I’ve made some bold statements about Alaska Airlines including the comment that it is the best airline in the U.S.. Bold indeed considering that Alaska Airlines is essentially a regional airline I hadn’t flown in about five years. This relatively short flight to Utqiaġvik reinforced my high opinion of this plucky little airline.
Other posts from our Alaska trip in May 2021.
Alaska Airlines is the fifth largest airline in the U.S. when measured by fleet size and number of passengers carried. Together with wholly owned subsidiary Horizon Air and partner SkyWest Airlines, Alaska serves over 100 destinations in a route network centered on the U.S. West Coast and Alaska. The airline also flies to Hawaii, Costa Rica, Canada, and Mexico.
Alaska Airlines is headquartered in Seattle, WA. Perhaps not surprisingly Alaska is partial to Boeing, which was also based in Seattle and has major production facilities there. Until the 2016 merger with Virgin America brought 60 A320 family aircraft into the fold, Alaska flew Boeing jets exclusively. The airline’s long-term strategy is to return to operating an all-Boeing 737 mainline fleet, but the transition will last several years as most of the A320 family aircraft are leased, with contracts set to expire over the next few years.
Until a few years ago, Alaska had close partnerships with American Airlines and Delta Air Lines and fed passengers to their national and international route networks. That is how I was introduced to this airline. Tickets I bought on Delta or American sometimes contained segments on Alaska Airlines out of or into Seattle.
After several flights I was impressed with Alaska’s customer service, on-time operations, and its refusal to switch to a revenue-based frequent flyer program unlike most other carriers. Revenue-based programs reduce the number of miles earned by leisure travelers.
Alaska’s good relations with its bigger partners came to a screeching halt after Alaska’s merger with Virgin America gave Alaska the scale to be a serious competitor at least on the West Coast. Delta terminated its partnership with Alaska and established a major hub at Seattle SeaTac Airport (SEA), Alaska’s primary hub, and engaged in tactics designed to drive Alaska out of business or to get it to dance to the tune Delta was playing.
Competition in business is a given; however, Delta competes like a bully. For example, in 2016, Delta took over sponsorship of the Seattle gay pride parade and barred Alaska employees from participating with anything that identified their hometown employer. Previously, employees from both Alaska and Delta marched in the parade representing their employers. Also in 2016, Delta ended its 20-year sponsorship of Atlanta’s historic Fox Theater in a pique because the theater rented space to Qatar Airways for its gala celebrating the start of Atlanta service. Delta had never included any exclusivity or preapproval rights in any of its sponsorship agreements with the theater.
American inexplicably followed Delta’s lead and began unraveling the close relationship it had with Alaska Airlines. That made no sense because weakening Alaska only helped Delta and Delta is American’s strongest domestic competitor.
Last year, American came to its senses. Not only did it reinstate and its partnership with Alaska, American made it even stronger and then cleared the way for Alaska to join the oneworld airline alliance. Being a member of oneworld provides a range of advantages to Alaska customers, especially its frequent flyers, who travel internationally, and improves its competitive position by funneling oneworld passengers to Alaska flights.
Alaska Airlines Flight 135 Anchorage, AK (ANC) to Utqiaġvik, AK (BRW)
Flight Date: May 13, 2021
Great Circle Distance: 725mi (1,166km, 630nm)
Scheduled Flight Time: 1 hours and 52 minutes
Class of Service Flown: Domestic First Class
Class of Ticket Purchased: Economy
A Boeing 737-700 was the equipment on this flight. Alaska uses 737-700s for short-haul flights. Here are the basic aircraft specs from the airline’s website.
There are 124 seats divided between first class (12), premium (18), and economy (94) sections. First class seats are 21 in. (53 cm) wide, and the distance between seats (pitch) is a generous 38 in. (97 cm). Seat width in premium and economy is 17 in. (43 cm) and have 35 in. (89 cm)and 31 in. (79 cm)of pitch, respectively.
As part of the enhanced reciprocal benefits of the new Alaska/American partnership, buying an economy ticket on Alaska and status with American Airlines qualified for a complimentary, spaces-available upgrade to first class and an immediate “upgrade” to the premium section at booking. American Executive Platinum members are prioritized for first class upgrades after Alaska’s top elite members in order of the fare class paid and then by date and time the upgrade is requested.
