Named Executive Officer Compensation

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Named Executive Officer Compensation

Proposal 2: Advisory Vote to Approve the Compensation of the Company’s Named Executive Officers

The Company is providing its stockholders with the opportunity to cast a non-binding, advisory vote on the compensation of the Company’s Named Executive Officers as disclosed pursuant to the SEC’s executive compensation disclosure rules and set forth in this Proxy Statement (including the compensation tables and the narrative discussion accompanying those tables as well as in the Compensation Discussion and Analysis).

As described more fully in the Compensation Discussion and Analysis (CD&A) section of this Proxy Statement, the structure of the Company’s executive compensation program is designed to compensate executives appropriately and competitively and to drive superior performance. For the Named Executive Officers, a high percentage of total direct compensation (defined as base salary, actual short-term incentive pay and the grant date fair value of equity awards as determined for accounting purposes) is variable and tied to the success of the Company because they are the senior leaders primarily responsible for the overall execution of the Company’s strategy. The Company’s strategic goals are reflected in its incentive-based executive compensation programs so that the interests of executives are aligned with stockholder interests. Executive compensation is further structured to be internally equitable, to reward executives for responding successfully to business challenges facing the Company, and for driving high performance, and to take into consideration the Company’s size relative to the rest of the industry.

The CD&A section of this Proxy Statement describes in more detail the Company’s executive compensation programs and the decisions made by the Compensation and Leadership Development Committee during 2017. Highlights of these executive compensation programs include the following:

Base Salary

In general, for the Named Executive Officers excluding the CEO, the Committee targets base salary levels at or about the 50th percentile relative to the Company’s airline peer group with the opportunity to earn market-level or above compensation through short- and long-term incentive plans that pay when performance objectives are met.

In 2017, the Compensation and Leadership Development Committee set base salary for the CEO at or about the 25th percentile and set base salaries for the other Named Executive Officers at or about the 50th percentile of the airline peer group.

Annual Incentive Pay

The Company’s Named Executive Officers are eligible to earn annual incentive pay under the broadbased Performance-Based Pay Plan, in which all employees participate and which is intended to motivate the executives to achieve Company financial and operational goals. Annual target performance measures are set at the beginning of the performance period by the Committee to reflect near-term financial and operational goals that are consistent with the strategic plan.

Long-term Incentive Pay

Equity-based incentive awards that link executive pay to stockholder value are an important element of the Company’s executive compensation program. Long-term equity incentives that vest over three- or four-year periods are awarded annually, including performance stock units, stock options and restricted stock units. We grant equity annually which results in overlapping vesting periods that discourage shortterm risk taking and to align Named Executive Officers’ long-term interests with those of stockholders while helping the Company attract and retain top-performing executives who fit a team-oriented and performance-driven culture.

In accordance with the requirements of Section 14A of the Exchange Act (which was added by the DoddFrank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act) and the related rules of the SEC, the Board of Directors will request your advisory vote on the following resolution at the 2018 Annual Meeting:

RESOLVED, that the compensation paid to the Named Executive Officers, as disclosed in this Proxy Statement pursuant to the SEC’s executive compensation disclosure rules (which disclosure includes the Compensation Discussion and Analysis, the compensation tables and the narrative discussion that accompanies the compensation tables), is hereby approved.

This proposal regarding the compensation paid to the Named Executive Officers is advisory only and will not be binding on the Company or the Board, nor will it be construed as overruling a decision by the Company or the Board or as creating or implying any additional fiduciary duty for the Company or the Board. However, the Compensation and Leadership Development Committee, which is responsible for designing and administering the Company’s executive compensation program, values the opinions expressed by stockholders in their vote on this proposal and will consider the outcome of the vote when making future compensation decisions for the Named Executive Officers. Consistent with the results of an advisory vote at the Company’s 2017 annual meeting concerning the frequency of the advisory vote regarding the compensation paid to the Named Executive Officers, stockholders will be given an opportunity to cast an advisory vote on this topic annually, with the next opportunity expected to be in connection with the Company’s annual meeting in 2019.

THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS RECOMMENDS THAT YOU VOTE FOR THE APPROVAL OF THE COMPENSATION OF THE NAMED EXECUTIVE OFFICERS, AS DISCLOSED IN THIS PROXY STATEMENT PURSUANT TO THE SEC’S EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION DISCLOSURE RULES.

Compensation Discussion and Analysis

Executive Summary

This CD&A contains a discussion of the material elements of compensation earned during 2017 by the Company’s chief executive officer, its chief financial officer, and its three highest paid executive officers. Specifically, the Named Executive Officers include: Bradley D. Tilden, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Alaska Air Group; Brandon S. Pedersen, executive vice president finance and chief financial officer of Alaska Air Group; Benito Minicucci, president and chief operating officer of Alaska Airlines; Andrew R. Harrison, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Alaska Airlines; and Peter D. Hunt, president and chief operating officer of Virgin America.

2017 Company Performance Highlights

Alaska Air Group had numerous financial and operational achievements in 2017. For the year ended December 31, 2017, Alaska Air Group:

  • posted full-year 2017 adjusted net income, excluding special items, of $823 million, or $6.64 per diluted share, (net income of $1.0 billion or $8.30 per diluted share under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)) compared to $911 million, or $7.32 per diluted share, in 2016 ($814 million or $6.54 per diluted share under GAAP);
  • repurchased 981,277 shares of its common stock, for approximately $75 million in 2017;
  • paid a total of $148 million in dividends to stockholders and in January 2018 announced a 7% increase in the quarterly dividend, from $0.30 per share to $0.32 per share, effective with the dividend paid on March 8, 2018; reduced debt-to-capitalization ratio to 51% as of December 31, 2017, compared to 59% as of December 31, 2016, demonstrating a commitment to deleverage following its acquisition of Virgin America in December 2016;
  • shared $135 million (exceeding one month’s pay for most employees) in incentive rewards for 2017 with all employees;
  • Alaska Airlines ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Traditional Network Carriers” by J.D. Power for the tenth year in a row;
  • Virgin America rated “Best U.S. Airline” by Conde Nast in their Traveler’s “Annual Readers’ Choice Awards” for the tenth year in a row;
  • Virgin America rated “Best Domestic Airline” in Travel + Leisure “World’s Best Awards” for the tenth year in a row;
  • achieved safety-related goals and received the Federal Aviation Administration’s Diamond Award for Maintenance and Engineering for the 16th year in a row;
  • Alaska Airlines ranked first in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Travel Rewards Programs for the third consecutive year;
  • grew Mileage Plan membership by 20% and credit card holder membership by 12%;
  • launched various new in-flight amenities, including Free Chat, upgraded food and beverage options and Premium Class Service, and selected Gogo to provide next-generation satellite-based Wi-Fi across the entire Boeing and Airbus fleets;
  • added 44 new markets in 2017 across the Alaska and Virgin America networks and added additional Mileage Plan partners, including Condor Airlines, Finnair and Singapore Airlines; and
  • received “Single Carrier Determination” by the National Mediation Board (NMB) for Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, paving the way for labor integration and union representation for the in-flight and clerical, office and passenger service workgroups.

Governance Highlights

  • Compensation decisions are made by a committee of directors who the Board has determined meet SEC and NYSE independence standards.
  • The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee retains an independent consultant that provides no other services to the Company.
  • The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee regularly meets in executive session without the presence of management.
  • There is no provision for the gross-up of excise taxes in connection with change-in-control severance payments.
  • Change-in-control severance payments require a double-trigger event in order to become effective.
  • The Company maintains a recoupment policy to recover compensation from executives under certain circumstances.
  • The Company has executive and independent director stock ownership requirements.
  • An anti-pledging and anti-hedging policy is in place.
  • The Company has no executive employment agreements with the Named Executive Officers (other than Mr. Hunt).
  • The Company’s Bylaws allow stockholders proxy access to nominate directors pursuant to certain requirements.
  • The Company holds virtual stockholder meetings, allowing broader access for stockholders worldwide.
  • The Board of Directors was recognized by the Puget Sound Business Journal as the 2017 Board Diversity Champion, as well as by the Women Corporate Directors Global Institute for diversity among our directors.

