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Originally published January 25, 2012 at 11:03 AM | Page modified January 26, 2012 at 8:03 AM

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Alaska Airlines to stop handing out prayer cards to passengers

Alaska Airlines has decided that its 30-year practice of giving prayer cards to passengers — the last six years only in first class — is outdated and will stop doing it on Feb. 1.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Alaska Airlines' prayer cards always offended Gordon Bowker, not because the Seattle businessman cared what religion they represented, but because they suggested in-flight prayer was a good idea.

"I'd get a clutch in my stomach when I read it," said Bowker, who co-founded Starbucks and Redhook Ale Brewery.

"My reasoning was, if they put that card on the plate, they must be worried that something bad was going to happen. If they're worried, I'm worried."

So, Bowker took the ornery road and began reciting the prayers in his most resonant voice.

"I could respectfully remain silent, but it's their prayer and here we go — better to be safe," he joked. "We'd be flying along, and I'd say, 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.' "

The recitation provoked various responses, from deep embarrassment in one of his regular flying partners to nods and smiles from some fellow passengers to begging from flight attendants for him to stop.

Bowker did stop after Sept. 11, 2001, because he did not want to get kicked off a plane.

Now he won't have to stomach the cards at all.

Alaska Airlines will end its 30-plus-year tradition of presenting prayer cards on customers' meal trays next Wednesday.

Only first-class passengers have received the cards since 2006, when Alaska stopped providing meals on trays to customers in coach.

Even now, the cards appear only on flights longer than four hours, when they can be presented on a meal tray as they always have been, said spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.

The decision was made by top Alaska officials last fall and is not related to a frequent-flier partnership announced last week with the Dubai-based airline Emirates, she said.

"This difficult decision was not made lightly," Alaska Air Group CEO Bill Ayer and Alaska Airlines President Brad Tilden wrote in an email Wednesday to regular customers.

"Some of you enjoy the cards and associate them with our service," they wrote. "At the same time, we've heard from many of you who believe religion is inappropriate on an airplane."

Alaska started giving passengers prayer cards in the late 1970s.

Many people assumed the idea came from former CEO Bruce Kennedy, who did missionary work after leaving Alaska Airlines, but it was actually a marketing executive who brought the idea over from Continental Airlines.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

Seattle Times staff columnist Carol Pucci contributed to this report.

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