Airlines, cancer society team up to help patients

Posted: Monday, April 03, 2000

Racking up Alaska Airline miles and first-class upgrade certificates can be easy for frequent travelers. And it just got a lot easier to give them away - to the American Cancer Society.

Alaska Airlines recently joined forces with the cancer society's Juneau chapter to collect first-class upgrade certificates from the traveling public for cancer patients who require medical treatment outside of Southeast.

Established in 1991, the First Class Upgrade program enables cancer patients to reduce their travel expenses when flying out of Southeast on short notice for diagnosis and treatment.

``A spur of the moment, last-minute round-trip ticket to Seattle (from Juneau) is around $700. With a companion, a family can easily be looking at a $1,400 to $1,800 trip for airfare alone,'' said Lynne Wunsch, who pioneered the program and kept it alive for nearly a decade.

Wunsch's program relies exclusively on donated Alaska Airlines first-class upgrade certificates, 12 of which translate into a 75 percent discount off a full-fare ticket.

Over the years, Wunsch, an executive at the Glacier Valley branch of the National Bank of Alaska, has collected more than 5,320 certificates and helped 424 cancer patients fly out of Juneau at a reduced rate.

``There are people that have sent me their upgrades like clockwork since the beginning,'' said Wunsch, who lost her mother to cancer. ``In all the years, I only had to turn away two people because I didn't have enough upgrades.''

Alaska Airlines' local station manager, Roger Snively, approved Wunsch's program in January. Since then, the air carrier's customer service agents are allowed to solicit upgrade certificates from the traveling public on behalf of the cancer society.

``It's a voluntary program. We basically inform our passengers that we collect upgrades for the American Cancer Society when they check in,'' said Ray Vidic, the Alaska Airline employee who spearheaded the project with the air carrier.

``The results speak for themselves. We've collected 126 certificates so far this year - that's 10 round-trip tickets for people who need them,'' he added.

Now that the program is supported by the Alaska Airlines Juneau station, airline employees are not only informing the flying public of the program - they're donating their guest passes as well.

``Every employee receives 10 guest passes a year. The passes expire within a year and are good for 90 percent off a space-available coach fare,'' Vidic said.

Vidic, an Alaska Airline employee for more than two decades, has collected upgrades for the cancer society for several years on his own.

``People (other employees) knew what I was doing. I would find upgrades and guest passes crammed in my locker from time to time. But I really wanted this program to have the support of the whole station. I've seen a lot of people leaving town under trying times over the years,'' Vidic said.

For information about this program or other programs sponsored by the cancer society, call Wunsch at 789-9550.

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