On the early morning of August 29th, I woke up and got ready to head out on a family trip to Alaska. After driving to the Diamond Parking lot near Salt Lake International, we took their shuttle to the Delta terminal and used the self-serve kiosks to check in on our flight to Seattle, flight 701. We were scheduled to take Delta to SEA, then layover for three hours before hopping on Alaska Airlines to Fairbanks.
We (my grandparents, aunt, uncle, and myself) were pleasantly surprised to note that the security line didn’t extend very far on this Sunday morning, no trips on the people mover to go to the back of the line J. I took off my tennis shoes and emptied my pockets, and got through security without a beep or a wanding. We got some breakfast at the Burger King, then got down to the gate, where we got a look at our ride. On this beautiful morning we got to board a 767-200 in the NEW new “wavy“ colors. This was the first time I’ve been able to fly that particular model and may be the last if all the rumors about retiring 762’s are true. We got seats just behind the wing, and I took an aisle seat. The interior looked older, without any flip down monitors and with older-looking seats, but it was roomier than the 737’s and 757’s I usually end up flying on. After an on-time pushback, the safety announcement played on the bulkhead video screen, and we taxied over some rough pavement to the runway. We didn’t wait long before taking off, and banking to the right to get on the right heading for the Pacific Northwest.
After we got to cruising altitude, I got out my Palm Pilot and headphones, and looked at the fare playing on the video screen, which was a moving map with the plane’s location, speed, and altitude. I also looked through Sky Magazine a little bit, but nothing stuck out as interesting. We got a drink service and a small snack (pretzels, I think), which was enough for this 2 hour segment. The crew were professional and friendly enough. While we cruised on, I thought about how the 762 would make a great airplane home for me. That’s right, a home. A lot of them are approaching retirement and it’s a widebodied jet but the smallest wide body there is, so it would be manageable. Anyway, soon enough we saw one of the spectacular Cascades peaks (I don’t know if it was Hood or Rainier) off the left side. Finally we were told to turn off all personal electronic devices, and that we would be landing soon. After breaking through the overcast we found ourselves over the runway threshold, and then the plane shook as we endured an abrupt, hard landing, which did the job though. We taxied to our gate and got off the bird, but we didn’t have a lot of time to savor the variety of aircraft at the gates or the sights of the terminal as we hoofed it to the baggage claim area. We needed to pick up our luggage, then schlepp it to the Alaska Airlines terminal and check in area (!) - I don’t know why the cruise line didn’t make arrangements for interlining our luggage. I was glad we had a relatively long layover as I noticed the long lines and crowds at the Alaska counters. Sea-Tac was a madhouse that Sunday, probably because it was a week before Labor Day. We finally got our already weary selves and our luggage checked in to the Fairbanks flight (Flight 281), and then we had to navigate another gauntlet - security. Another very long line later, we took off our shoes and got through security again, then we got to the gates. It was so good to be able to enjoy a bagel and a Diet Coke and then sit down with a local paper. The Sea-Tac airport has a good variety of concessions and gift shops, and looks pretty nice on the inside in most areas, those that aren’t under construction.
At our gate, we got to look out across the apron at some United and US Airways birds, including a couple of UAL triple-7’s and a US A321, as well as a few Alaska 737’s and MD-80’s. At length, our 737-400 taxied up to the gate and discharged its passengers. Thankfully, our flight was going to board on time, though its on-time percentage was listed at 50% on the Alaska Airlines website. We boarded the plane about 12:30 Pacific time and took seats near the front of the engines, and we pushed back on time. The taxi time was longer than I am used to, probably because Sea-Tac is very busy. I noted that we passed by lots of Northwest and United birds, including a NWA 742 in their new colors, and also listened to the safety demonstration by the flight attendants (no video screens). We finally got into position to take off for Fairbanks and got off the ground without any problems. We got up to cruising altitude soon enough, and between whipping out the Palm Pilot (and playing a few games of Another Ball - an addictive Arkanoid like game) and checking out the inflight magazine I was occupied.