Consideration of Say-on-Pay Advisory Vote

Stockholders have an opportunity annually to cast an advisory vote in connection with our executive compensation program. At the May 2017 annual meeting, 97.6% of the votes were cast in favor of the advisory say-on-pay proposal in connection with the Company’s 2016 compensation. The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee believes that the vote indicates that stockholders approve of the structure of executive compensation at Alaska Air Group. Therefore, the Committee structured executive compensation for 2017 in a way that is generally consistent with that of 2016.

2017 Compensation Program Overview

The Company’s executive compensation program is designed to compensate executives appropriately and competitively and to drive superior performance. Because the Named Executive Officers are primarily responsible for the overall execution of the Company’s strategy, a high percentage of their total direct compensation is variable and tied to Company performance, thereby providing incentives to achieve goals that help create value for stockholders. Highlights of the program, which did not change materially from 2016, include:

  • For 2017, the Committee approved target-level total compensation for Mr. Tilden that is 83% performance-based or aligned with stockholder value creation. With respect to the other Named Executive Officers, the Committee approved target total compensation that is, on average, 75% performance-based or aligned with stockholder value creation. Performance-based compensation includes both our annual and long-term incentive programs.
  • Executives’ bonuses under the Company’s annual incentive pay program, in which all Company employees participate, are based on the achievement of specific performance objectives that are established at the beginning of the fiscal year by the Committee and are capped at a specified maximum amount. As illustrated in the 2017 Performance-Based Pay Calculation table in this Proxy Statement, the annual incentive plan paid out above target as a result of strong profitability and excellent safety, operational and customer satisfaction scores.
  • Executives’ equity incentive awards generally consist of a combination of stock options, servicebased restricted stock unit awards, and performance stock unit awards that vest only if specified performance levels of relative total shareholder return (TSR) and return on invested capital are achieved. The performance stock units have a three-year performance period and are eligible to vest based 25% on shareholder return relative to an airline industry peer group, 25% on shareholder return relative to S&P 500 companies, and 50% on return on invested capital targets. These awards align an executive’s opportunity with the creation of value for stockholders.

Objectives of the Company’s Executive Compensation Program

The objectives of the executive compensation program are as follows:

  • to attract and retain highly qualified executives who share the Company’s values and are committed to its strategic plan by designing the total compensation package to be competitive with an appropriate peer group;
  • to motivate executives to provide excellent leadership and achieve Company goals by linking incentive pay to the achievement of specific targets that are reflected in the short-term incentive Performance-Based Pay Plan and the Company’s strategic plan;
  • to align the interests of executives, employees, and stockholders by tying a large portion of executives’ total direct compensation (defined as base salary, actual short-term incentive pay and the grant date fair value of equity awards) to the achievement of objective goals related to the Company’s financial performance, safety record, cost structure, and customer satisfaction; and
  • to provide executives with reasonable security to motivate them to continue employment with the Company and achieve goals that will help the Company remain competitive and thrive for the long term.

Compensation Philosophy

The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee generally targets CEO base salary at or about the 25th percentile of the Company’s airline peer group. However, the Committee may decide to set the CEO’s salary above or below the 25th percentile after taking into consideration other factors. The CEO has the opportunity to earn total direct compensation between the 25th and 50th percentiles if annual and long-term incentive targets are reached, and to surpass the 50th percentile if those targets are exceeded.

For the other Named Executive Officers, as well as for other elected officers of the Company, the Committee generally targets base salary at or about the 50th percentile of airline peers and provides executives an opportunity to achieve total direct compensation at the 50th percentile if annual and longterm incentive targets are reached, and to surpass the 50th percentile if those targets are exceeded.

Other factors, such as Company performance, individual performance, tenure, retention goals, and internal equity influence the Committee’s executive compensation-setting philosophy and practice from year-to-year.

How Executive Compensation is Determined

The role of the Compensation and Leadership Development Committee and the independent consultants with respect to determining executive compensation includes the following:

Executive Compensation. The Committee determines and approves the Named Executive Officers’ compensation based on the CEO’s recommendations for all Named Executive Officers excluding himself. The Committee determines the CEO’s compensation with the assistance of its independent compensation consultant. The Committee also reviews and approves the CEO’s recommended compensation for elected officers other than the Named Executive Officers.

Independent Consultants. The Committee retained Meridian Compensation Partners, LLC (Meridian), to assist the Committee with its responsibilities related to the Company’s executive and board of directors’ compensation programs. The Committee considered the following facts in concluding that Meridian is an independent advisor:

  • Meridian does not provide other services to Alaska Air Group or its subsidiaries. Meridian’s services are limited to providing the Committee with advice and information solely on executive and director compensation and related corporate governance matters.
  • The amount of fees paid by the Company during the 12-month period ended December 31, 2017 represents less than one percent of Meridian’s total annual revenues for the 2017 calendar year.
  • Meridian maintains policies designed to prevent conflicts of interest, which policies were detailed to the Committee.
  • No Meridian partner, consultant or employee who serves the Committee has any business or personal relationship with any member of the Committee.
  • No Meridian partner, consultant or employee who serves the Committee, or any of their immediate family, owns any shares of stock of the Company.
  • No Meridian partner, consultant or employee who serves the Committee, or any of their immediate family, has any business or personal relationship with any executive officer of the Company.

How the Elements of the Company’s Executive Compensation Program Were Selected

The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee conducts periodic reviews of the Company’s executive compensation to assess its alignment with the Committee’s objectives. The Committee considers how each component of compensation motivates executives to help the Company achieve its performance goals and execute its strategic plan and how it promotes retention of executives who share the Company’s values. The compensation structure is designed to promote initiative, resourcefulness and teamwork by key employees whose performance and responsibilities directly affect the performance of the business.

The Committee uses both fixed compensation and variable performance-based compensation to achieve a program that we believe is balanced, competitive and provides appropriate incentives. Base salaries, benefits, perquisites, retirement benefits, and change-in-control benefits are intended to attract and retain highly qualified executives and are paid out on a short-term or current basis. Annual incentives and long-term equity-based incentives are intended to motivate executives to achieve specific performance objectives.

The Committee believes that this mix of short-term and long-term compensation allows it to achieve dual goals of attracting and retaining highly qualified executives and providing meaningful performance incentives for those executives.

Deterrents to Excessive Risk-Taking

The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee believes it has designed the overall compensation program in such a way as to deter excessive risk-taking, to encourage executives to focus on the long-term success of the Company and to align the interests of executives with those of stockholders by:

  • encompassing several different financial and operational goals;
  • setting financial and operational goals that are reviewed and approved by the independent members of the Committee;
  • overlapping the performance periods of awards;
  • incorporating short-term and long-term performance periods of varying lengths;
  • maintaining executive stock ownership requirements;
  • capping short-term cash incentives;
  • allowing the Committee discretion to reduce amounts otherwise payable under certain awards;
  • scaling compensation to the airline industry;
  • considering internal equity among Company executives; and
  • reflecting the current business challenges and opportunities facing the Company.

Executive Pay Mix and the Emphasis on Variable Pay

The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee believes that emphasis on variable, performance-based compensation at the senior executive level of the Company is a key element in achieving a pay-for-performance culture and in aligning management’s interests with those of the Company’s stockholders. At the same time, the Committee believes that the executive compensation program provides meaningful incentives for executives while balancing risk and reward. When determining target executive pay, the Committee attempts to ensure that compensation is closely aligned with the overall strategy of the Company and that it motivates executives to achieve superior performance and stockholder returns.

 

Total direct compensation for the Company’s Named Executive Officers is tailored to place a substantial emphasis on variable pay, that is, pay linked to the achievement of specific, measurable performance objectives and subject to variation depending on the degree to which such objectives are achieved. For 2017, the Committee approved target-level compensation for Mr. Tilden that is 83% variable and tied to stockholder value creation. With respect to the other Named Executive Officers, the Committee approved target compensation that is on average 75% variable and tied to stockholder value creation.

The Use of Benchmarking Against a Peer Group

The Committee reviews and analyzes total direct compensation for the Named Executive Officers annually. In analyzing the information for 2017, the Committee reviewed the total direct compensation for executives of a peer group of airlines as identified below.

