I made plans to visit some family in Maryland for the 4th of July weekend. It had been a while since I had traveled transcon, so I wanted to splurge for this trip and book First Class. What I really wanted to try was jetBlue's Mint product, but Mint is offered only on select routes, and there was no way to fly to Baltimore (BWI) or Washington Dulles (IAD) from LAX on jetBlue without (1) connecting, and (2) paying an outrageous amount of money. In the end, I decided to try out Mint on the return leg (IAD - JFK - LAX). This meant I was on the lookout for a decent First Class experience to Maryland from LAX.
Alaska Airlines (AS) offered the cheapest fare and offered a nonstop. I immediately jumped at booking the flight, for a number of reasons. It would be my first time flying with AS, first time flying First Class with AS, and first time on a Boeing 737-900ER. The avgeek in me was already super excited to check off these firsts!
I was flying on a Thursday evening, and I barely got anything done in lab that day. Work consisted of mainly printing off my boarding pass and downloading/ printing off a bunch of papers to read over the week. I headed back home after lunch, packed and allowed myself plenty of time to go to the airport.
I took the bus to the airport (no car, sadly). It goes from downtown LA to a parking lot near LAX, from which there is a shuttle that takes you to all the terminals. I use the same bus when going to planespot at the In N Out near LAX. The bus stop is a block away from where I live, so it's really convenient.
On the way there, I caught an Aer Lingus A330 coming in to land, but I was too slow to whip out to phone to take a picture. I did manage to catch this United 787 though:
20170629_174858 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
Security and Lounge
At LAX, Alaska uses Terminal 6, along with partner Virgin America and a bunch of international carriers. Interestingly, AS does not offer priority lane access to its premium customers at LAX, but this was not a problem - there were barely any people in front of me in line. Post-security, AS does have a lounge, located near Gate 64, for First Class passengers, as well as members. It took me a while to find the lounge; it is located a floor above all the gates, and there is a pretty nondescript elevator leading to it.
The lady who manned the entrance asked me if I was a member, and when she looked at my boarding pass, she said, "Oh, you're flying First Class!" After a couple of minutes on a seemingly uncooperative computer, I was cleared to enter with a "Enjoy your stay, sir!"
The lounge itself is not that big. There was a sign at the entrance stating due to space constraints, the lounge would not accept guests of members. There is an area with some seating, some restrooms, an area to grab food, a bar, and that's about it. Just after walking in, there is a display of newspapers and magazines. I skipped those and headed to the food area - I was feeling quite peckish. The food selection was mainly cold, there was some salad, fresh fruit, cheese, crackers, and a variety of beverages. The only hot option for that evening was a tortellini and meatball soup. I fixed myself a plate and took a seat facing the tarmac, after getting a Merlot from the bar:
20170629_184520 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
The bar itself offers some complimentary drinks: beers and wines. There is also a menu that you can order other hot items and drinks from, but these are not complimentary.
The food was decent. I spent some time enjoying it and the views on the tarmac. I was sitting between gates 64 and 66. At that time, there was a Boeing 737-900ER still wearing the old colors right in front of me:
20170629_184118 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
I wonder what AS will do about the "Proudly all Boeing" tag when it integrates Virgin America's Airbus fleet into its own.
A United 737-900ER taxied past, looking pretty cool through my glass of Merlot:
20170629_184330 (2) by Ne Ni, on Flickr
Another one gleamed in the sunlight after pushback:
20170629_184604 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
A short while later, this Boeing 757-300 also pushed back:
20170629_191133 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
I've photographed a few 757-300s landing at LAX, and it's always a treat to see one, since there are only 55 of them built and in service!
While I was eating, my ride to BWI - a 1.5-year-old Boeing 737-900ER - taxied up to gate 64...
20170629_185206 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
... and the one in front of me pushed back...
20170629_193350 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
... only to be quickly replaced by an Alaska/ Horizon Bombardier DHC-8 "Dash-8" Q400 wearing special University of Idaho colors:
20170629_195204 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
Seeing a turboprop is always a treat, and seeing one in special colors even more so! I even tweeted AS about it!
With that, it was time to board my first ever 737-900ER!
Date: June 29th, 2017
Airline: Alaska Airlines
Flight: AS 740
Aircraft: Boeing 737-900ER with split-scimitar winglets
Aircraft Reg: N428AS
From: Los Angeles (LAX)
To: Baltimore (BWI)
Arrival: 05:04 +1
Flight Time: 05:04
Seat: 4F (First Class, Window)
By the time I took the elevator down to the gate right next door, boarding had already started. There was a separate line for First Class passengers, but it was behind the line for general boarding, so I had to squeeze past two confused-looking people to get to my lane. I was seated in 4F, a window seat, and my neighbor was already in her seat. Alaska has a 2-2 arrangement of recliners for First Class, like most US carriers on domestic flights.