Because it looked like complimentary upgrades would be unavailable as first class was almost full and I really wanted to experience Alaska’s first-class, I stooped to doing what I normally find unthinkable and accepted the offer of paying for an upgrade. I forked over $40 each to nd guarantee flying in first for one flight.
Our seats were 2A and 2B, window and aisle seats in the second row on the port side.
Your butt and legs are pampered in first class. Seats are leather and have the right amount of padding for a comfortable ride. Generous seat pitch allows for plenty of legroom. An articulating headrest supports the head and neck.
There is lots of storage on the seatback because Alaska has no seatback video screens, unfortunately. Some will appreciate the adjustable footrests. They never seem to do much for me.
The feature I liked most about the seat was the cupholder in the center console. When we boarded, the cupholders were filled with Boxed Water cartons and antiseptic towelettes were placed on the console.
Boxed Water is exactly what it suggests: a fully recyclable carton of water, sealed with a plant-based cap. Alaska estimates that switching to a recyclable container on its flights will remove 7.2 million plastic bottles from landfills per year. Now if only other airlines and businesses followed suit.
Our flight was pretty empty except in first which was full. While boarding continued, a flight attendant asked us to select beverages and a snack to be served after takeoff.
We pushed from Gate C7 at 10:11, four minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time. It took only five minutes to taxi to Runway 25 for takeoff. The pilots announced an expected flight time of one hour and 38 minutes.
A beverage service was offered in first class15 minutes after takeoff.
Here is the selection of available beverages in each cabin.
They must not drink scotch in the Northwest because there is none on the menu. Otherwise I think the beverage selection is pretty good. Woodford Reserve bourbon helps to make up for the lack of scotch.
Food options depend on the length of flight.
I had selected another fruit & cheese platter and Alex chose the turkey sandwich. They were served right after beverages. Food can be preordered on the Alaska app or website between to weeks and 20 hours before flights depart.
Alaska Airlines is proud of this dish. Every platter has:
- Two triangular slices of Tillamook’s Sharp Cheddar
- A wedge of brie
- Two triangular slices of Beecher’s Flagship Handmade Cheese
- Two types of grapes
- Apple wedges
- Seattle Chocolate dark chocolate truffle
Alex’ turkey sandwich also looked good. He thought it was as fresh and tasty as it looked, if not better.
After the snack the attendant offered another beverage service and brought around a snack basket. Finally about 50 minutes before landing the attendant served a chocolate chip cookie with another chocolate truffle.
The amount of service was what I would have expected on a flight of this length pre-Covid. In fact, many carriers offered significantly less service on flights of this length even before the pandemic.
Alaska relies primarily on streaming video for in-flight entertainment. That is disappointing, but on longer routes passengers in the first or premium sections can request individual tablets that are loaded with entertainment options.
I didn’t tune into the wifi. Views of central Alaska, the Brooks Range, and Alaska’s North Slope were entertaining enough. From our cruising altitude of 40,000 ft., there was no evidence that Spring had arrived.
I took a trip to the back to see what the economy section looked like. Alaska was still blocking middle seats in May, but that was unnecessary on this flight to ensure social distancing for those who wanted it.
The lavatories in economy seem smaller than a phone booth. Larger folks will have a tough time trying to turn around in these tiny spaces.
At least the bathroom in first class has not been subjected to shrinkage, yet.
Our approach to Utquiagvik was over the shore ice of the Chuckchi Sea.
We parked on the ramp at the Alaska Airlines terminal at 11:56. Air stairs were wheeled out and passengers walked to the terminal. That’s my preferred method for getting on and off planes. No gerbil tubes.
The only disappointing part of the trip was the amount of time it took to get our luggage. Alaska will add 5,000 Alaska miles to your frequent flyer account if getting checked bags takes more than 20 minutes. It almost did, which was surprising because its a tiny airport and this was the only flight on the tarmac.
The amount of cargo on these flights may be to blame in the unloading delay. Other than one barge that arrives in July when the ice melts, all supplies to Utqiaġvik come in by plane.
This was an outstanding flight. First-class seats are very comfortable and have more room than other carriers. Service from the flight attendants was friendly and professional. Given the length of the flight, just over 700 miles, it was remarkable that they served a snack, a cookie and passed the snack basket in addition to two beverage services. No other U.S. airline would do that much on such a short flight.
Thanks for reading. How does this flight compare to your airline experiences during or before Covid?