My wife and I have spent years traveling throughout Asia, but Japan is by far one of our favorite destinations. The excellent hospitality, amazing food, and peaceful parks and temples make it appealing in any season. And as one of the closest destinations from the West Coast, it’s easy to stop and explore the Japanese archipelago or connect onward to the rest of Central and Southeast Asia.

jal 1 Global Partner trip review: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can now enjoy the authentic hospitality of Japan Airlines

People compete for picnic space under the blossoming trees in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.

Last year, we visited Tokyo to witness the famous cherry blossom (or “sakura”) festival. Thousands of people enjoy picnics under the trees. Our most recent trip in September included stops in Kyoto, home to over a thousand Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and the amazing restaurant scene in nearby Osaka. We planned to fly home from Osaka with a short stop in Hawaii.

jal 3 Global Partner trip review: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can now enjoy the authentic hospitality of Japan Airlines

Osaka’s bustling Dotonburi district features hundreds of restaurants to satisfy your appetite.

Japan Airlines, or JAL, is one of the newest international partners of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. This means you can earn or redeem through Mileage Plan when you fly on JAL, and the miles you earn on JAL flights count toward MVP elite status with Alaska Airlines. I’ve enjoyed several trips with JAL in recent years, so I decided to write about what it’s like to travel in JAL’s international business class if you’re thinking of visiting Japan in the near future.

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Annabel Chang owes her life to an airport. The Alaska Airlines Bay Area vice president’s father was flying from Taiwan to Texas when he stopped for a layover at LAX. His family set him up with a young Pepperdine student, who agreed to meet him at the airport and show him around.

“The problem was, they didn’t have cell phones then and they had never met each other, so my mom had to use the paging system to find him,” Chang says. When they finally connected, they toured the city. “When my dad returned to Texas for grad school, he couldn’t stop thinking about my mom. My understanding is they moved pretty quick after that!”

Chang grew up 20 minutes south of the Los Angeles airport where her parents first met.  She first moved to the Bay Area to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley (she now sits on UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies National Advisory Council). After earning her juris doctor from Washington University in St. Louis and serving as a legislative staffer for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in Washington, D.C., Chang returned to the West Coast to practice law in San Francisco, where she was a prosecuting attorney for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Chang, who lives in San Francisco with her husband, says she was drawn back to the Bay Area by the “food, culture, views and the people!”

Chang is Alaska Airlines’ first vice president in the Bay Area. The role was created in 2017, building on the integration with Virgin America and that airline’s success in the Bay Area over the past 10 years. Alaska keeps growing, especially in California, where it now offers nonstop service to 42 destinations from San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland.

Chang recently talked about her passion for bringing joy to travelers, her experience as a daughter of immigrants and as a female person of color in male-dominated fields, and her favorite place to take friends visiting San Francisco.

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magazine cover for blog Women who are pilots share the moments of inspiration that led to aviation careers

A version of this story appears in the December 2017 issue of our in-flight magazine, Alaska Beyond.

Good pilots are known for their technical expertise, precision, teamwork and customer service. At Alaska Air Group, pilots go beyond that to also exemplify the company’s core values: Own safety, do the right thing, be kindhearted, deliver performance and be remarkable.

These professionals have a deep and unwavering commitment to outstanding flying skills. They take seriously their command responsibility and authority.

At the same time, they know they’re not just flying planes, they’re flying people. That mindset informs everything they do.

Women in the flight deck remain somewhat of a rarity: Only about 5 percent of commercial airline pilots in the U.S. are women. Among the three pilots profiled here, there is a certain sense of camaraderie. But above all, they’re professional pilots doing what they love – flying our guests.

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Alaska Airlines is the top-ranked airline in America for the second year in a row, according to The Points Guy.

Alaska scored consistently well in all categories, ranking in the top three for low airfare, best on-time arrival rates, highest customer satisfaction, best baggage handling and a best-in-the-industry frequent flyer program.

“This award is a credit to our amazing, kind-hearted people who provide genuine, caring service for our guests every day,” said Ben Minicucci, Alaska’s president and chief operating officer. “We’re focused on creating an airline people love, so even when things don’t go perfectly, our people are empowered to make things right. Sometimes that makes all the difference.”

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Alaska Airlines and Fiji Airways have expanded their partnership with a codeshare agreement on flights between San Francisco and Seattle, and San Francisco and Portland.

The codeshare lets Fiji Airways to place its “FJ” code on Alaska’s flights between San Francisco and Seattle and between San Francisco and Portland, offering Fiji Airways guests seamless connections to these cities via San Francisco, and vice-versa for Alaska Airlines guests flying to Fiji. The codeshare flights will be available for sale starting March 5.

