Not too long ago, I had taken a trip for a few days to Alaska. I have always wanted to visit this state and did so for the first time a little over a year ago. Since then, I have gone back there twice, and just did another trip - this time to Fairbanks and Denali (I haven't been to either place yet). I absolutely love this state and I would be surprised if I keep returning 2 or 3 times a year.
I flew to FAI on AS out of TUS via Seattle but I didn't have a chance to take pics to do a report on this part of the trip. This report is about the first part of my return flight home. When looking at the options to return, the only good choice was the NW flight to MSP. NW has two daily summer flights on this route - a daytime and a redeye flight. (They also fly 4x daily to ANC from MSP during the summer.) The redeye would be perfect as it doesn't waste a day of traveling and connects nicely to a MSP-TUS flight the next morning. AS wasn't a good option because their redeye into SEA leaves really late (I think after 1 AM) and would also require a lengthy layover to catch the nonstop to TUS. In addition, I wanted to fly NW perhaps one last time before it completely disappears.
After an awesome weekend in Fairbanks and Denali, I drove my rental car back to the airport and arrived at around 6 PM for the 9:40PM flight. I was told in advance that the loads on this flight would be light, but I like to check in early for non-rev just in case. Interesting observation: when I rented from National, every single one of their cars at FAI appeared to be crappy Ford Focuses with tons of dings and scratches on the exterior. The attendant told me that I couldn't really except any nice and clean cars in FAI.
Here's the view of the terminal from the rental car drop-off area:
Once inside, I returned the car keys. The car rental counters were all right next to the check in counters so there isn't really a long walk. There were 3 main check in areas: one for AS, another for NW/DL, Condor, and Conoco Phillips, and a third one for the really small airlines - I thin Era, Pen Air, and one more. All 3 areas were completely deserted. In fact, in my nearly ~2 hours waiting there, I don't think almost anyone even came to the area of the AS counters, which was strange I thought, because they do have somewhat frequent flights out of FAI.
Anyway, here's the empty NW/DL check in area:
Instead of waiting, I figured I'd try the self check-in kiosks and to my surprise, it worked flawlessly even though I was on a standby listing. After I checked in, I decided to hang around and wait for someone to come so that I could ask if the flight still looked good. I waited for a while and it wasn't until almost 7:45PM that someone came. When they did, I waited in line and was told that the flight would be half full (but MSP-TUS the next day had, at the time, only 3 open seats - that didn't make me feel easy needless to say). While I was waiting, I walked over to the Era Aviation gate. Interestingly, for these small turboprop airlines, there's a separate gate area right next to the check in counter that doesn't require anyone to pass through security screening. I walked to the gate and there were a few people waiting there for a flight to ANC. When the plane arrived, I snapped a photo:
AS's competition on FAI-ANC:
Anyway, about an hour before schedule departure, I quickly went through security and to the gate. I was really excited when I saw this at the gate:
Indeed this was a NW livery 757. I expected it to be a plane that was already repainted in the relatively unappealing DL scheme (sorry but I don't care much for the DL livery and I think the NW livery looks great). As you can see there is also a DL-painted 757 behind our plane. An interesting piece of information that I overheard someone say is that the plane that arrives from MSP in the early evening stays in FAI until the following morning while the late arrival turns right around to fly to MSP. I'm not sure why this is but it's probably so that the earlier-arriving plane can have its pax offloaded and then just park remotely to not get in the way of the second flight.
The empty waiting area near our gate:
When the gate agents arrived around 40 minutes before scheduled departure, I went up to ask for a seat and was given a boarding pass for 4C...not bad at all! I did not expect first class but I have heard from people that DL (and I guess now NW) is pretty good about giving other airline non-revs F. What made this better is that I was (naturally) wearing jeans, sneakers, and a sweatshirt (not to mention my climbing pack) and this would never be allowed on my own airline, AA. DL recently changed their policy to allow non-revs in F in jeans, etc. I have no complaints about that.
