A Decade of Satisfied Travelers: Alaska Air Honored Again by J.D. Powers

Alaska Airlines’ logo on the tail of a Boeing 737-800 (public domain).


“Our 20,000 remarkable and kind-hearted employees are what distinguish Alaska Airlines, Virgin America and Horizon Air.” 

– Brad Tilden, CEO, Alaska Airlines


For the tenth straight year, Alaska Airlines has taken top honors in traditional airline carrier customer satisfaction, surpassing Air Canada and American, Delta and United Airlines in the North America Airline Satisfaction Study, an annual assessment conducted by consumer research giant J.D. Power and Associates.

“To have this recognition from the highly respected J.D. Power organization for 10 consecutive years is both extraordinary and humbling,” says Brad Tilden, the CEO of Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines earned consistently high marks across the board, garnering five-out-of-five-point ratings for passenger experiences with costs and fees, reservations, and check-in and boarding, as well as aircraft experience and staff interactions, leading to the airline’s five-out-of-five overall satisfaction rating – the only traditional carrier to reach that pinnacle of success.

“Our 20,000 remarkable and kind-hearted employees are what distinguish Alaska Airlines, Virgin America and Horizon Air,” observes Tilden. “The rest of the leadership team and I would like to thank them for their incredible dedication to our guests.”

The reviews on TripAdvisor back up the results from J.D. Power with comments ranging from, “Always leaves on time, or before. Friendly attendants. Clean plane,” and “Impressed” to “I wouldn’t have trusted another airline to handle plane changes with my child. Alaska Airlines is just that consistent. You don’t have to dread flying if you book with Alaska Airlines.”

Adds Tilden, “We’re working to achieve our higher purpose of creating an airline people love and recognition like this confirms that we’re heading in the right direction.”


Before You Go:

Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air: For current travel options, visit the Alaska Airlines’ flight deals page.

Virgin America: To  learn more about the Alaska Airlines-Virgin America partnership or arrange travel on a Virgin America flight, visit the airline’s Book a Flight page.



Thursday Temple Tour (Byodo-In, Kahaluu, Oahu, Hawaii)

Byodo-In Temple, Valley of the Temples, Hawaii, USA (Carol Highsmith, 1980, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).


Stunning. Majestic. A hidden gem that’s off the beaten path. Those are just a few of the many adjectives which have been used over the years to describe Hawaii’s Byodo-In Temple.

A non-practicing Buddhist temple, the exterior, grounds and artwork are immediately recognizable to fans of television shows such as Hawaii Five-O, Lost, and Magnum, P.I., which all filmed episodes here.

Initially built in 1968 to memorialize the arrival of Japan’s first immigrants to Hawaii more than a century ago, this particular place of pilgrimage has since become a popular destination for graduations, military re-enlistment ceremonies, funeral services, and weddings – and a time travel device of sorts for 21st century contemplatives, who find the grounds so picturesque and restful that they are transported back to the years of 1052-1053 when Japan’s original Byodo-In Temple complex was erected in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture by the Regent Fujiwara.

Hawaii’s namesake temple is, in fact, a replica of one of the complex buildings at that famed Japanese complex – the Phoenix Hall (also known as Amidado Hall) – which opened its doors in 1053 and houses the Amida Nyorai (or Amitabha Tathagata), a seated, nearly eight-foot tall statue birthed by the master Heian Period sculptor Jocho to depict the principal Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism.

Hawaii’s Byodo-In Temple

Just as the Japanese temple complex is being preserved for future generations (as a UNESCO World Heritage site), so too is Hawaii’s smaller version of the Phoenix Hall – now designated as a Hawaii State Landmark. Situated in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park at the base of the Ko’olau Mountains near Kaneohe, Oahu, the hall first opened its doors on June 7, 1968.

Visitors here encounter strutting peacocks, black swans, turtles, frogs, and other animals wandering the temple’s verdant grounds, as well as small waterfalls, a meditation pavilion, a reflecting pond with Japanese koi, a tea house/gift shop, and a bell house with a five-foot tall, three-ton, bronze and tin sacred bell (bon-sho), which was cast in Osaka, Japan. When struck by its shu-moku (soft wooden log), the bell’s warm tones ripple gently across the grounds, banishing temptation and evil spirits while conferring happy longevity.

