apology for something not her fault and the smile.)
This morning, another bonehead move on my part. After heffalumping my bags to this non-Alaska ticket counter and making my payment, I succeeded in leaving my boarding pass in the ticket machine. When I returned some minutes later, saying to the un-Alaska agent that I was missing my boarding pass, she said, “I know. I threw it away,” with an air suggesting she had done me, and the environment at large, a favor.
Having retrieved the necessary document, I returned to security, passing the Alaska desk in the process. The agent heading up their line stepped out towards me and beaming, he said, “Hope you have a great trip, sir.” About gave me a heart attack! Apparently one does not have to be a customer of Alaska Airlines to receive their kindness.
On Alaska, attendants welcome you aboard and offer to freshen your coffee with what feels like real hospitality. Even on the 6am run to Seattle, “Enjoy your flight, Mr. Reeves” has the ring of a personal and heartfelt invitation rather than what I’ve come to expect from my experience of other airlines, something more akin to a recital of scripture with downcast eyes.
In an industry optimized for the sleekly appointed business traveler, this rumpled, lonely (forgetful) adventurer, who needs more than a laptop and noise cancelling headphones for his survival, finds Alaska Airlines a welcome relief.