Flying Transcon: Alaska Airlines B737-900ER SEA-PHL F
Background: While it's true that the New York to California transcon market is unique in the lower 48 states, given the premium products offered in Business Class and First Class, New York to California is hardly the only
transcon market. There are plenty of long-distance, cross-country routes which don't involve New York, or even California.
My home airport of Philadelphia may not offer all the special products like New York, but we do have plenty of long-distance, cross-country routes. Alaska Airlines had entered the market in June 2012, serving PHL from their hub in SEA. I had previously flown Alaska on the west coast, from SAN-SEA, more than five years ago. I had enjoyed my experience so much that when I went to Hawaii in 2013, I positioned to California to take Alaska Airlines. In the years since, Alaska has introduced premium economy and refurbished first class. I'd been wanting to fly with them again, and how better than into my home airport of PHL, on the long transcon route out of SEA. The itinerary was SEA-PHL, and it was the return portion of my trip which began on Virgin America, PHL-SFO-SEA
Alaska Airlines AS32
Departure: 07:35 (actual 07:30)
Arrival: 15:47 (actual 15:22)
Actual Block Time: 4h52
Actual Flight Time: 4h33
Seat: 3F First Class
I arrived to SeaTac and thought I'd give Alaska Airlines' Airport of the Future
a try. Alaska is very proud of the way they reconfigured the check-in area to more efficiently speed customers through the airport. I found self-service kiosks which printed both boarding passes and bag tags which you attach yourself before proceeding to the bag drop counter. More and more airlines are going in this direction, but if I'm honest, I didn't enjoy it. I prefer a human interaction where I provide my ID and they take care of me. I didn't receive Precheck for some reason, so I headed to the premium security line, where there was no line. I was airside by 05:30; boarding was set for 06:55 and departure for 07:35.
Unlike any other domestic airline, Alaska provides lounge access to paid F passengers on all their routes. The nearest lounge for my gate C9 was on the upper level above Gate C16. I enjoyed relaxing in the lounge in anticipation of my Alaska Airlines flight. I can't say it's something I'd pay for, but it's a nice amenity when it's included. I particularly liked the automated pancake maker! I was looking forward to Alaska Airlines today. I'd enjoyed three previous flights with them, but none more recently than four years ago.
Alaska Airlines Lounge above Gate C16:
My plane today was N435AS, a Boeing 737-900ER built in 2013, with split-scimitar winglets but Alaska's old livery. It was to be my first time flying anything other than a B737-800 with Alaska.
At the gate in SEA:
Pre-boarding began a couple minutes early, for those needing extra time to go down the jet bridge and active duty military. Nobody boarded so I was first into First Class. I found a very new and clean Boeing sky interior with the humongous overhead compartments and bright LED lighting. Seats had bottled water provided. First Class quickly boarded full, 16/16.
Alaska Airlines B737-900ER First Class:
The reconfigured B737-900ER has Economy, Premium Class and First Class, which was given additional legroom from Alaska's previous amount of 36" to a new 42", now in my opinion the old legroom had seemed pretty much the same as on any other airlines' domestic F, so the new legroom is indeed above average now. Window seats also had an equipment box under the seat ahead. There was good legroom save for the unusual addition of the equipment box. Also very good width. There were four rows of First Class, with no bulkhead between classes. The front bulkhead featured Alaska's trademark native design, which while unique, also seemed dated in such a new, modern cabin as the Boeing sky interior.
The flight attendant began pre-departure coffee service; having recently given up caffeine and having never been a coffee drinker, I passed. Boarding continued; it was taking a long time to board a full B737-900ER.
Boarding was complete, and two flight attendants began attempting to close all the overhead compartments, something which proved to be quite a challenge, with most of them being unable to quite close and requiring several bags to be rearranged. The door was closed at 07:25. Pushback was at 07:30, and a welcome message introduced the crew and announced a flight time of 4h35. The safety briefing began.