Amida Buddha, Byodo-In Temple, Hawaii (public domain).

But it is when visitors enter the temple itself that the 21st century truly fades away. Towering above is another of the world’s great religious icons – the Amida Buddha. Surrounded by fifty-two smaller Bodhisattva sculptures, this nine-foot-plus tall Amida, which was sculpted and dressed in gold lacquer and gold leaf by Masuzo Inui, is reported to be the largest figure of its kind to ever have been fashioned outside of Japan.

For the less spiritually inclined, a series of concerts and other memorable activities bring visitors together regularly on the temple’s grounds in the spirit of fun and fellowship.


Among the most important of these special events held at Byodo-In is Obon. Typically celebrated by Buddhists in Japan every August, this festival welcomes the spirits of long-dead ancestors on their annual return visits to loved ones. Lanterns are lit, and sent floating down rivers or placed on buildings, helping to guide loved ones home as the living honor the departed through colorful dance ceremonies, temple food offerings and grave visitations.

If You Go:

Bring mosquito repellent, and be respectful. Remember that the temple and its grounds are a place of worship for area Buddhists, as well as a columbarium and cemetery for people of all faiths. Be quiet and thoughtful in your movements, remove your shoes before entering the temple’s sanctuary, and adhere to all regulations posted online and on site.

Memorial Park schedules may change without notice. Call ahead to verify regular and special event hours. Group tours are available by appointment. The Temple Grounds are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Gift Shop is typically open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays. Restrooms are available.


Mornings offer the best lighting; however, because the temple and grounds are privately owned, reservations must be made for all amateur or professional shoots. Paid permits are also required for professional and commercial photography. (Contact the events coordinator for pricing.) Aerial photography and drones are prohibited.

Temple Admission: $3 (adults), $2 (seniors), $1 (children).


Valley of the Temples Memorial Park
47-200 Kahekili Highway
Kaneohe, HI 96744
Telephone: (808) 725-2798
Email: info@valley-of-the-temples.com

Directions: Easily accessible by car. See directions on the Byodo-In website.

Also accessible via bus with a roughly half-mile walk to reach the cemetery. Fees average $2.50 each way. For more information, call: (808) 848-5555.



Wednesday Wisdom: Keeping Things in Perspective

Annapurna Conservation Area, Mardi (Anuppanthi, January 22, 2017, CCASA-4.0).



Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.

– Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1953-1961), in Markings, 1964




CHANGE FOR GOOD: Innovative Aer Lingus-UNICEF Partnership Soars to New Heights Thanks to Compassionate Travelers

Aer Lingus is helping compassion soar to new heights with its Change for Good partnership with UNICEF (photo: public domain).

Sometimes, all it takes to make a big difference is a small gesture. And when hundreds of people make that same small gesture, they change the world for the better.

That is precisely what has been happening since 1997 thanks to UNICEF, Aer Lingus, compassionate cabin crews, and mindful travelers who have been banding together to halt deadly wildfires of famine across Africa and the Middle East.

Twenty years. More than twenty million dollars raised. The lives of countless numbers of children saved – all due to “Change for Good,” an innovative effort by Aer Lingus that encourages transatlantic travelers to “lighten the load” by emptying their pockets of currency unused on their travels abroad. Collected by cabin crews on long haul flights, those unwanted foreign coins and notes are then pooled and donated to UNICEF.

“I was particularly keen to get more involved with this special partnership,” says Helen Condon, an 11-year cabin crew member of Ireland’s flag carrier and second largest airline. “I have recently returned from a field trip with my fellow Aer Lingus cabin crew Ambassadors to Rwanda and saw there, first-hand, the incredible impact our guests’ donations have made to communities there in helping to provide education, health care, immunisation, nutrition, water and sanitation.”

For those who doubt that pocket change donations can truly make a difference against soul-crushing poverty, consider this:

  • It takes just €5.50 to purchase one insecticide treated net, which will protect a mother and child against malaria for five years while a donation of €3 provides school supplies for one child; and
  • Pitching in unused currency worth US$17 can protect a child for life against diphtheria, measles, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough.