Both airlines have an existing frequent flyer partnership, where members of Alaska’s Mileage Plan earn and redeem miles for travel on “FJ” flight numbers.

“Fiji Airways is a fantastic partner of Alaska Airlines, so we’re thrilled to enhance that partnership and provide a hassle-free journey for people connecting to Seattle and Portland,” said Charles Breer, Alaska Airlines managing director of alliances. “We look forward to welcoming Fiji Airways travelers with genuine, caring service, just as Fiji Airways provides a premium experience for our loyal customers.”

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Alaska Airlines Captain Chris Cice, left, helped mentor Todd Swenson, right. In February, Swenson became one of Alaska’s newest captains.

When Alaska Airlines Captain Chris Cice started chatting with a guest on a flight from Seattle to Oakland about 20 years ago, he had no idea that he’d inspire a new captain.

Fast forward to today: That guest – Todd Swenson – was promoted to captain at Alaska Airlines in February, fulfilling a dream that Cice helped him visualize.

It all started 20 years ago. Cice was a newly hired first officer with Alaska and was dead-heading in the main cabin from Seattle to Oakland. When Cice boarded the flight, he noticed a guest in his assigned seat. So he took the middle seat, next to a man in the window seat deeply ensconced in his book.

“I noticed that the man was reading a book by aviation author John Nance,” Cice said. “About halfway through the flight, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him if he liked flying.”

The guest was Swenson. And that question from the friendly Alaska pilot changed the course of his life.

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Flying from Los Angeles to Sydney is not a short distance, and normally when I complete this 15-hour journey I can’t wait to get off the plane. But not this time …

qantas wine Review: A 15 hour journey flies by, thanks to business class on Qantas, an Alaska Global Partner

The sommelier in the sky explains the extensive collection of wine in Qantas business class

This last flight, I was fortunate enough to be sitting business class with Qantas, an Alaska Airlines Global Partner

And I honestly didn’t want to get off that plane! In fact, I could have easily done another 15-hour journey back to Los Angeles in that comfortable lay-flat bed. 

The top-notch customer service, unbelievably delicious meals and endless hours of entertainment were truly outstanding, and made this international journey completely enjoyable.

Here are some of the highlights of flying with Qantas:

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Boeing employees in the Seattle area recently shared their thoughts about flying the hometown airline. What’s your Alaska Airlines story?

Archie the Jack Russell terrier greets wine tasters who visit winemaker Paul Bridgeman, right, and Levantine Hill Vineyard in Australia’s Yarra Valley.

“Would you like some more wine, Mr. Anderson?”

dji 0118 In search of Australias most smashable wine: Tasting our way through the Yarra Valley

Sunset in Australia’s Yarra Valley.

That’s a question I heard several times on my business class flight from Los Angeles to Sydney on Qantas, an Alaska Airlines Global Partner. (My first time flying business, actually, and hands down the best 15 hours I’ve ever spent on a plane!)

“Yes, please” I quickly responded to the sommelier in the sky, after she gave me several recommendations, and told me all about the wines and where in Australia they’re from.

I nodded along in agreement, and expressed my extreme appreciation for the wine she recommended. The truth is: I literally didn’t know anything about wine. Absolutely nothing. I can’t emphasize that enough.

But after flying with Qantas and spending the most incredible day wine-tasting in Australia’s Yarra Valley — I’ve definitely become a beginner wine connoisseur.

I spent 12 amazing days in Australia – exploring the beautiful coastal walks in Sydney, getting an epic quokka selfie on Rottnest Island, and driving the insanely beautiful “Great Ocean Road.”

But my absolute favorite day was wine-tasting in the Yarra Valley! Sometimes the best moments on trips are the unexpected ones.

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Few things are as frustrating as sitting on an airplane waiting out an “ATC delay.”

ATC is airline-speak for Air Traffic Control, a program governed by the Federal Aviation Administration. It manages the flow of planes as they arrive and depart airports. ATC’s top priority: safety. That includes maintaining a safe amount of separation between aircraft.

In perfect conditions, planes can fly closer together. When airport conditions deterio­rate – wind, snow, poor visibility, or even too many flights scheduled in the same time period – controllers ensure the highest levels of safety by requiring more space between planes as they arrive or depart. Instead of 60 airplanes arriving every hour, for instance, ATC might restrict the flow to 30 airplanes. Of course, that slower rate creates a backlog.

Airplanes must wait their turn in the air, at the departure gate or on the taxiway. Other times, airlines cancel flights to help minimize the snowball effect of delays, and passengers are rebooked on the next available flight.

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