The following companies represent the airline peer group selected by the Committee as a comparator for determining appropriate compensation levels for 2017:

  • Air Canada
  • Allegiant Travel Co.
  • American Airlines Group
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Hawaiian Holdings
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Republic Airways Holdings
  • SkyWest
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • United Continental Holdings
  • WestJet Airlines

The Committee chose to include the companies named above in its peer group for the following reasons:

  • they represent a group of sufficient size to present a reasonable indicator of executive compensation levels;
  • they are in the airline industry and their businesses are similar to the Company’s business;
  • the median annual revenue of this group approximates the Company’s annual revenue; and
  • the Company competes with these peer companies for talent to fill certain key, industry-related executive positions.

In the aggregate, 2017 target total cash compensation (which includes base salary and target annual incentive) for the Named Executive Officers other than the CEO fell between the 35th and 70th percentiles for comparable positions at companies in the airline peer group. Target total direct compensation, which includes base salary, target annual cash incentive and long-term equity compensation, fell between the 35th and 70th percentiles. For Alaska Air Group’s CEO, target total cash compensation and total direct compensation were at or below the 25th percentile for chief executive officers within the airline peer group.

In setting 2017 executive compensation, the Committee also reviewed data for 25 companies in the broader transportation industry having median annual revenue similar to that as an additional reference point to assess the Company’s executive compensation program. The companies in this transportation industry peer group include: Air Canada, Allegiant Travel Co., AMERCO, American Airlines Group, Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Avis Budget Group, Delta Air Lines, Expedia, Expeditors International of Washington, Hawaiian Holdings, Hertz Global Holdings, Hub Group, JB Hunt Transport Services, JetBlue Airways, Kirby Corporation, Landstar System, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Republic Airways Holdings, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ryder System, SkyWest, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, United Continental Holdings, and WestJet Airlines.

In the aggregate, target total cash compensation for the Company’s Named Executive Officers other than the CEO fell between the 30th and 40th percentiles for comparable positions with the transportation industry peer group. Total direct compensation fell between the 25th and the 55th percentiles. For Alaska Air Group’s CEO, target total cash compensation and total direct compensation fell below the 25th percentile for chief executive officers within the transportation industry peer group.

The Application of Internal Equity Considerations

In addition to benchmarking against airline and industry peer groups, the Committee and the CEO believe it is appropriate to consider other principles of compensation, and not accept benchmarking data as the sole basis for setting compensation. Thus, while the Committee has considered peer group data as described above, it has also applied other compensation principles, most notably internal equity, when determining executive compensation. Currently, Mr. Tilden’s total direct compensation represents approximately two times the average total direct compensation at the executive vice president level, and approximately five times the average at the vice president level. By considering internal equity, the Committee is able to structure executive compensation in a way that is less susceptible to sudden, temporary changes in market compensation levels.

The Use of Tally Sheets

Annually, the Committee reviews tally sheets that show each element of compensation for the Named Executive Officers. Base salaries, incentive plan payments, equity awards, equity exercises, perquisites, and health and retirement benefits are included on tally sheets, which are prepared by the Company’s corporate affairs and human resources departments. The Committee uses the compensation tally sheets to verify that executive compensation is internally equitable and proportioned according to the Committee’s expectations.

Current Executive Pay Elements

Base Pay

The Committee assesses each executive’s duties and scope of responsibilities, past performance and expected future contributions to the Company, the market demand for the individual’s skills, the individual’s influence on long-term Company strategies and success, the individual’s leadership performance, and internal equity considerations.

In February 2017, the Committee approved a base salary of $550,000 for Mr. Tilden, which was at or about the 25th percentile of salaries for CEOs in the airline peer group. The chart below depicts CEO base salaries at airline peer group companies.

CEO Base Salary Comparisons
(Airline Peer Group)

(1) Amounts are based on the most recent compensation data available as of February 7, 2018. In most cases, this is the base salary as reported in the respective company’s 2017 proxy statement.
(2) Base salary is provided in Canadian dollars.
(3) The CEO does not receive a base salary.
(4) Publicly-disclosed compensation data is no longer available.

Performance-Based Annual Pay

The Company’s Named Executive Officers are eligible to earn annual incentive pay under the Performance-Based Pay Plan (the PBP Plan), in which all eligible company employees participated in 2017. The PBP Plan is intended to motivate executives and other employees to achieve specific company goals. The Committee aligns executive compensation with the Company’s strategic plan by choosing a target performance level for each operational or financial goal (outlined in the 2017 Performance-Based Pay Metrics table below) that is consistent with the Company’s strategic plan goals.

The long-term success of the Company is highly dependent on running a safe and reliable operation, meeting or exceeding the expectations of customers, keeping unit costs in check, and generating financial returns well above our cost of capital. With the acquisition of Virgin America, loyalty of both Mileage Plan members and Visa Signature credit card holders has become increasingly important to the Company’s strategy and led to the Committee to adding additional metrics to the PBP Plan for the 2017 plan year. Each of these key strategic objectives is reflected in the goals of the PBP Plan.

For the Named Executive Officers, the 2017 target participation levels are as follows:

2017 Performance-Based Pay Plan Participation Rates

Incentive award payments may range from zero to 200% of the Named Executive Officer’s target based on the achievement of performance goals set by the Committee at the beginning of each year. For each performance metric, performance at the target level will generally result in a 100% payout of the target amount for that metric, while the payout percentage would be 200% for performance at or above the maximum level and 25% for performance at the threshold level. The payout percentages are interpolated for performance between the levels identified below, but if performance for a particular metric is below the threshold level, no payment will be made as to that metric. The Committee retains discretion to reduce bonus amounts below the level that would otherwise be paid.

For 2017, the Performance-Based Pay Plan metrics were set as follows:

2017 Performance-Based Pay Metrics

(1) Goals set for each of Alaska, Horizon and Virgin America are related to events that present risk to that airline’s operation, including such things as inadvertent slide deployments, runway and taxiway incursions, introduction of a new aircraft type, integration of Safety Management Systems and employee reporting tools and frequency.
(2) Adjusted pre-tax profit means the net income of Alaska Air Group as computed by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and adjusted for “Excluded Items” and “Alternative Accounting Treatments.” “Excluded Items” means (a) income taxes, (b) pretax expense under any Alaska Air Group (or subsidiary) profit sharing, performance-based pay, operational performance rewards, variable pay, or similar programs as determined in the discretion of the Compensation and Leadership Development Committee, and (c) special income or expense items that, in the discretion of the Committee, should be excluded because recognizing them would not appropriately serve the goals of the Plan. These special items may include, without limitation, merger-related costs, gain or loss on disposition of capital assets, impairments or other fleet exit costs, expenses from voluntary or involuntary severance programs, government refunds or assistance, and the cumulative effect of accounting changes. “Alternative Accounting Treatments” means expense or income items that, for purposes of calculating adjusted pre-tax profit, the Company (or any subsidiary) will account for based on non-GAAP methods because, in the discretion of the Committee, using GAAP accounting methods would not appropriately serve the goals of the Plan. These may include, without limitation, fuel hedge accounting on an as-settled basis.

Annual target performance measures reflect financial and operational goals that are consistent with the strategic plan. Maximum goals correlate to superior performance, while threshold goals generally correlate to what the Committee believes is an acceptable, but minimal, level of improvement over the prior year’s performance. The 2017 Alaska Air Group profitability target of $775 million corresponded to achievement of the Company’s weighted average cost of capital. The safety and employee engagement measures were set at levels the Committee believed would drive continuous improvement and maintain the Company’s reputation as a leader in the industry in these areas. The cost per available seat mile excluding fuel and special items (CASM) metric was similarly chosen to support the Company’s achievement of its strategic plan. The loyalty mileage plan growth and loyalty credit card growth metrics were chosen to support achievement of revenue synergies anticipated from the Virgin America acquisition.

The Committee believes that using adjusted non-GAAP measures, such as CASM (excluding fuel and special items) and adjusted pre-tax profit, rather than GAAP measures, more closely ties results to elements of performance that can be controlled by the decisions and actions of employees, thereby providing a more direct link between performance and reward. In addition, by removing the short-term impact of certain business decisions (such as the gain or loss on disposition of capital assets), the use of adjusted measures encourages executives to make decisions that are in the best interest of the Company over the long term.

