Downtown Alaska Air office to close

'Dinosaur agents' to carry on with years of memories

Posted: Monday, May 16, 2005

After 55 years of serving fishermen, international tourists and state legislators, the downtown ticket office of Alaska Airlines is closing its doors.

Pinches on the airline industry, most recently high fuel costs, have led the company to cut back again in Juneau, Alaska Airlines officials said. The airline closed another office, in the Nugget Mall, in April 2003.

Four Juneau employees with about 30 years of service each will leave their posts when the Baranof Hotel location closes May 20.

They call themselves "dinosaur agents," the ones who can remember the days of hand-written tickets and smoking sections on the planes.

Today, many passengers book their flights online, and customer service agents use touch-screen systems. But what the four women leaving the industry said can't be replaced is the personal service.

Carol Schirmer's remembered when she and a mechanic crawled into the luggage cabin beneath a plane with a flashlight to look for a passenger's bags.

"You wouldn't see that in Seattle," said Debera Cokely, who was once asked by a lawmaker if she would hide him somewhere in the terminal while the Legislature was calling the members together for a vote.

"I didn't," said Cokely, unable to remember the man's name.

Debbie Williams, whose father was a pilot, said it is hard to leave because, after three decades, the airline industry is in her blood.

The women, along with Mary Lou Bavard, have the option to stay on with Alaska Airlines but are choosing to take their severance packages and take a break.

"None of us are close to retirement age," said Williams. "So we would like to try something new."

The Franklin Street location was a convenient ticket office for travelers and downtown residents. After it closes, the city's only Alaska Airlines office will be at Juneau International Airport.

Bavard said she does not believe the company will save much money through the closure.

Alaska Airlines has made a series of cutbacks in the past few years - as it faces higher fuel costs and competition from cut-rate carriers - with office closures in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland. Last week, it laid off 472 ramp workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Pilots also are taking a pay cut.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.



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