Alaska Airlines pulls its ads over 'death' headline in paper

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Alaska Air Group, Seattle, pulled all ads from The Seattle Times after the headline "deaths and funerals" mysteriously appeared directly above a retail ad for Alaska Airlines on May 21.

The newspaper on the next day issued a formal apology, which is printed in today's edition. The Times, which is investigating, said it doesn't know how the headline ended up over the ad, but an airline spokesman said: "I don't think you could draw any conclusion but that it was purposefully put there."

The headline ran after an Alaska Airlines baggage handler was killed over the weekend when he was pinned between a baggage cart and a plane; it also followed the January Alaska Airlines crash that killed 88 people off the California coast. When the newspaper realized the error during the May 21 printing, it stopped the presses but was unable to prevent the distribution of 30,000 issues with the mistake.

Alaska Airlines, which spends an estimated $500,000 a year with the Times, said it's pulling out until "satisfied that they've got quality assurances and safeguards in place to preclude that happening to our copy."

The ad was from Alaska Airlines agency WongDoody, Seattle. The airline spokesman said the Times has recently run stories about the carrier that are "unbalanced and inaccurate," yet only the ad tampering prompted it to yank its advertising. The Times "is a great marketing vehicle," he said.

Copyright May 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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