Following is a summary of our performance versus the established goals and an example of the calculation of the 2017 PBP Plan payout for one of the Named Executive Officers based on actual results:

2017 Performance-Based Pay Calculation (1)

(1) Based on the results that apply to an Alaska Airlines named executive officer.
(2) Under the terms of the 2017 PBP Plan, CASM calculations exclude fuel costs and may be adjusted for certain excluded items and alternative accounting treatments.

Participation rates vary by position and the participation rates for the Named Executive Officers are described in the 2017 Performance-Based Plan Participant Rates table above.

In addition, all of the Company’s employees, including the Named Executive Officers, participate in a separate annual incentive plan called Operational Performance Rewards, which pays a monthly incentive of up to $100 to all employees when certain operational performance targets are met. Awards are based on the achievement of on-time performance and customer satisfaction goals, and the maximum annual payout for each employee is $1,200. In 2017, each Alaska Airlines employee, including the Named Executive Officers (other than Mr. Hunt), received $350 under the Operational Performance Rewards program, each Virgin America employee (including Mr. Hunt) received $100, and each Horizon Air employee received $250.

Long-Term Equity-Based Pay

Long-term equity incentive awards that link executive pay to stockholder value are an important element of the Company’s executive compensation program. Long-term equity incentives that vest over three- or four-year periods are awarded annually, resulting in overlapping vesting periods. The awards are designed to align Named Executive Officers’ interests with those of stockholders. In addition, equity awards help attract and retain top-performing executives who fit a team-oriented and performance-driven culture.

Stock Options. The Company grants a portion of its long-term incentive awards to the Named Executive Officers in the form of stock options with an exercise price that is equal to the fair market value of the Company’s common stock on the grant date. The Named Executive Officers will realize value from their stock options only to the degree that Alaska Air Group’s stockholders realize value, provided the stockholder had purchased shares and held them for the same period as the option remains outstanding. The stock options also function as a retention incentive for executives, as they generally vest ratably over a four-year period on each anniversary of the grant date and have a ten-year term that may be shortened if the executive’s employment terminates.

Restricted Stock Units. The Company also grants long-term incentive awards to the Named Executive Officers in the form of restricted stock units. Subject to the executive’s continued employment with the Company, the restricted stock units generally vest on the third anniversary of the date they are granted and, upon vesting, are paid in shares of Alaska Air Group common stock. The units provide a long-term retention incentive through the vesting period that requires continued service to the Company. The units are designed to further link executives’ interests with those of Alaska Air Group’s stockholders, as the value of the units is based on the value of Alaska Air Group common stock. The Company does not issue dividend equivalents on unvested restricted stock units.

Performance Stock Units. The Company also annually grants the Named Executive Officers performance stock units. The performance stock units vest only if the Company achieves performance goals established by the Committee for the three-year performance period covered by the award. Performance stock units also provide a retention incentive as the value of the award received is prorated based on both the executive’s status as an employee during the performance period and the achievement of performance goals.

Grants were made for the three-year performance periods beginning in each of January 2015, 2016 and 2017. The performance stock unit awards granted in 2015 and 2016 were based 50% on the Company’s TSR performance relative to the following airline peer group, excluding any companies that ceased reporting compensation data during the period because they were no longer public: Air Canada, Allegiant Travel Co., American Airlines Group, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Holdings, JetBlue Airways, Republic Airways Holdings, SkyWest, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, United Continental Holdings, Virgin America, and WestJet Airlines. The performance stock unit awards granted in 2015 and 2016 were also based 50% on the Company’s ROIC goals set by the Committee.

Following the grant of performance stock unit awards in 2016, the Committee modified the original ROIC goal. The modification was made to preserve the intended benefits of the awards after a material change in the Company’s capitalization due to the acquisition of Virgin America, as permitted by and in compliance with the terms of the 2008 Performance Incentive Plan and related award agreements. No modifications were considered necessary or advisable with respect to the performance stock unit awards granted in 2015 based on the timing of the Virgin America acquisition. This goal, as modified, was disclosed in the Company’s 2017 proxy statement filed March 24, 2017.

For the performance awards granted to the Named Executive Officers (other than Mr. Hunt) in February 2017 with a January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2019 performance period, the vesting of 25% of the stock units subject to the award will be determined in accordance with the chart below based on the Company’s TSR rank versus the same airline peer group as that used for the 2015 and 2016 awards, with the exception of Virgin America. The vesting of 25% of the stock units subject to the award will be determined in accordance with the chart below based on the Company’s TSR rank relative to S&P 500 companies. The vesting of 50% of the stock units subject to the award will be determined based on the Company’s ROIC performance for the three-year period as measured against goals set by the Committee.

The Committee chose relative TSR as a performance measure to provide additional incentive for executives to support and drive long-term stockholder value. Given the nature of the airline business, the Committee believes that measuring TSR on a relative basis rather than on an absolute basis provides a more relevant reflection of the Company’s performance by mitigating the impact of various macro-economic factors that tend to affect the entire industry. The Committee believes that also measuring the Company’s performance relative to the broad market and to appropriate ROIC goals encourages executives to manage the Company in such a way as to maintain sustainable growth and to attract a broader range of investors.

The percentage of the performance stock units that vest may range from zero to 200% of the target number of units subject to the award, depending on the results of the Company’s goals for the performance period. The payout percentages are interpolated for performance results falling between the levels identified below. The Committee retains discretion to reduce bonus amounts below the level that would otherwise be paid. The Company does not issue dividend equivalents on unvested performance stock units.

2017 Performance Stock Unit Award Metrics (2017-2019 Performance Period)

(1) Payout percentages will be linearly interpolated for performance between the levels identified above.

Equity Award Guidelines. The Committee considers and generally follows equity grant guidelines that are based on the target total direct compensation levels and pay mix described above. Target equity grants, when combined with the base salary and annual target incentive opportunity described above, are designed to achieve total direct compensation at or about the 50th percentile of the peer group data for the Named Executive Officers, with the exception of the CEO. The Committee may adjust equity grants to the Named Executive Officers above or below these target levels based on the Committee’s general assessment of:

  • the individual’s contribution to the success of the Company’s financial performance;
  • internal pay equity;
  • the individual’s performance of job responsibilities; and
  • the accounting impact to the Company and potential dilution effects of the grant.

The Committee believes that stock options, time-based restricted stock units and performance stock units each provide incentives that are important to the Company’s executive compensation program as a whole. Therefore, the Committee generally allocates the grant-date value (based on the principles used in the Company’s financial reporting) of each executive’s total equity incentive award among these three types of awards.

2017 Equity Awards. For 2017, the guidelines as applied to the Named Executive Officers are noted in the table below:

Equity Award Guidelines

(1) Mr. Hunt received an RSU grant as described below in lieu of the annual equity target under the grant guidelines applicable to other Named Executive Officers.

Special Equity Awards. The Committee retains discretion to make other equity awards at such times and on such terms as it considers appropriate to help achieve the goals of the Company’s executive compensation program. In 2017, in connection with Mr. Hunt’s role as president and chief operating officer of Virgin America during the continued integration efforts, the Committee made a one-time equity award to him composed of restricted stock units in an amount valued at approximately $900,000. The restricted stock units are scheduled to vest 50% on June 14, 2018, the date that is six months following the grant date, and 50% in six substantially equal monthly installments thereafter (subject to Mr. Hunt’s continued employment).

In March 2017, the Committee also granted a one-time award of performance stock units to the Named Executive Officers, with the exception of the Mr. Tilden and Mr. Hunt. The performance stock units are subject to a three-year performance period with annual pro-rated vesting based on cash flow targets that were designed to motivate achievement of superior financial results and successful integration of Virgin America.

Perquisites and Personal Benefits

In 2017, an amount equal to 1% of base salary was paid to Named Executive Officers as a perquisite allowance, as the Committee decided to phase out the prior perquisite allowance over a three-year period that ended in 2017.

Retirement Benefits/Deferred Compensation

The Company provides retirement benefits to the Named Executive Officers under the terms of qualified and non-qualified defined-benefit and defined-contribution retirement plans. The Retirement Plan for Salaried Employees (the Salaried Retirement Plan) and the Company’s 401(k) plans are tax-qualified retirement plans in which Mr. Tilden participates on substantially the same terms as other participating employees. The Salaried Retirement Plan was frozen on January 1, 2014 at its then-current benefit levels. Due to maximum limitations imposed by the Internal Revenue Code on the annual amount of a pension that may be paid under a qualified defined-benefit plan, the benefits that would otherwise be provided to these executives under the Salaried Retirement Plan are required to be limited. An unfunded defined-benefit plan in which Mr. Tilden also participants, the 1995 Elected Officers Supplementary Retirement Plan (the Supplementary Retirement Plan), provides make-up benefits plus supplemental retirement benefits.

