May 26--YAKIMA, Wash. -- Mark Bocchi knows Yakima pretty well.
More than three decades ago, he came to town to generate sales for a new airline called Horizon Air.
"I pounded the payment over here when I was kid fresh out of college," Bocchi said Wednesday during the Yakima Valley Tourism annual luncheon at the Yakima Convention Center.
Since then, Bocchi held several positions with Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines -- both part of the Alaska Air Group -- and is Alaska Airlines' managing director of sales and community marketing, charter and international sales.
During his speech before an audience of 120, Bocchi spoke about how the Seattle-based airline, too, has grown and developed in the last 30 years, with more potential growth through a pending merger with Virgin America.
Alaska Airlines survived a great consolidation of the airline industry: The four top air carriers had 84 percent of domestic traffic as of last year.
While other airlines folded or merged with other airlines, Alaska Airlines went from the 29th largest U.S. airline in the 1980s to the sixth largest today.
Alaska Airlines would move up to fifth if the airline's merger with Virgin America is approved, as expected, by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The airline would stay in that spot for a while, as the fourth largest U.S. airline is twice the size, Bocchi said.
But Alaska Airlines isn't just about getting bigger, Bocchi said. The airline has also worked to improve every aspect of the airline's operations.
There were certain aspects of the business Alaska Airlines was "not good at" about a decade ago, before it launched changes aimed at improving operations throughout the airline.
Since then, Alaska Airlines has racked up a number of accolades, including securing the No. 1 ranking among U.S. carriers in The Wall Street Journal's "Middle Seat" airline scorecard two years in a row and earning the highest score in the J.D. Power North America Airline Satisfaction Study for several years.
And with the Virgin America merger, Alaska Airlines wants to position itself as the "premier West Coast airline," Bocchi said.
That means the ability to provide passengers up and down the Western U.S. with service to destinations across the U.S. via nonstop flights from its West Coast hubs, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and to destinations abroad through partnerships with 17 domestic and international airlines, he said.
Passengers who fly from Yakima would also like to see more convenient connections to different destinations under the merger, he said.
Bocchi praised Yakima Valley community and business leaders for efforts to promote air service, include a fourth flight to Seattle that Alaska Airlines started last fall.
As of the end of last month, 24,020 passengers flew from Yakima to Seattle this year, a 21 percent increase from the same period in 2015.
"There has been stimulation in the local economy to keep up with the loads," Bocchi said. "We're pleased."
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