After decades of serving customers prayer cards along with their inflight meals, Alaska Airlines officials announced Wednesday the company would be halting the practice (via USA Today).
The prayer cards, which offered short excerpts of the Old Testament, were started as a marketing concept meant to calm customers flying fears. For many years, the practice was embraced by most customers, according to airline officials, something that had shifted in recent years as more customers complained.
In the past five years, only first class customers have received the cards since the airline stopped offering meals to the economy cabin. First-class passenger Roz Schatman told MSNBC.com that she had been turned off by the cards.
“In the spirit of diversity, I find them offensive,” she said.
Company spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said the decision to discontinue the cards came out of respect for the varied religious beliefs practiced by airline customers and employees, USA Today reported.
“After carefully considering all sides, it was agreed that eliminating the cards was the right thing to do,” Egan said.
The company’s recent statements come in stark contrast to previous defence of the cards.
In 2004, Salon columnist and airline pilot Patrick Smith questioned the company about the practice and received the following response:
“The meal prayer card has been a simple tradition on our flights for over 20 years. The quotes have application across many Judeo-Christian beliefs and are shared as a gesture of thanks which reflect the beliefs of this country’s founding as in the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Pledge of Allegiance and every U.S. coin and dollar you handle. Alaska Airlines is an international carrier with very diverse customers, and we have no intentions of offending anyone or their beliefs. An overwhelming majority of our customers have indicated they appreciate the gesture, and those who don’t are not forced to read it. We do appreciate hearing from you, and look forward to welcoming you on board another flight in the future.”
It appears growing discontent among customers must have changed the Seattle-based regional airline’s mind, but let’s take a look at the pros and cons that can come when a large company espouses some sort of religious sentiment.
Religious practices can likely inspire loyalty among those customers that share similar beliefs. In Alaska’s case, those customers that did indeed feel comforted by the prayer cards may have been more likely to choose the airline in lieu of its competitiors.
On the flip side, religious practices may turn off more customers than it attracts depending on its customer base and location. Alaska Airlines officials obviously felt this was the case in light of the announcement.