In light of the freeze on the Company’s Salaried Retirement Plan effective January 1, 2014, all Named Executive Officers (with the exception of Mr. Hunt) participate in the Company’s Defined Contribution Officers Supplementary Retirement Plan (DC Supplemental Retirement Plan).

Through the end of 2017, Mr. Hunt participated on substantially the same terms as other Virgin America employees in Virgin America’s 401(k) Plan, a tax-qualified defined contribution plan.

The Named Executive Officers are also permitted to elect to defer up to 100% of their annual Performance-Based Pay payments under the Company’s Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Plan. The Company believes that providing deferred compensation opportunities is a cost-effective way to permit executives to receive the tax benefits associated with delaying the income tax event on the compensation deferred. The interest earned on this deferred compensation is similar to what an ordinary investor could earn in the market.

Please see the tables under Pension and Other Retirement Plans and 2017 Nonqualified Deferred Compensation and the information following the tables for a description of these plans.

Stock Ownership Policy

The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee believes that requiring significant stock ownership by executives further aligns their interests with those of long-term stockholders. Within five years of election or promotion to a position with a greater holding requirement, each executive officer must beneficially own a number of shares of the Company’s common stock with a fair market value equal to or in excess of a specified multiple of the individual’s base salary as follows:

  • five times base salary for the CEO;
  • times base salary for Mr. Minicucci; and
  • three times base salary for Mr. Pedersen and Mr. Harrison.

Executives are required to retain 50% of any shares of common stock acquired in connection with the vesting of restricted stock units and performance stock units until the holding target is reached. Unexercised stock options, unvested restricted stock units and unvested performance stock units do not count toward satisfaction of the ownership requirements. The Committee reviews compliance with this requirement annually.

Prohibition of Speculative Transactions in Company Securities

The Company’s insider trading policy prohibits executive officers, including the Named Executive Officers, from engaging in certain speculative transactions in the Company’s securities, including shortterm trading, short sales, publicly traded options (such as puts, calls or other derivative securities), margin accounts, pledges or hedging transactions.

Recoupment of Certain Compensation Payments

The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee has adopted a recoupment policy that applies to individuals who qualify as executive officers of the Company for purposes of Section 16 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Under the policy, in such circumstances as it, in its sole discretion, determines to be appropriate, the Committee will obtain reimbursement or effect cancellation of all or a portion of any short- or long-term cash or equity incentive payments or awards where: (1) such payment or award of cash or shares was made on or after the effective date of this policy; (2) the amount of or number of shares included in any such payment or award that was determined based on the achievement of financial results that were subsequently the subject of an accounting restatement due to the individual’s fraudulent or grossly negligent act or omission; (3) a lesser payment or award of cash or shares would have been made to the individual based upon the restated financial results; and (4) the payment or award of cash or shares was received by the individual prior to or during the 12-month period following the first public issuance or filing of the financial results that were subsequently restated.

Agreements Regarding Change in Control and Termination

The Company has change-in-control agreements with the Named Executive Officers (other than Mr. Hunt) that provide for severance benefits if the executive’s employment terminates under certain circumstances in connection with a change in control.

The Company has entered into change-in-control agreements with these executives because it believes that the occurrence, or potential occurrence, of a change-in-control transaction would create uncertainty and disruption during a critical time for the Company. The payment of cash severance benefits under the agreements is triggered if two conditions are met: (1) actual or constructive termination of employment and (2) the consummation of a change-in-control transaction. The Committee believes that the Named Executive Officers should be entitled to receive cash severance benefits only if both conditions are met. Once the change-in-control event occurs, the Named Executive Officer’s severance and other benefits payable under the contract begin to diminish with time so long as the executive’s employment continues, until ultimate expiration of the agreement 36 months later. None of the Company’s change-in-control agreements provide for reimbursement of excise taxes.

Policy with Respect to Section 162(m)

Federal income tax law generally prohibits a publicly-held company from deducting compensation paid to a current or former named executive officer that exceeds $1 million during the tax year. Certain awards granted before November 2, 2017 that were based upon attaining pre-established performance measures that were set by the company’s compensation committee under a plan approved by the company’s stockholders, as well as amounts payable to former executives pursuant to a written binding contract that was in effect on November 2, 2017, may qualify for an exception to the $1 million deductibility limit. As one of the factors in its consideration of compensation matters, the Committee notes this deductibility limitation. However, the Committee has the flexibility to take any compensation-related actions that it determines are in the best interests of the Company and its stockholders, including awarding compensation that may not be deductible for tax purposes. There can be no assurance that any compensation will in fact be deductible.

Compensation and Leadership Development Committee Report

The Compensation and Leadership Development Committee has certain duties and powers as described in its charter. The Committee is currently composed of four non-employee directors who are named at the end of this report, each of whom the Board has determined is independent as defined by NYSE listing standards.

The Committee has reviewed and discussed with management the disclosures contained in the Compensation Discussion and Analysis section of this Proxy Statement. Based upon this review and discussion, the Committee recommended to the Board of Directors that this Compensation Discussion and Analysis section be included in the Company’s 2017 Annual Report on Form 10-K on file with the SEC and the Company’s 2018 Proxy Statement.(1)

(1) SEC filings sometimes incorporate information by reference. This means the Company is referring you to information that has previously been filed with the SEC and that this information should be considered as part of the filing you are reading. Unless the Company specifically states otherwise, this report shall not be deemed to be incorporated by reference and shall not constitute soliciting material or otherwise be considered filed under the Securities Act or the Exchange Act.

Compensation and Leadership Development Committee of the Board of Directors

J. Kenneth Thompson, Chair
James A. Beer, Member
Marion C. Blakey, Member
Dennis F. Madsen, Member
Katherine J. Savitt, Member (until May 2017)

Compensation and Leadership Development Committee Interlocks and Insider Participation

Mr. Thompson, Mr. Madsen and Ms. Blakey were members of the Compensation and Leadership Development Committee during all of 2017. Ms. Savitt was a member of the Committee until May 2017. Mr. Beer has been a member of the Committee since August 2017. No director who served on the Committee for all or part of 2017 is or has been an executive officer or employee of the Company or has had any relationships requiring disclosure by the Company under the SEC’s rules requiring disclosure of certain relationships and related-party transactions. During 2017, none of the Company’s executive officers served as a director or a member of a compensation committee (or other committee serving an equivalent function) of any other entity where the entity’s executive officers also served as a director or member of the Company’s Compensation and Leadership Development Committee.

Summary Compensation Table

The following table presents information regarding compensation for services rendered during 2017 of the CEO, the CFO, and the three other most highly compensated executive officers. These individuals are referred to as the Named Executive Officers in this Proxy Statement.

(1) The amounts reported in Columns (e) and (f) of the Summary Compensation Table above reflect the fair value of these awards on the grant date as determined under the principles used to calculate the value of equity awards for purposes of the Company’s financial statements (disregarding any estimate of forfeitures related to service-based vesting conditions). For a discussion of the assumptions and methodologies used to value the awards reported in Column (e) and Column (f), please see the discussion of stock awards and option awards contained in Note 11 (Stock-Based Compensation Plans) to the Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements, included as part of the Company’s 2017 Annual Report filed on Form 10-K with the SEC and incorporated herein by reference. For information about the stock awards and option awards granted in 2017 to the Named Executive Officers, please see the discussion under 2017 Grants of Plan-Based Awards below.
(2) The amounts reported in Column (e) of the table above also include the grant date fair value of performance-based stock unit awards granted in 2015, 2016, and 2017 to the Named Executive Officers based on the probable outcome (determined as of the grant date) of the performance-based conditions applicable to the awards. The following table presents the aggregate grant date fair value of these performance-based awards included in Column (e) for 2015, 2016 and 2017, and the aggregate grant date value of these awards assuming that the highest level of performance conditions will be achieved.