A little mindfulness goes a long way.

So much so that the latest round of funding from Aer Lingus resulted in the April 2017 delivery of a million euro-plus check to UNICEF – and that check presentation couldn’t have come at a better time. Staffers of the longtime children’s champion are presently engaged in fighting new food crises in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.

“What is really special about this partnership is the incredible effort Aer Lingus cabin crews make on our behalf. I would like to express my gratitude to them, even as we ask them to redouble their efforts on behalf of the 1.4 million children at risk of famine,” says UNICEF Ireland’s Executive Director Peter Power. “The €20 million Aer Lingus has raised for children has literally changed the world.”

So, next time you fly Aer Lingus? Pitch in. You might just be helping to save the life of a future artist, inventor or healer.


Meditation Mondays: The Relationship Between Stillness, Mindfulness and Clarity

Lama in Meditation, Sikkim, Alice S. Kandell, photographer, c. 1965-1979 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).


When the mind begins to become still, we then begin to truly see it. When you first try to stabilize and pacify the mind, initially it will become very busy because it’s not accustomed to being still. In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily want to become still, but it is essential to get a hold of the mind to recognize its nature. This practice is extremely important… Eventually you will find yourself in a state where your mind is clear and open all the time. It is just like when the clouds are removed from the sky and the sun can clearly be seen, shining all the time. This is coming close to the state of liberation, liberation from all traces of suffering.

– Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche




Wednesday Wisdom: The Human Need for Communication and Connection

Translation of an electrical signal into a chemical one as sending and receiving neurons communicate across a synapse (public domain).



The well-being of a neuron depends on its ability to communicate with other neurons. Studies have shown that electrical and chemical stimulation from both a neuron’s inputs and its targets support vital cellular processes. Neurons unable to connect effectively with other neurons atrophy. Useless, an abandoned neuron will die.

– Lisa Genova, Still Alice



Meditation Mondays: Overcoming Suffering

Resting Breath (Laurie Snyder, ©2011-present).


Just as heat displaces cold, light eliminates darkness. We will not overcome suffering just by making prayers or engaging in thoughtless meditation, but by understanding reality.

The third noble truth, cessation, refers to the elimination of suffering and the way to it is the path of the fourth noble truth.

The ultimate method to overcome ignorance is wisdom understanding reality.

– Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet


Sunday Steeplechase: A Century of Finding and Sharing the Good in Everyone and Everything

Dome at Sunset, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, CA (Laurie Snyder, ©2012-present).

Dome at Sunset, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2012-present).


Situated on Temple Hill just below the Oakland Mormon Temple in San Francisco’s East Bay is a church that is famous both for its architecture and for the major cultural event it has hosted on its grounds each spring after Mother’s Day for more than four decades – a dazzling, welcoming, life-affirming celebration of Greek heritage that is the largest of its kind in the United States.

That church is the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, and that party to end all Bay Area parties is the Oakland Greek Festival – a do not miss event that will be held in 2017 on May 19.

Like Oakland’s Temple Sinai, which was profiled earlier as part of The Contemplative Traveler’s Thursday Temple Tour series, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension had its first stirrings in San Francisco via a Benevolent Society formed to serve immigrants who came to America in search of a better life. That first year of 1867, the society’s founding fathers filled not just the stomachs of their fellow immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Greece, and Russia but their souls – by organizing local worship services with the help of Orthodox chaplains on ships resting at anchor nearby in the San Francisco Bay.

By 1872, the San Francisco-based Russian imperial patronage founded the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity as part of a large Russian diocese composed of churches and cathedrals stretching to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity then opened its doors in 1905.

Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption, Oakland, CA (U.S. Library of Congress, 1978, public domain).

Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption, Oakland, California (U.S. Library of Congress, 1978, public domain).

As California’s immigrant population continued to grow, an increasing number of Greek community members left the urban confines of the City of San Francisco to find better jobs and more affordable housing across San Francisco’s East Bay region. Initially, most were willing to return to San Francisco for Sunday worship services, taking the ferry time and again, but after a few years, the grind of commuting after a long work week simply became too much, motivating these East Bay Greeks to partner with their Lebanese and Syrian Christian neighbors to find a more workable solution. Together, they rented a hall in Oakland for joint worship, recruited an Orthodox priest from San Francisco and, by 1914, began offering services to their respective communities.