The inflight service on this three and a half hour segment was decent. We got two drink services and a hot snack - a turkey sandwich on a bun that was pretty good. The crew was professional and friendly enough on this segment as well. Alaska doesn’t offer audio entertainment in the seats, so bring your own Walkman. That is, unless you want to rent a Dig-E-Player for 10 bucks in economy (free for first class pax) on selected flights, and from what I read the flight to Fairbanks wasn’t one of those. (As far as I could tell, Dig-E-Players are only available on flights from Sea-Tac to the east coast for now). But that didn’t matter. As we flew on, we got to see the wilderness of Alaska, lots and lots of forest, from cruising altitude. When we got to Fairbanks, the sky was very hazy outside, and we found out there had been a number of large forest fires in the area as a result of an unusually hot summer. We touched down and taxied up to the gate relatively quickly, and walked into a relatively Spartan but clean terminal. Besides the gift shop, the other notable thing we saw in the gate area was a conference room where President Reagan and Pope John Paul had met when they visited Alaska in 1981. We got downstairs and picked up our luggage, then got a little time to sit before boarding our bus to the hotel. The check-in area of the Fairbanks airport has a well-preserved biplane (not sure which type) hanging over the lobby, and I hope you enjoy this shot.
THE RETURN FLIGHT - September 8th
After our 10 day train and cruise adventure, we ended up getting off the ship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Canada Place cruise terminal was pretty nice, but we didn’t have time to explore as we needed to get on a bus to Seattle. After a beautiful three-hour drive on a sunny day with a minimal border-crossing hassle, we got to the Sea-Tac airport for our flight back to Utah. Yes, we had to go back to daily life, and I had to go back to the daily grind at work. But sometimes a vacation itself can be a grind, what with long lines, picking up luggage, transfers. That’s if there are no delays. Which, thankfully there weren’t on this day, though a nasty rain storm came in over the area during the layover. We checked in at Delta’s electronic kiosks for Flight 866.
On this day, a Wednesday, crowds were fairly light and we didn’t have to cope with long lines at security. However, a TSA agent took my carry on bag for further screening and made me unpack it - apparently they couldn’t completely tell what was inside. (I had some souvenirs from Alaska in there, nothing prohibited). He was apologetic and friendly about the process and after about 15-20 minutes he was able to look at everything inside and was satisfied. We finally got past that hurdle and settled in at the Delta gates for a long layover, it would still be 3 hours before we would board. (It’s good to have a travel schedule that has built in padding). My mom, who was also on this trip, but was flying from Arizona, was in the C concourse about to board an Alaska flight to Phoenix, and I was in the A concourse, so I walked to the C gates and saw Mom, some more Alaska and Horizon birds, and more shops. Her plane was delayed due to a mechanical problem but got off an hour later than scheduled. (My stepfather who was with her told me that they had to look at a gauge). I walked back to the A gates past a couple of American birds, and I got to see, among other birds, an EVA Air 744 on the other side of the apron as I waited for the flight to Salt Lake. It was good to see a wide variety of jetliners to look at, in the past when I‘ve gone through Seattle I‘ve seen an Aeroflot 777 taking off as well as other exotic craft that aren‘t seen in the skies where I live. Next to our gate was a bird I so frequently see over my neighborhood, a Delta Connection RJ, also bound for Salt Lake on an earlier flight, but there was only one seat left on it so our bunch couldn’t take that flight. But that was okay as we might have had to wait for our luggage at SLC if we’d made that flight anyway.
Our plane taxied up to the gate, and it was a 737-800 in the classy-looking 1997-era colors, which may have been a mistake to give up, I like them better than the new “wavy” look. While we waited for the plane to finish its turnaround, I noted another cool feature at Sea-Tac: power ports and jacks strategically located throughout the gate area. Makes sense given the area’s tech companies and reputation. I used the power plug to recharge my Palm Pilot (the Tungsten E doesn’t use double-A or triple-A batteries like my original “green screen” 1998 era Palm did) and finished up just before we boarded. Again, our flight was on time, we boarded without problems, and got to listen to Delta’s video safety demonstration. This time, it was on flip-down video screens. We took off without delay and broke through the overcast at about 10,000 feet. The video screens showed our altitude, speed, and position throughout the climb, and then switched to Delta programming after we leveled off. There was some kind of travel show playing, but I flipped through the September issue of Sky Magazine and got out my Palm Pilot. This issue of Sky Magazine had an article about NFL football player Simeon Rice and a few other stories, and I looked at Delta’s soon to be radically altered route map, wondering what would happen to Salt Lake (and finding out soon enough). I also tested out Delta’s in-flight music offerings by plugging in my new earbuds into the seat, there were a couple of country channels, a Spanish channel, a pop channel, and a classical channel as well as a talk channel. The inflight service for this 2 hour flight was a drink service and pretzels, and the crew was professional, did their jobs with no problems. We descended into the Salt Lake Valley just as the sun was setting, which was a spectacular sight. And thus ended our trip to Alaska