In 2017, the Committee awarded one-time grants of additional performance stock units to the Named Executive Officers (excluding Mr. Tilden and Mr. Hunt). The awards can range from 0% if the threshold performance is not reached to 200% of target if maximum performance is achieved.
(3) Non-Equity Compensation in Column (g) of the Summary Compensation Table above includes Performance-Based Pay compensation and Operational Performance Rewards, further described in the Compensation Discussion and Analysis.
(4) The amount reported in Column (h) of the Summary Compensation Table above reflects the year-over-year change in present value of accumulated benefits determined as of December 31 of each year for the Retirement Plan for Salaried Employees and the Officers Supplementary Retirement Plan (defined-benefit plan) as well as any above-market earnings on each Named Executive Officer’s account under the Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Plan. The number included in Column (h) is an estimate of the value of future payments and does not represent value received. For the Named Executive Officers, company contributions to the Defined-Contribution Officers Supplementary Retirement Plan (DC-OSRP) in lieu of the defined-benefit plan are reported in Column (i) and detailed in the table in Footnote (5) below.
(5) The following table presents detailed information on the types and amounts of compensation reported for the Named Executive Officers in Column (i) of the Summary Compensation Table. For Column (i), each perquisite and other personal benefit is included in the total and identified and, if it exceeds the greater of $25,000 or 10% of the total amount of perquisites and other benefits for that officer, is quantified in the table below. All reimbursements of taxes with respect to perquisites and other benefits are identified and quantified. Tax reimbursements are provided for travel privileges unique to the airline industry. Also included in the total for Column (i) is the Company’s incremental cost of providing flight benefits, annual physical, and accidental death and dismemberment insurance premiums. By providing positive-space travel without tax consequences to the Named Executive Officers, we are able to deliver a highly valued benefit at a low cost to the Company. In addition, we believe that this benefit provides the opportunity for the Named Executive Officers to connect with the Company’s front-line employees. As noted in the Compensation Discussion and Analysis section, in 2015, 2016 and 2017 we paid each of the Name Executive Officers a perquisite allowance equal to 8%, 4% and 1%, respectively, of the executive’s base salary in lieu of providing perquisites other than those noted above.

*Includes the Company’s incremental cost of providing a flight benefit, annual physical, and the above-market amount paid for accidental death and dismemberment insurance premiums.
(6) Mr. Hunt was not a Named Executive Officer prior to 2017, therefore, only 2017 compensation information is included.

2017 Grants of Plan-Based Awards

The following table presents information regarding the incentive awards granted to the Named Executive Officers in 2017. Please see the Performance-Based Annual Pay section in the CD&A for a description of the material terms of the non-equity incentive plan awards reported and the Long-Term Equity-Based Pay section for a description of the material terms of the equity-based awards reported. Each of the equity-based awards reported below was granted under the Company’s 2016 Performance Incentive Plan (2016 Plan).

Key: RSUs – Restricted Stock Units; PSUs – Performance Stock Units; PBP Plan – Performance-Based Pay Plan
(1) The amounts reported in Column (l) reflect the fair value of these awards on the grant date as determined under the principles used to calculate the value of equity awards for purposes of the Company’s financial statements and may or may not be representative of the value eventually realized by the executive. For a discussion of the assumptions and methodologies used to value the awards reported in Column (l), please see the discussion of stock awards and option awards contained in Note 11 (Stock-Based Compensation Plans) to the Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements, included as part of the Company’s 2017 Annual Report filed on Form 10-K with the SEC and incorporated herein by reference.

Outstanding Equity Awards at 2017 Fiscal Year End

The following table presents information regarding the outstanding equity awards held by each of the Named Executive Officers as of December 31, 2017, including the vesting dates for the portions of these awards that had not vested as of that date.

(1) The dollar amounts shown in Column (h) and Column (j) are determined by multiplying the number of shares or units reported in Column (g) and Column (i), respectively, by $73.51 (the closing price of Air Group stock on 12/29/17).
(2) The unvested options under the 2/11/14 grant have or are scheduled to become vested as follows: Mr. Tilden – 5,450 on 2/11/18; Mr. Minicucci – 3,050 on 2/11/18; Mr. Pedersen – 2,446 on 2/11/18; and Mr. Harrison – 840 on 2/11/18.
(3) The unvested options under the 5/12/14 grant are scheduled to become vested as follows: Mr. Minicucci – 1,116 on 5/12/18; Mr. Pedersen – 666 on 5/12/18; and Mr. Harrison – 750 on 5/12/17.
(4) The RSUs awarded on 2/10/15 became fully vested on 2/10/18. The unvested options under the 2/10/15 grant are scheduled to become vested as follows: Mr. Tilden – 3,400 on 2/10/18 and 3,400 on 2/10/19; Mr. Minicucci – 2,847 on 2/10/18 and 2,848 on 2/10/19; Mr. Pedersen – 2,107 on 2/10/18 and 2,108 on 2/10/19; and Mr. Harrison –1,572 on 2/10/18 and 1,573 on 2/10/19.
(5) The RSUs awarded on 2/9/16 are scheduled to become fully vested on 2/9/19. The unvested options under the 2/9/16 grant have or are scheduled to become vested as follows: Mr. Tilden – 3,800 on 2/9/18, 3,800 on 2/9/19 and 3,800 on 2/9/20; Mr. Minicucci – 3,000 on 2/9/18, 3,000 on 2/9/19 and 3,000 on 2/9/20; Mr. Pedersen – 1,828 on 2/9/18, 1,827 on 2/9/19, and 1,828 on 2/9/20; and Mr. Harrison – 1,828 on 2/9/18, 1,827 on 2/9/19 and 1,828 on 2/9/20.
(6) The RSUs awarded to Mr. Minicucci on 5/12/16 are scheduled to become fully vested on 5/12/19.
(7) The RSUs awarded to Mr. Hunt on 12/14/16 are scheduled to become fully vested on 6/14/18, subject to Mr. Hunt’s continued employment with the Company.
(8) The RSUs awarded on 2/14/17 are scheduled to become fully vested on 2/14/20. The unvested options under the 2/14/17 grant have or are scheduled to become vested as follows: Mr. Tilden – 4,000 on 2/14/18, 4,000 on 2/14/19, 4,000 on 2/14/20 and 4,000 on 2/14/21; Mr. Minicucci – 2,532 on 2/14/18, 2,533 on 2/14/19, 2,532 on 2/14/20 and 2,533 on 2/14/21; Mr. Pedersen – 1,852 on 2/14/18, 1,853 on 2/14/19, 1,852 on 2/14/20 and 1,853 on 2/14/21; and Mr. Harrison – 1,852 on 2/14/18, 1,853 on 2/14/19, 1,852 on 2/14/20 and 1,853 on 2/14/21.
(9) The RSUs awarded to Mr. Hunt on 12/14/17 are scheduled to become vested as follows: 6,821 on 6/14/18, and, subject to Mr. Hunt’s continued employment with the Company after 6/14/18, 1,137 on 7/14/18, 1,137 on 8/14/18, 1,137 on 9/14/18, 1,137 on 10/14/18, 1,137 on 11/14/18; and 1,136 on 12/14/18.
(10) The performance stock units reported in Column (i) are eligible to vest based on the Company’s performance over a three-year period as described in the Compensation Discussion and Analysis above. The performance stock units granted on 2/9/16 are eligible to vest based on the goals set for a three-year performance period ending 12/31/18; the performance stock units granted on 2/14/17 are eligible to vest based on the goals set for a three-year performance period ending 12/31/19; and the outstanding performance stock units granted on 3/7/17 reported in this column are eligible to vest annually on 12/31/18 and 12/31/19 based on the goals set on 3/7/17 for each one-year performance period.

2017 Option Exercises and Stock Vested

The following table presents information regarding the exercise of stock options by the Named Executive Officers during 2017 and the vesting during 2017 of other stock awards previously granted to the Named Executive Officers.

(1) The amounts shown in Column (c) above for option awards are determined by multiplying the number of shares by the difference between the per-share closing price of the Company’s common stock on the date of exercise and the exercise price of the options. The amounts shown in Column (e) above for stock awards are determined by multiplying the number of vested units by the per-share closing price of the Company’s common stock on the vesting date.