They also launched a new benevolent society to raise funds to support their fledgling religious East Bay Greek community and ultimately expanded their philanthropic efforts to improve educational opportunities for local children and their parents and also to help lift their neighbors from differing faiths out of poverty.

Officially recognized by the State of California in 1917, the Hellenic Community of Oakland and Vicinity saw its hard work come to fruition four years later with the launch of the first Greek Orthodox Church in the East Bay. Dedicated to the Koimisis and located in downtown Oakland, this new church complex included classrooms, a community center and worship space.

Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, CA (Laurie Snyder, ©2012-present).

Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2012-present).

Membership climbed steadily and, by the late 1950s, the congregation’s leadership realized that more space would be needed yet again. So, they sold the old church and land, purchased new land in the Oakland Hills, and rapidly completed work on their new home.

Still modern in its appearance today, the church was dedicated to the Analypsis (Ascension of Our Savior), and opened its doors and the doors of its educational center on December 11, 1960. The first Greek festival kicked off in the early 1970s, welcoming and embracing more and more non-Greek participants each successive year, and in 1976, a community center was added to the church complex, followed by a Parking Pavilion and a Koimisis Chapel, which was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in 2007.

Cross and Dome at Dusk, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2012-present).

Cross and Dome at Dusk, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2012-present).

Granted official status as a cathedral in February 1992, this center of spirituality now houses the largest Orthodox icon of Jesus in the Americas – its parish the largest of any Greek Orthodox community across the San Francisco Bay Area. Among the many ministry and public service outreach projects are the cathedral’s Meal Ministry program to homeless individuals in Berkeley and Oakland, the Ascension Senior Center, the Greek Folk Dance program and Greek Evening School, which offer classes in Greek language and Hellenic culture, the Philoptochos Society, which improves “the quality of life for those in need, in a way that maintains the dignity, self-determination and independence of the client,” and a GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth of the Ascension) group that inspires middle and high school students to engage in philanthropic volunteerism.

Parishioners of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension will achieve another milestone as they join with their Bay Area neighbors and friends in marking the Greek community’s 100th anniversary on November 30, 2017. A special series of events in the Fall of 2017 is slated to kick the centennial celebration into high gear. If even only half as fun as the annual Greek festival, October 6-8 is sure to be a memorable weekend.


If You Go

Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension
4700 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, California
(510) 531-3400
Events Calendar     Map

Oakland Greek Festival



Wednesday Wisdom: The Embers of Inspiration

Chagall's America Windows, Art Institute of Chicago (right side, public domain).

Chagall’s America Windows, Art Institute of Chicago (right side, public domain).


“If my art played no part in my family’s life, their lives and their achievements greatly influenced my art.

You know, I was greatly excited as I stood beside my grandfather’s seat in the synagogue.

Poor wretch, how I twisted and turned before I got there! Facing the window, my prayer book in my hands, I gazed at leisure on the sights of the quarter, on the Sabbath.

Beneath the drone of prayers, the sky seemed bluer to me. The houses float in space. And each passer-by stands out clearly.

Behind my back, they are beginning the prayer and my grandfather is asked to intone it before the altar. He prays, he sings, he repeats himself melodiously and begins again. It is as though an oil  mill were turning in my heart! Or as though a new honey, recently gathered, were trickling down inside me.”

– Marc Chagall, My Life

Meditation Mondays: On Waiting Too Long

Revery, c. 1910 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Revery, c. 1910 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).


“I’ve since come to believe that the world is populated by multitudes of women sitting at windows, inseparable from their surroundings. I myself spent many hours at a window on the Zattere, waiting for my father’s return, waiting for my life to appear like one of those great ships that came to harbor, broad sails filled with the wind of providence. I didn’t know then that during those fugitive hours beneath the influence of the damp moon, I was already plotting my future in pursuit of the past. I’d grown transparent as the glass through which I peered, dangerously invisible even to myself. It was then I knew I must set my life in motion or I would disappear.”

– Regina O’Melveny, The Book of Madness and Cures



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