Alaska Air cut C-suite raises to get COVID relief billions. It made up for that last year

by Dominic Gates at

A federal filing by Alaska Air Group on Thursday demonstrates that the sky-high levels of executive pay in corporate America are untouchable, even when companies take massive financial support from U.S. taxpayers.

Alaska Air’s C-suite executives last year received millions of dollars in special additional raises beyond the norm, including $5.3 million extra for CEO Ben Minicucci, bumping his total compensation to $10.3 million.

The filing states that the extra millions replace compensation given up during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the government held down executive pay while it was bailing out the airline.

That rationale went down badly with the airline’s flight attendants, who are currently fighting for a new contract to address their low pay.

Thresia Raynor, a flight attendant and an Association of Flight Attendants, or AFA, union official in Anchorage, said “it’s infuriating to all of us to see Ben get a $5 million raise knowing our union sat in front of Congress begging for money to bail out the airline and keep us out of bankruptcy.”

“I cannot believe he has continued with the corporate greed,” Raynor added.

In 2020 and 2021, when air travel collapsed, the U.S. government gave Alaska Air a lifeline of $2.3 billion to support payroll and avoid employee furloughs. That included an outright grant of $1.7 billion that doesn’t need to be paid back.

One of the conditions attached was that executive compensation was capped at 2019 levels for three years.

In that period, Alaska’s board adopted what is described in the proxy filing as “a give-and-take approach.”

They went ahead and issued handsome stock awards to the C-suite executives, then “clawed back” the amounts. So as not to exceed the compensation cap, those awards could not be granted at the time.

But the executives needn’t have fretted about their lighter paychecks. Thursday’s filing reveals that when the three-year period expired last May, Alaska’s board made it up to the airline’s leadership.

After it had “consulted extensively with its independent compensation advisor,” the board “re-granted the compensation that had been approved but clawed back during the restricted period.”

So, for example, in 2021 and 2022, CEO Minicucci’s compensation was held down to the level of his 2019 compensation, just over $3 million.

In 2023, after restoring the $5.3 million in stock awards clawed back in the two previous years, Minicucci’s total 2023 compensation more than tripled from 2022.

Frontline workers also lost some pay during the pandemic but have not been made whole.

“This is stupid and insensitive and management better fix it with an industry-leading contract for Alaska Flight Attendants,” said Sara Nelson, AFA national president.