Pension and Other Retirement Plans

The Company maintains two primary defined-benefit pension plans covering Mr. Tilden. The Alaska Air Group, Inc. Retirement Plan for Salaried Employees (the Salaried Retirement Plan) is a qualified defined-benefit employee retirement plan, and Mr. Tilden participates in this plan on the same general terms as other eligible employees. The Alaska Air Group, Inc. 1995 Elected Officers Supplementary Retirement Plan (the Supplementary Retirement Plan) is a nonqualified defined benefit plan, in which Mr. Tilden also participates. Mr. Minicucci, Mr. Pedersen, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Hunt participate in the defined contribution plans (as described below) in lieu of these defined-benefit pension plans.

The following table presents information regarding the present value of accumulated benefits that may become payable to the Named Executive Officers under the qualified and nonqualified defined-benefit pension plans.

(1) The years of credited service through December 31, 2013, when the Plan was frozen, and the present value of accumulated benefits as of December 31, 2016 assume that each Named Executive Officer retires at normal retirement age and that benefits are paid out in accordance with the terms of each plan described below. For a description of the material assumptions used to calculate the present value of accumulated benefits shown above, please see Note 7 (Employee Benefits Plans) to the Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements, included as part of the Company’s 2017 Annual Report filed on Form 10-K with the SEC and incorporated herein by reference.
(2) In lieu of participation in the defined-benefit plans, Mr. Minicucci, Mr. Pedersen, and Mr. Harrison receive a contribution to the Company’s defined-contribution plans. Specifically, in lieu of participation in the Salaried Retirement Plan: Mr. Minicucci, Mr. Pedersen, and Mr. Harrison each receive a Company match contribution to the Alaskasaver 401(k) Plan up to 3% of eligible compensation, plus an additional 10% employer contribution; Mr. Hunt received a company match contribution to the Virgin America 401(k) Plan of 7.5%, plus an additional 1.5% employer contribution. In lieu of the Supplementary Retirement Plan, Mr. Minicucci, Mr. Pedersen, and Mr. Harrison and Mr. Hunt are also eligible to participate in the Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Plan, which is further described below.

Salaried Retirement Plan

The Salaried Retirement Plan is a tax-qualified, defined-benefit retirement plan for certain salaried Alaska Airlines employees hired prior to April 1, 2003. Mr. Tilden is fully vested in his accrued benefits under the Salaried Retirement Plan. Benefits payable under the Salaried Retirement Plan are generally based on years of credited service with the Company and its affiliates and final average base salary for the five highest complete and consecutive calendar years of an employee’s last ten complete calendar years of service. The annual retirement benefit at age 62 (normal retirement age under the Salaried Retirement Plan) is equal to 2% of the employee’s final average base salary times years of credited service (limited to 40 years). Annual benefits are computed on a straight-life annuity basis beginning at normal retirement age. Benefits under the Salaried Retirement Plan are not subject to offset for Social Security benefits.

On June 20, 2011, the Board amended the Salaried Retirement Plan to provide that effective January 1, 2014, the plan would be frozen so that participants in the plans would not accrue any benefits with respect to services performed or compensation earned on or after that date.

The tax law limits the annual benefits that may be paid from a tax-qualified retirement plan. For 2017, this limit on annual benefits was $215,000.

Supplementary Retirement Plans

In addition to the benefits described above, Mr. Tilden is eligible to receive retirement benefits under the Supplementary Retirement Plan. This plan is a non-qualified, unfunded, defined-benefit plan. Normal retirement benefits are payable once the officer reaches age 60. Benefits are calculated as a monthly amount on a straight-life annuity basis. In general, the monthly benefit is determined as a percentage (50% to 75% of a participant’s final average monthly base salary) based on the officer’s length of service with the Company and length of service as an elected officer.

This benefit amount is subject to offset by the amount of the officer’s Social Security benefits and the amount of benefits paid under the Salaried Retirement Plan to the extent such benefits were accrued after the officer became a participant in the Supplementary Retirement Plan. (There is no offset for any Salaried Retirement Plan benefits accrued for service before the officer became a participant in the Supplementary Retirement Plan.)

Participants in the Supplementary Retirement Plan become fully vested in their benefits under the plan upon attaining age 50 and completing 10 years of service as an elected officer. Plan benefits will also become fully vested upon a change in control of the Company or upon termination of the participant’s employment due to death or disability.

In lieu of the Supplementary Retirement Plan, the other Named Executive Officers (except Mr. Hunt) participate in the Company’s DC Supplementary Retirement Plan. This plan is a defined-contribution plan. Under this plan, the Company contributes 10% of the eligible wages of Mr. Minicucci, Mr. Pedersen and Mr. Harrison, as defined in plan documents, minus the maximum legal Company contribution that the Company made, or could have made, under the Company’s qualified definedcontribution plan (the 401(k) plan).

On June 20, 2011, the Board of Directors amended the Supplementary Retirement Plan to provide that, effective January 1, 2014, the plan would be frozen so that participants in the plan would not accrue any benefits with respect to services performed or compensation earned on or after that date. The Board also amended the Supplementary Retirement Plan so that, effective January 1, 2014, officers who previously participated in the Supplementary Retirement Plan, and are then employed by the Company, will be eligible to participate in the DC Supplementary Retirement Plan. Under this plan, the Company contributes up to 12% of Mr. Tilden’s eligible wages.

2017 Nonqualified Deferred Compensation

Under the Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Plan, the Named Executive Officers and other key employees may elect to receive a portion of some or all of their Performance-Based Pay awards on a deferred basis. Participants under the plan have the opportunity to elect among several investment funds, which mirror the funds offered under the Company’s 401(k) plan, for purposes of determining the return of their plan assets. In addition, the plan also offers an interest-bearing option with a rate equal to the yield on a Moody’s index of Ba2-rated industrial bonds as of November of the preceding year, rounded to the nearest one-quarter of one percent, for certain prior deferred amounts. Subject to applicable tax laws, amounts deferred under the plan are generally distributed on termination of the participant’s employment, although participants may elect an earlier distribution date and may elect payment in a lump sum or installments.

The following table presents information regarding the contributions to and earnings on the Named Executive Officers’ balances under the Company’s nonqualified deferred compensation plans during 2017, and also shows the total deferred amounts for the Named Executive Officers as of December 31, 2017.

(1) Only the portion of earnings on deferred compensation that is considered to be at above-market rates under SEC rules is required to be included as compensation for each Named Executive Officer in Column (h) of the Summary Compensation Table. Because the earnings were at market rates available to other investors, the amounts shown above were not included in the Summary Compensation Table.

Potential Payments Upon Change in Control and Termination

Messrs. Tilden, Pedersen, Minicucci and Harrison

The Company has entered into change-in-control agreements with Messrs. Tilden, Pedersen, Minicucci and Harrison. Under these agreements, if a change of control occurs, an “employment period” of three years would go into effect. During the employment period, these four executives would be entitled to:

  • receive the highest monthly salary the executive received at any time during the 12-month period preceding the change in control;
  • receive an annual incentive payment equal to the higher of the executive’s target PerformanceBased Pay Plan incentive or the average of the executive’s annual incentive payments for the three years preceding the year in which the change in control occurs;
  • continue to accrue age and service credit under our qualified and non-qualified defined benefit retirement plans; and
  • participate in fringe benefit programs that are at least as favorable as those in which the executive was participating prior to the change in control.

If the executive’s employment is terminated by the Company without cause or by the executive for “good reason” during the employment period (or, in certain circumstances, if such a termination occurs prior to and in connection with a change in control), the executive would be entitled to receive a lump-sum payment equal to the value of the payments and benefits identified above that the executive would have received had he continued to be employed for the entire employment period. The amount an executive would be entitled to receive would be reduced on a pro-rata basis for any time the executive worked during the employment period. (The terms “cause,” “good reason” and “change in control” are each defined in the change-in-control agreements.) In 2012, the Company eliminated the conditional gross-up provision in favor of a modified cap provision for all executives. Under this provision, in the event that change in control benefits exceed the threshold amount that would trigger an excise tax under Section 280G of the Internal Revenue Code, the executive would receive the larger of the following amounts:

  1. The “safe harbor amount,” which is equal to the level at which excise taxes are triggered
  2. The full change in control benefits if, after receipt of the full change in control benefits and payment of the excise tax, the after-tax amount is greater than the safe harbor amount from #1

In addition, outstanding and unvested stock options, restricted stock units and the target number of performance stock units would become vested under the terms of our equity plans. Under the 2008 Performance Incentive Plan, awards will not vest unless a termination of employment without cause or for good reason also occurs or an acquirer does not assume outstanding awards. Finally, the executive’s unvested benefits under the Supplementary Retirement Plan would vest on a change in control whether or not the executive’s employment was terminated. The outstanding equity awards held by the executives as of December 31, 2017, are described above under “Outstanding Equity Awards at Fiscal Year End” and each executive’s accrued benefits under our retirement plans are described above under “Pension and Other Retirement Plans.”

