SEATTLE — The parka-hooded, smiling Eskimo face emblazoned on the tail of Alaska Airlines planes may soon be replaced by a new emblem, and some Alaskans are incensed.
The Alaska Legislature, which went into session on Monday, will consider a resolution asking the Seattle-based airline not to junk the colorful logo for one featuring a stylized mountain, said state Sen. Tim Kelly of Anchorage.
"It may not be the best representation of an Eskimo, but it's our Eskimo," he said. "(Alaskans) feel an affinity with the airline. Alaskans feel it's their airline."
State Senators Voice Support
Alaska's 20 state senators have voiced support for the resolution, he said.
The proposed new logo, created by a consultant hired last year to develop a more universal emblem for the airline, was unveiled in a recent Alaska Airlines newsletter.
The newsletter said some customers have trouble figuring out that the picture on the planes is an Eskimo and it was difficult to use the logo in small size on stationery.
Also, Alaska airlines flies to California and the Southwest, and some potential customers may think the airline flies only within Alaska, said Bruce Kennedy, chairman of Alaska Air Group.
Since the new logo was unveiled, many Alaska Airline employees have opposed the change. Several hundred of them signed a petition to Kennedy urging the Eskimo logo be kept.
"We like our happy face," said Alaska Airlines reservation agent Kim Como in Seattle.
The face is that of the late Chester Seveck, "a reindeer herder and a phenomenal Eskimo dancer" who for years greeted tourists getting off the plane at Kotzebue, Alaska, said state Sen. Willie Hensley, an Eskimo from Kotzebue.
A radio station in Kotzebue, above the Arctic Circle between Nome and Barrow, did a five-minute interview on the controversy with Alaska Airlines spokesman Louis Cancelmi.
Kennedy said the airline for years has gotten comments that the Eskimo face looks like killer Charles Manson, Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi or singers Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson.
Comedian Jay Leno joked about it on the Johnny Carson show. But Alaskans aren't laughing.
"The Eskimo is a friendly, human symbol of the north, of the spirit of Alaska," wrote Satch Carlson, an Anchorage Daily News columnist. "Take him off the Alaska planes in favor of some abstract, hip, meaningless design, you're taking one step closer to that impersonal austerity that characterizes most other airlines today."
One Letter of Support
Cancelmi said the company has gotten at least one letter in support of the new logo. "A graphic designer who is related to a pilot thought it was good."
Kennedy says he'll make a decision soon.
"There's no thought of changing the name of Alaska Airlines," he said. "I lived in Alaska for 15 years and consider myself an Alaskan. There is an independence and freewheeling spirit in Alaska that we have claimed as our own corporate culture. The last thing we want to do is lose that."