Letter to Alaska Airlines

Mr. Bill Ayers
President and CEO
Alaska Airlines
19300 International Boulevard
Seattle, WA 98188

Dear Mr. Ayers:

On Saturday, February 21, 2004, I flew on your airline from Burbank to Seattle, Flight #561. I am a professional musician of over 40 years standing, and a professional photographer of nearly 30 years. Thus, I often fly with my equipment. Sometimes I carry a guitar, sometimes I have photo gear, sometimes I have both.

On the day of my flight, I arrived at Bob Hope Airport/Burbank and checked in at 11:30am for a 2:00pm flight. I was the only person in line. I had in my possession one large soft case travel bag, a collapsible nylon mesh bag, a box of fragile glassware, a camera bag which doubled as my personal bag and a standard sized acoustic guitar in a hard shell case. It was my intention to check the large travel bag, and insert the box of glassware into the nylon mesh bag for carry-on. It was also my intention, as it has been for years, to carry my camera/personal bag and instrument on the plane with me.

Your counter attendant, however, saw it differently. She insisted that regardless of how I combined or configured my items, I would still be one item over the limit for carry-on. She insisted that I would have to check either the box of fragile glassware or the guitar.

At the time of my check-in I had in my possession a photocopy of a letter from Mr. Thomas R. Blank, Assistant Administrator for Security Regulation and Policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Security Administration. I have attached a copy of Mr. Blank’s letter herein. In his letter, dated January 17, 2003, to Mr. Thomas Lee of the American Federation of Musicians, Mr. Blank states:

“On December 20, 2002, TSA instructed aircraft operators that effective immediately, they are to allow musical instruments as carry-on baggage in addition to the limit of one bag and one personal item per person as carry-on baggage on an aircraft.”

I tried to present this letter and information to your attendant. She had no interest in reading it, and inferred that I was being argumentative. This surprised me, since at no time did I do or say anything that should have brought about such a response. In fact, I was doing my best to comply with her requirements.

In addition to the letter from Mr. Blank at TSA, I was in possession of an advisory notice from Mr. Eugene Mopsik, Executive Director of the American Society of Media Photographers, Inc. The advisory, dated November 20, 2003, states the following:

“Thanks to the effort of ASMP and the cooperation and understanding of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), working photographers and other members of the traveling public may now take on board an additional piece of carry-on baggage containing photographic equipment. This means you are allowed to carry on two bags – when at least one is photographic equipment – along with a personal item. …The TSA has said to go ahead at this time and take advantage of the new policy.”

I had no opportunity to present this information, either.

If I may, I would like to call your attention to your own website, regarding Alaska’s baggage policies. Under Section V, Baggage, Rule 190AS, Paragraph E, Item 6 Fragile Items, it states:

  • c. The classes of items listed below are deemed to be too fragile or perishable or otherwise unsuitable as checked baggage and are subject to the conditions of acceptance set fort in paragraphs a) and b) above:
  • v. Glass (see also chinaware/ceramics/pottery): Glassware, crystal, lamps, mirrors, bottles, and other glass containers and any liquids contained therein, telescopes, binoculars, barometers and eyeglasses and contact lenses that are not in their hard cases.
  • ix. Musical Instruments and Equipment: Guitars, violins and other stringed instruments, organs, horns, percussion, wind and brass instruments, amplifiers or speakers in conjunction with electronic instruments.
  • xi. Photographic/Cinematographic and Precision Equipment: Cameras, disposable cameras, photoflash equipment, photometers, spectroscopes, phototubes or other devices using sensitive tubes or plates, projectors, lenses, film, flash bulbs…

One thing seems quite clear: Under any of several scenarios, I should have been allowed to carry on the camera/personal bag, the glassware box and the guitar, without question. The TSA has adopted these policies and instructed the airlines accordingly. The policy regarding musical instruments is well over a year old; the policy regarding photographic equipment dates back three full months. And your own website acknowledges that these items are fragile and unsuitable to be checked as baggage.

Instead, I was forced to gate-check my guitar. When I picked it up in Seattle, the guitar felt nearly frozen. It should go without saying that subjecting an expensive professional instrument to the temperature extremes found in an unheated space at 31,000 feet is detrimental to the instrument. In some cases it can result in permanent damage. I would prefer to not run that risk on an irreplaceable instrument. I would prefer to not have my livelihood risked because my means of making it has been compromised by an airline attendant’s unwillingness to comply with, or even be informed of, standing TSA and airline policy. And I should think Alaska Airlines would not be enthused about the prospect of replacing a valuable instrument, let alone the inconvenience to one of its long-standing patrons.

The following information is also relevant:

  • My guitar easily fits into the overhead compartments of the 737’s and MD-80’s Alaska uses on the Burbank/Seattle route.
  • The glassware box and camera bag in question were both substantially smaller than most carry-on luggage. The camera/personal bag measures 16Lx10Wx7.5H inches, the glassware box 9x13x7.5 inches. Combined they are still smaller than many carry-ons. Either one fits under the seat in front of me, leaving the other for the overhead bin.
  • On all three other legs of my Alaska round trip, which took me to and from Manzanillo, Mexico, taking my guitar on the plane was never an issue. I had the identical carry-ons in Manzanillo as I did in Burbank.

