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Alaska Airlines’ Colorful History Recounted By Noted Aviation Author


“Character & Characters: The Spirit of Alaska Airlines” released by Documentary Media

The rich heritage of one of America’s oldest and most colorful airlines is the subject of the 25th and latest book by noted aviation author Robert J. Serling. “Character & Characters: The Spirit of Alaska Airlines” was recently released by Seattle-based book publisher Documentary Media.

“Alaska is an airline built from humble beginnings in 1932 by a cast of always dedicated, sometimes quirky and often brilliant characters,” said Serling. “For more than 75 years, it has been an airline that has defied all odds. It has proven to be as rugged, as rich in tradition and as resourceful as its namesake state.”

Serling uses the voices of others to tell the airline’s story and parts of the book read like a Hollywood script. Serling recounts how every time it appeared that Alaska Airlines’ flaps had been lowered for the last time, another person with a passion for the business stepped in to save it from the scrap heap of aviation history — a fate shared by many of its competitors.

Much of Alaska Airlines’ history parallels the growth of its namesake state. Born during the Great Depression, the company evolved from a bush carrier to a major airline. It began as a gnat-sized passenger and cargo transportation service connecting remote locations across vast reaches. Since the 1970s, Alaska Airlines has supported the Trans Alaska Pipeline during its construction and operation. The airline has also partnered with others to promote and develop the state of Alaska as one of the nation’s finest tourist destinations. Today, from its headquarters in Seattle, the airline stretches north to Canada and 19 destinations in the 49th state, south along the West Coast and deep into Mexico, to major cities across the continental United States and, most recently, across the Pacific to Hawaii.

In Serling’s view, “Alaska Airlines’ history has been peppered with creative characters whose actions or inventions have become a part of its legacy.” Flight attendants, customer service and reservations agents, pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, baggage handlers, leaders, lenders and others tell the story. “Alaska Airlines is a people business, so I used historical accounts that came from its employees, passengers and associates every chance I could,” Serling said.

His perspective, affectionate yet candid, stems from a remarkable career as an aviation writer. While Serling’s brother, Rod, moved to Hollywood and established a reputation as a screenwriter with credits including “The Twilight Zone,” Bob Serling wrote about the emerging aviation industry and became United Press International’s aviation editor.

Since becoming an author in the early 1960s, Serling has written more than two dozen non-fiction and fiction books — almost all on the business of flying — including the histories of Eastern, Western, TWA, Continental and American Airlines. In 1992, he wrote “Legend & Legacy: The Story of Boeing and Its People,” the definitive 75-year history of The Boeing Co. Now 90, Serling is writing another aviation book — this time on airline humor.

Published by Documentary Media, “Character & Characters: The Spirit of Alaska Airlines” will go on sale in bookstores everywhere June 15.


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