Seat 4F has two windows, but the seat itself is between the two, so to take pictures, you're either leaning forward or craning back. Next to us was a Virgin America A319:
20170629_204211 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
While boarding commenced, I took some time to look over the inflight menu and the safety card, finding interesting tidbits in each:
20170629_204317 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
Can you spot the typo above?
The diagram that shows the exits has the 737-900ER with eyebrows still!
20170629_204445 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
Also, AS seems to plug the mid-cabin doors on the -900ER - these are not shown in the diagram. In the in-flight magazine, AS lists its fleet, including all of the Virgin America A320 family aircraft. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture, as I was actually paying attention to the safety briefing!
Legroom was great, although on my side, slightly constrained:
20170629_205344 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
Boarding completed pretty much on time, and we pushed back. My Samsung Galaxy S8 shoots decent pictures in low lighting conditions, but when you add motion to the picture, it does a sub par job. This is the only half-decent shot of a neighboring Virgin America A320 I managed as we taxied past:
20170629_210858_003 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
El Segundo/ Hawthorne looks pretty cool all lit up and stuff:
20170629_211057 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
After a long-ish taxi to runway 25R, we took off into the ocean (sorry no pics/ video). I was surprised at how powerful the takeoff was. I'd been reading about what a runway hog the 737-900ER was, but despite a fairly full transcon flight, we took off quickly and powerfully. It was noticeably louder than the A320 series though, even though on the latter, I've never sat in front of the engines.
I caught the last glimmer of the fading sunlight as we climbed:
20170629_211958 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
The cabin lights were dimmed. This aircraft has the Boeing Sky Interior, which looks pretty cool and gives a sense of more space, especially with the pivoting bins:
20170629_212435 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
We flew past lots of brightly lit cities; I thought this one looked particularly cool:
20170629_213038 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
Pretty soon, the inflight service commenced. AS offers Windows tablets to passengers, complimentary in First Class, and for a $10 charge in the main cabin for flights longer than 5 hours. Passengers can also stream content on their own devices through the GoGo entertainment app. AS also offers inflight WiFi, although this comes at a charge to ALL passengers, so I didn't bother trying it out. I was vaguely considering live-tweeting the flight, but decided it wasn't worth it, as I was also a bit sleepy. I also received a pair of earphones that the flight attendant said I could keep, but they were pretty lousy, to be honest, and I quickly used my own Samsung/ AKG ones.
20170629_214709 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
I watched the movie Hidden Figures. I'd been meaning to watch it for a while, and was pretty happy AS offered it. Drink service commenced, and I tried the chardonnay, which was part of the special First Class wines from California that AS offers. It was pretty decent, not a bad flavor at all. To my surprise, I also received a Biscoff cookie, which I thought was a Delta thing only! But to my disappointment, it didn't pair well with the chardonnay at all!
20170629_215614 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
AS serves a small snack on late-night flights, which is a shame. I would have preferred a dinner, to be honest. Tonight, on the menu, there were: salami, caprese salad (mozarella, tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinegar), and a cherry chocolate from Washington state. It was a decent snack, but a little on the small side, portion-wise. The napkin turned out to have a few stray drops of the balsamic vinegar, which unfortunately stained my pants when I put it over my lap. I cleaned it off the best I could with some water, but there were some faint stains that would not go away until put them in the wash. All in all, a bit of a letdown!
20170629_220629 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
I managed to finish all of it - I'm not a particularly picky eater and it tasted good:
20170629_221029 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
You can't see it in the pictures, but the cutlery has "Alaska" printed on it - a classy touch, in my opinion!
I was pretty into the movie at this point, and relaxed with a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream. In hindsight, I should have asked for decaf coffee with it, but it had been a while since I'd had Bailey's, and after I saw it on the menu, I was craving it.
20170629_222525 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
The FA thoughtfully brought a bottle of water as well, some of which I used to clean off the balsamic vinegar off my pants.
Most passengers, including my neighbor, were snoozing at this point. The FAs did another round of the cabin, and noticing I was still awake and engrossed in the movie, they brought me popcorn. I appreciated the gesture, and the popcorn itself wasn't bad either!
20170629_234301 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
I was a little surprised at the Buddha Bowl branding; I have no idea how that relates to popcorn!
I took a little nap after the movie, waking up in time for the landing. The cabin was a nice shade of blue from the mood lighting, and the print pattern up front in the bulkhead looked pretty cool as well:
20170630_013026 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
We landed about 30 mins ahead of schedule and taxied up to the gate beside this American Airlines 737-800:
20170630_044905 by Ne Ni, on Flickr
All in all, the flight was pretty good. Alaska wins points for the warm hospitality from the attentive FAs, the decent lounge. Areas of improvement would be the snack offered on late nights - there really should be a dinner option for passengers who might want to eat after a day at work. I'd fly them again for sure, and I look forward to seeing how they incorporate the energy and elements of Virgin America in their service in the future.