Takeoff was at 07:45. It was a takeoff from a stop, with a very long takeoff roll using almost the entire distance of the runway. We climbed to the south toward Tacoma, then turned east. An announcement provided an overview of our flight, offering inflight internet, with streaming entertainment complimentary to your device, or tablet service for rental, and meals for purchase. Tablets were $10 in coach but free for First Class.
Hot towels began service, and then menus and tablets were handed out to those who wanted them. There was one hot and one cold entree choice. Meal orders were taken, and I ordered Beecher's Flagship Cheese and Parsely Omelet
- including roasted fingerling potatoes with sage and chicken apple sausage. I immediately began my first movie, Live by Night
with Ben Affleck, on the tablet.
Alaska Airlines Tablet:
The view from 3F after takeoff:
The captain announced that we had reached our initial cruise altitude of 33,000ft. As we burn off fuel, we will later climb to 35,000ft. A flight time of 4h35 will get us to Philly early by 15:20, with a three hour time change. Philadelphia weather was overcast and 40 degrees. My apple juice was served with Biscoff cookies.
The fruit and pastry were served next; both hit the spot.
My entree was served. It was overall a fine if uninspired airplane meal, well frankly it was just a forgettable airplane meal. Service had been friendly, but the food really wasn't that great, nothing to write home about.
We were now 2h into the flight, and I was finding out that these seats weren't the best. While the legroom was very good, and there was more than adequate width, there was very minimal recline, and even worse, the seat was mounted too low to the floor, resulting in no thigh support, which was fast growing uncomfortable.
We now had 2h to go. I started my next movie, Wilson
, as warm nuts were served. Strangely no round of drinks accompanied the nuts.
Later flight attendants began a "request-only" beverage service as they passed through the cabin. I caught the attention of a passing flight attendant to request a water and an Alaskan Amber ale. Soon an unexpected snack basket was brought out, and I took Milano cookies.
Alaska Airlines craft beer #1: Alaskan Amber
We now had only 50 minutes left in flight, just enough time for Alaska Airlines' second craft beer, Alaskan Icy Bay IPA. A water refill was served, too.
Alaska Airlines craft beer #2: Alaskan Icy Bay IPA
Tablets were collected with 30 minutes left in flight, causing me to narrowly miss out on finishing Wilson
by about 5 minutes or so. Oh well, neither movie today had been very good anyway. Almost immediately the credit card announcement started; I guess they needed to ensure everyone would hear it by collecting the tablets before the offer.
Nearing our destination:
Shortly the captain requested that the cabin be prepared for landing, and then we began a bumpy descent through the cloud layer. We flew north past the city of Philadelphia, then turned south and flew down the Delaware River into the airport.
The Walt Whitman Bridge and Philadelphia in the distance:
Landing was at 12:18, and we arrived to at Gate D6 at 12:22 Pacific Time (15:22 Eastern Time).
At the gate in PHL:
Alaska Airlines offers a baggage guarantee that all bags will be on the carousel within 20 minutess of arriving at the gate. In the unlikely event that they're late, Alaska offers bonus miles or a discount off your next flight. In my experience, Philly bag delivery is notoriously slow, a reputation which held true even for Alaska, as it took 24 minutes to receive my bag. I decided to overlook it, though, as I'm quite sure it's more the fault of the Philadelphia airport than Alaska Airlines.
I have mixed feelings on this flight. The seat had a lot of legroom, but was mounted so low to the floor as to end up uncomfortable. The food wasn't great, but I liked the complimentary tablet and two Alaskan craft beers. Overall, the pluses and minuses averaged out to yield a flight which was, well, average. It was as you'd expect from a typical domestic First Class flight; I'd enjoyed trying out Alaska Airlines again, but I didn't find them much different from any other standard legacy carrier.
Previous Flying Transcon
trip reports:Flying Transcon: United P.S. 757-200 JFK-SFO JFlying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F