In the event the executive’s employment terminates by reason of death, disability or retirement, (i) restricted stock units would become vested under the terms of our equity plans; (ii)a prorated portion of the performance stock units would vest at the conclusion of the performance period based on actual performance and the portion of the performance period in which the executive was employed; and (iii) stock options would become fully vested upon death or disability and vested to the extent they would have vested in the next three years upon retirement. Stock options would remain exercisable for three years following termination of employment or until their expiration date, whichever comes first.

Mr. Hunt

The Company has not entered into a change-in-control agreement with Mr. Hunt. Should his employment terminate by reason of death, disability or retirement, his benefit is limited to lifetime air travel.

Mr. Hunt does receive certain benefits under a scenario of termination without cause, which are detailed in the tables below.

Calculations

In the tables below, we have estimated the potential cost to the Company of providing the benefits shown to each of our Named Executive Officers as if the executive’s employment had terminated due to retirement, death or disability, termination without cause, or change in control on December 31, 2017. The value of accelerated vesting shown in the “Equity Acceleration” column below assumes any performance share units pay at target. As described above, except for the equity acceleration value, the amount an executive would be entitled to receive would be reduced on a pro-rata basis for any time the executive worked during the employment period.

These calculations are estimates for proxy disclosure purposes only. Actual payments may differ based on factors such as transaction price, timing of employment termination and payments, methodology for valuing stock options, changes in compensation, and other factors.

Retirement

Death or Disability

Termination without Cause

Change in Control

(1) All employees who retire with more than ten years of service are entitled to flight benefits on Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. Flight benefits for the Named Executive Officers are for positive-space travel, for which the Company also provides a tax reimbursement. Messrs. Tilden, Pedersen, Minicucci and Harrison qualify for these benefits under all termination scenarios. Mr. Hunt also qualifies for this benefit under all termination scenarios according to his employment agreement. Due to the lack of meaningful data for Hunt regarding actual flights taken over the past three years, 3-year incremental value is based on average segments flown by the other NEOs. In this column, we show the present value of this benefit, calculated using a discount rate equal to 120% of the long-term AFR for December 2017 and Code Section 417(e) mortality for 2018, described above in the section titled “Pension and Other Retirement Benefits.” Other assumptions include that the lifetime average annual usage is equal to actual average annual usage amounts in 2015 through 2017, and that the annual value of the benefit is equal to the annual incremental cost to the Company, which will be the same as the average of the incremental cost incurred to provide air travel benefits to the executive in those years as disclosed under All Other Compensation in the Summary Compensation Table.
(2) For Messrs. Tilden, Pedersen, Minicucci and Harrison, under all scenarios except termination without cause, this represents the “in-the-money” value of unvested stock options and the face value of unvested restricted circumstances described above based on a stock price of $73.51. The value of the extended term of the options is not reflected in the table because we have assumed that the executive’s outstanding stock options would be assumed by the acquiring company pursuant to a change in control. For Mr. Hunt, only under termination without cause, represents full acceleration of his 12/14/2016 RSU grant and 50% acceleration of his 12/14/2017 RSU grant.
(3) For Messrs. Tilden, Pedersen, Minicucci and Harrison, under all scenarios except termination without cause, represents the sum of (a) the executive’s highest rate of base salary during the preceding 12 months and (b) the higher of the executive’s target incentive or his average incentive for the three preceding years, multiplied by the number of years in the employment period. For Mr. Hunt, only under termination without cause, represents the sum of (a) base salary through the earlier of date that is six months after termination, or scheduled end of Employment Period (6/14/2018) and (b) one year of target bonus under Performance Based Plan and (c) monthly target bonus multiplied the lesser of 6 months or whole months between termination date and scheduled end of Employment Period (6/14/2018).
(4) For Messrs. Tilden, Pedersen, Minicucci and Harrison, under all scenarios except termination without cause, represents the sum of (a) the matching contribution the executive would have received under our qualified defined contribution plan had the executive continued to contribute the maximum allowable amount during the employment period, and (b) the contribution the executive would have received under our nonqualified defined contribution plan had the executive continued to participate in the plan during the employment period. Mr. Hunt is not eligible for a retirement benefit under any termination scenario.
(5) For Messrs. Tilden, Pedersen, Minicucci and Harrison, under all scenarios except termination without cause, represents the estimated cost of (a) 18 months of premiums under our medical, dental and vision programs, and (b) three years of continued participation in life, disability, accidental death insurance and other fringe benefit programs. For Mr. Hunt, only under termination without cause, represents a COBRA benefit of $14,281 as well as other fringe benefit programs, including a career counseling benefit of $10,000.

CEO Pay Ratio

We are providing the following information about the relationship of the median annual total compensation of the Company’s employees and the annual total compensation of Mr. Tilden, the Company’s CEO, pursuant to Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and Item 402(u) of Regulation S-K.

For 2017, the Company’s last completed fiscal year:

  • the median of the annual total compensation of all employees of the company (other than the CEO) was $49,664; and
  • the annual total compensation of the CEO was $5,734,862.

Based on this information, for 2017 the ratio of the annual total compensation of the CEO to the median of the annual total compensation of all employees was 115.5 to 1. The Company believes this ratio is a reasonable estimate calculated in a manner consistent with Item 402(u) of Regulation S-K.

To identify the median of the annual total compensation of all company employees, we used the following methodology, assumptions and estimates:

Selection of Determination Date. SEC rules require the Company to select a date within the last three months of the fiscal year. We selected December 31, 2017 as the date upon which the “median employee” would be identified.

Determination of Adjusted Employee Population. We determined that, as of December 31, 2017, the employee population for purposes of this disclosure, after taking into consideration certain adjustments permitted by SEC rules (as described below), consisted of 22,764 individuals. This population includes all employees, whether employed on a full-time, part-time, temporary or seasonal basis. However, as permitted under SEC rules, we excluded non-U.S. employees as they make up less than 5% of the Company’s total employee population. As of December 31, 2017, the Company’s subsidiaries employed 59 employees in Canada, two (2) employees in Costa Rica, and 105 employees in Mexico, as compared to a total global employee population of 22,930 (i.e., 22,764 U.S., 166 non-U.S.). The Company did not employ any other non-U.S. employees as of December 31, 2017.

Identification of Median Employee. To identify the median employee from the Company’s adjusted employee population outlined above, we compared the amount of gross earnings of these employees as reflected in payroll records. We identified the median employee using this compensation measure, which was consistently applied to all employees included in the calculation. We then identified the employee whose wages fell at the midpoint of the distribution.

Calculation of Annual Total Compensation. Once the median employee was identified, all of the elements of such employee’s compensation for 2017 were combined in accordance with the requirements of Item 402(c)(2)(x) of Regulation S-K (i.e., the same rules used to determine the CEO’s total compensation for 2017 as reported in the Summary Compensation Table), resulting in annual total compensation of $49,664, including the estimated value of such employee’s non-discriminatory benefits (estimated for the employee and such employee’s eligible dependents at $8,143).

With respect to the annual total compensation of the CEO, we used the amount reported in the “Total” column (column (j)) of the 2017 Summary Compensation Table included in this Proxy Statement plus the estimated value of the CEO’s non-discriminatory benefits for a total amount of $5,734,862.

The Company believes the methodology, assumptions and estimates described above to be reasonable given the specific employee population. Companies are permitted under SEC rules to exercise significant flexibility and discretion in determining the methodology used to comply with the requirements of this disclosure. As acknowledged by the SEC, this flexibility could reduce the comparability of disclosed pay ratios across companies. Therefore, the pay ratio may not necessarily be representative of or comparable to pay ratios disclosed by other companies in the airline industry or otherwise.

 

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