Uncertain times give way to a new campaign 
By Dani Douglass

Back in January, Alaska Airlines was operating 30 daily flights between four Hawaiian islands and eight West Coast cities, as usual in a typical month, providing passenger service to thousands of kama‘āina and visitors to Hawai‘i. By early April, COVID-19 brought worldwide travel to a screeching halt, disrupting the lives of travelers and Alaska Airlines employees as the company suspended all its flights to the neighbor islands. These days, the airline has a significantly reduced schedule into O‘ahu and Maui to allow for essential travel and the movement of cargo.

Not one to back down from a challenge, Daniel Chun, BS ’02, who is the sales, community and public relations director for Alaska Airlines in Hawai‘i, draws from his education and experiences as a student at the School of Travel Industry Management (TIM School) to serve him well as he steers a new course through this shaky time in the airlines’ history. The strong network and relationships he built while a student at the TIM School have become especially important right now, and he shares some no-nonsense advice for his fellow alumni and members of the business community.

“Many of us are navigating the worst economic situation in the history of our businesses and industries, which is exacerbated by the amount of uncertainty that exists on so many levels,” he said. “The best thing we can do right now is to focus on controlling what we can control to weather this storm.”

At Alaska Airlines, one of those things the company can control is the safety measures it puts into practice each day. The company launched its Next-Level Care initiative, which is a set of 100 cleaning and protection standards designed to keep customers and staff safe with a goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19. This includes open middle seats through Oct. 31, a face covering requirement for all guests ages 2 and older and use of hospital-grade HEPA filters combined with an air filtration system that refreshes the cabin with outside air every three minutes. A pre-travel wellness assessment is also required during check-in.

“Our commitment to Next-Level Care means that we have crafted ever-evolving techniques and processes to help maintain a higher standard of safety throughout your journey,” Chun said. “But we’re also asking our guests to do their part to help keep everyone safe during this time and reduce the already low risk of onboard transmission of COVID-19.”

A recent post-flight survey revealed that 82% of Alaska’s passengers shared that they felt the environment was safe and healthy and 95% said that their seat area was clean. Chun said another company goal in this current business climate is to build liquidity and reduce their cash burn rate to zero by the end of the year.

For current students and recent alums, Chun sees the crisis as an opportunity to take a break and try new things. He explained that although the natural tendency seems to be a rush to land a job right away, hitting the pause button may be advantageous.

“Chances are, you’ve been running nonstop in the pursuit of your education and this is a moment to catch your breath and take stock of your life’s path thus far,” he said. “The upside is that you have time on your side – take risks, try new things, make mistakes and figure out what kind of work you love and don’t love. The road to success is usually an unconventional one and since there’s no playbook for this very unexpected time, be adaptable to change and embrace it as an opportunity.”

Adaptability is something Alaska Airlines and most businesses are getting used to. When Hawai‘i does reopen its doors to commercial travel, Alaska Airlines will be ready to service the state as it has been since 2007.

“As we begin the process of reopening out-of-state travel to Hawai‘i, we’ll take a phased approach aimed at providing increasing connectivity for residents and visitors, while supporting the safe recovery of Hawai‘i’s economy,” Chun said.

Of course, that model may look different depending on how the current situation continues to unfold. However, one thing many businesses have learned in 2020 is the importance of remaining flexible.