Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor
Today, at long last, Alaska Airlines will cease a much-protested-by-us practice of distributing “prayer cards” to its airline customers.
Late last week Alaska Airlines announced it has been providing those cards for “more than 30 years,” but has finally reconsidered. A statement signed by Bill Ayer, Chair and CEO, Alaska Air Group, and Brad Tilden, President, Alaska Airlines, announced that they believe eliminating the cards is “the right thing to do in order to respect the diverse religious beliefs and cultural attitudes of all our customers and employees.” (Practicalities also intervened — Alaska Airlines stopped providing the cards to coach six years ago, when meal tray service ended.)
May I say “Hallelujah?” It took 30 years, but Alaska Airlines finally listened!
As long as Alaska Airlines has been providing the prayer cards, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been receiving complaints about them, and acting on those complaints.
Pre-Internet, starting back in the mid-1980s, I used to head our “Target List,” whereby we would send out monthly or periodic lists of people, columnists or corporations who needed to be educated. A loyal group of highly articulate members participated and it was always a joy to read copies of their replies. Honestly, I feel our cumulative letters (sent, in those slow-paced days by mail, sometimes arriving weeks after the fact) can take credit for turning at least one religious-right columnist into an agnostic, helping to wean an editorial cartoonist (who shall not be named) away from religion, and affecting some major state/church turn-arounds. Every year or two, after receiving yet another shocked member complaint about the airline practice, I would crank up our habitual consumer complaint against them.
Freethought Today’s “Letterbox” also published many articulate complaints from our members. Elaine Van S. Carmichael, in 1990, wrote the then-president of Alaska Airlines a letter so good we reproduced it in full. She wrote of her astonishment to find the in-flight snack adorned with a prayer card. Elaine asked, among other questions: “Don’t you realize that many customers may find this offensive, while no one would find its absence inappropriate?”
Clara Carlson, one of FFRF’s best-beloved and long-time Washington State members, who died recently at age 102, shared her “open letter to Alaska airlines” in a 1991 letter. Clara, who due to her location often had to rely on Alaska Airlines, wrote acidly: “The notion that it is necessary to pray, while flying with your line, is disquieting. It seems to indicate that one cannot have confidence in your pilots and mechanics.”
As FFRF turned to online Action Alerts, we kept up the pressure over the years. Our last action alert on this issue was written by a member request in 2009, and noted: “Members have complained over the past 30 years about Alaska Airlines offending non-Christians and nonbelievers with Christian paraphernalia during flights. Over the years, FFRF has sent letters of complaint and urged members to act as well.
“Please help educate Alaska Airlines about the fact that many of its paying customers are not religious, or prefer other religious teachings, and are greatly offended at being forced to see these Christian prayer cards when they are paying exorbitant fees to travel on the airline. If travelers want to pray, they can do so without the behest of a commercial airline! In fact, it does not inspire confidence that airline officials feel the need to pray during flights!”
Say "thank You"
Please take a moment to send a quick “Thank you.” Please let Alaska Airlines know you appreciate the announcement, the attention to respecting diversity, and that this welcome change will make a lot of freethinkers feel much better about patronizing Alaska Airlines. (It IS important to thank them, given Sarah Palin’s Facebook fight insisting the airlines must return to the prayers.)
Online Contact Form: http://www.alaskaair.com/www2/help/email.aspx?lid=footer:contactUs
P.S. To those of you, and there are many, who have been faithfully responding to “faithless” action alerts for 30 years, including those targeting Alaska Airlines, a warm thank you! As we always say around here: It pays to complain!
Thank you for your help!