Given the foregoing, can you please resolve these issues for me?

Is there any reason at all that your employees in Burbank would not be fully aware of TSA or Alaska Airlines policies?

Why would your Burbank counter attendant be unwilling to at least review the TSA and ASMP letters?

Why would your Burbank counter attendant be unaware of Alaska’s policy regarding fragile items?

What kind of response should I expect from your attendants the next time I fly Alaska Airlines with my professional equipment and/or instruments?

I very much look forward to your early response. Thank you very much.

Sincerely yours,

Jef Jaisun

Mr. Thomas R. Blank, TSA
Mr. Eugene Mopsik, ASMP
Mr. Thomas F. Lee, President, AFM New York
Mr. Hal Ponder, Legislative Director, AFM Washington, D.C.
Mr. John McCutcheon, President, AFM Local 1000

Letter to Alaska Airlines

9 thoughts on “Letter to Alaska Airlines

  1. Marlene McCluskey says:

    I fly Alaska Airlines several times a year. Have NEVER had a problem with the airline, they are always friendly and accommodating. I do object to the other piggy passengers who arrive with way too many bags and then proceed to jam their extra oversize bags above, crushing and rearranging everyone else’s stuff. So get a clue, guy, mail your “oh-so-delicate” china and glassware ahead of time. And stop trying to push the envelope for yourself.


    1. admin says:

      “So far” would be the critical phrase, eh? But hurray for your new math, where three allowed pieces add up to five.

      Some of you seem to be missing the point of that lovely experience. My professional gear has ALWAYS gone on board with me. It not only hasn’t been a problem in the past, but in three of the four legs of that Alaska trip it wasn’t an issue. The issue was the beyatch Alaska agent at the Burbank counter. She not only didn’t know her own airline’s rules (or refused to acknowledge them), she intentionally created a hassle where there wasn’t one. Further, I’m not one of those overhead jammers. I hate those people. The combined size of my camera bag AND the small box of glassware was smaller than the average carry-on bag! While my guitar will fit in the overhead, it usually goes in the small closet between the First and Cabin sections.

      Once again, this was a case of a rude, intractable Alaska agent proving what a POS she could be. Great “customer service.”


  2. Tim says:

    The two people who commented in Alaska Air’s favor are clearly employees because anyone who ever flies Alaska knows that they are liars, disrespectful, and sexually aggressive.


  3. FormerFan says:

    What was formerly a great airline with great service, is shell of its former self. I have had “MVP Gold” status on Alaska Airlines for the past 6 years – meaning I fly at least 50,000 miles a year on Alaska. Take it from me – the service is terrible; and I tell all my friends – do not fly Alaska if at all possible. This airline is on a downward spiral and with current management will not recover. My prediction is that, at best, it will end up being a low-cost carrier for vacationers heading to Hawaii and Mexico. I’m hoping that Virgin America (which is doing well in the former Alaska stronghold of SFO) will replace Alaska as the dominant “alternative” carrier on the west coast.


  4. Miner says:

    Reminds me of a joke I heard; a guy walks up to a few good looking flight attendants at an airport bar. Not knowing which airline they work for, he thought he’d start some small talk and find out by naming off airline slogans. He asked one of them, “Do you love to fly and it shows?” They all looked puzzled and ignored him. So he said, “Do you want me to stop searching and start traveling?” Again, they ignored him. He then asked “Well, who do you work for?” One of the ladies cut him off, “What the fuck do you want?” He then smiled, saying, “Ohhh, ok, should have known, you’re with Alaska Airlines.” All of you should just be happy that you’re not in bush Alaska and HAVE to fly with them


  5. Rozy says:

    I found this post after a less than favorable trip with Alaska. I usually fly Alaska and generally have a good experience. I travel light but when I don’t I check a bag. Most of the time I have my personal bag and camera bag- as I did on this occasion. I’ve traveled with camera gear for 6+ years and always stay up to date on policies as my cameras are my livelihood. I approached the gate with my purse, travel bag and camera case. The attendant told me I would have to check one of the bags. I said I would put my purse in my travel bag, which was not full and smaller than the required size. She informed me it was too large. I placed my purse in the travel bag and put it in the regulation sized baggage check located next to the gate. It fit. I had two bags and she still insisted I check one. I told her one of my bags was camera equipment and should not count as a carry-on anyway. She still insisted there would not be enough room in the overhead. When I asked for her name she gave it to me and said I didn’t need to threaten her. I did no such thing and said this to her. Well, not wanting to continue to disagree I got my purse and allowed her to check the travel bag. When I got on and settled there was no one next to me and an ABUNDANCE of overhead space. As a result I had I pick up my bag at baggage causing me to miss my train by one minute and the subsequent ferry trip. So thanks for adding 3 hours to my travel time and having no respect for traveling professionals. I understand there are rules for a reason but this was ridiculous!!! If they could choose one policy and stick to it across the nation it would really help. Anyway, hopefully putting this out there will help.


    1. admin says:

      Sounds like the obstinate psycho-beyotch I ran into at Burbank nine years ago. They don’t know their own rules, refuse to read them even if you print them out, then they call you “argumentative,” “threatening” or any one of a lexicon of pre-determined buzzwords intended to intimidate you. Gotta love that “customer service.”


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