Around 15 minutes before departure, a delay was announced due to a mechanical. The agents said that it would be a quick fix but the whole thing took pretty long (I even overheard the mechanics discussing a possible cancellation or aircraft substitution). However, we did finally board at around 10:15PM (about 30-40 minutes after scheduled departure). The loads, as promised, were about 50% in both cabins.
The cabin looked really deteriorated, but it really wasn't so bad. Some people might complain about something like the lack of leather seats, but to me, it really doesn't matter. Also, no IFE, but again, it's no big deal as I would try and doze off anyway. We were offered a choice of water or OJ before departure and I had the OJ. This was a nice touch; I did not expect the pre departure beverages. Also, after this, I was REALLY surprised when (still before pushback from the gate) one of the FAs started walking around asking for dinner orders. I had only flown NW F once. This was during my Skyteam elite days and it was on a redeye flight into DTW. On that flight, we were only given drinks and small snack of either a banana or some granola bar.
Still, I expected something measly. Now, again, I was really surprised when the choices were steak or pasta with some toppings that I can't recall. A steak on a non premium domestic flight? Surely it would be subpar? I decided to give it a shot anyway. The only steak I've had before was on international F (it was really good) but I wasn't quite sure what to expect on this flight.
We finally began the pushback and taxi about an hour late. Here are a few shots of the taxi and take off from beautiful Fairbanks:
Taxiing (notice the water landing strip in the background...I can't say I've ever seen this at any airport - not even ANC):
After meandering through the clouds for a while, the plane finally broke into the bright blue sky and blinding sun....at 11PM:
Shortly thereafter, drink orders were taken quickly by a less than enthusiastic FA. She wasn't TOO bad, but she still gave off the impression that she didn't really want to be there and wasn't acting very professionally. It wasn't unexpected though and I've definitely had worse. FWIW, the other FA in F was really great - the type you'd typically see on an international carrier. Anyway, I ordered a Cranapple juice and dinner was handed out too at this time.
This was by far the biggest surprise of the flight. The steak was AMAZING! I can't believe I'm saying this about a domestic meal, but it really was that good. It had perfect consistency and cooked just right. It wasn't too hard and wasn't too soft. It had the quality you'd find in a good restaurant. Alongside the steak, as you can see, was a salad, bread and butter, some sort of steak sauce, and a really good chocolate cake.
After dinner, I tried as best as I could to doze off. Luckily, most pax had their window shades down so it wasn't too bright in the cabin. I can almost never sleep on planes unless I can completely lie down (i.e. 3 consecutive seats in Y) and this was no different. I did doze off a little bit but woke up dead tired upon the start of descent. Breakfast was not served so when I woke up, the seatbelt sign was already on and we were already dropping in altitude.
The descent was actually quite rough in terms of turbulence (not sure why...there was no weather in the area) and we did vector around quite a bit. We also passed MSP before making a 180-degree right turn to land.
One photo I managed to get after landing (notice the NW747 with the bowling shoe livery):
After landing, we did a quick taxi to our gate. I forget which concourse this was, but it was the same one where most major international flights depart and arrive. When I got off the plane, I looked at the gate and saw that our plane would be continuing to BOS. Also, I managed to get one last photo after deplaning.
I was so tired after this I could barely comprehend anything. I went to the US Airways gates as this was the only place I found that had seats without armrests so that I could lie down. I set my alarm clock for about an hour before departure to TUS and got some much needed sleep. I won't report on the MSP-TUS flight, but I will quickly say here that I got the last seat on the plane (also in F!) and the flight was really, really good. The food was great and the FA was really professional and courteous. It was a good way to end everything.
Conclusion: I definitely got more than I expected from this flight. First of all, F is always a nice treat, especially when you're completely not expecting it. Second, the food (on both flights for that matter, but especially the steak) was superb. I always think that the dinners on AA are good but this particular meal completely blew it away. I'm not sure if this is typical of NW or not, but my guess would be that it's not typical. Third, the seats, although not the best, were good enough. There were also foot rests, which is something I haven't seen anywhere in a LONG time. Finally, the service was solid for the most part and gate agents at both airports were very friendly and helpful. This turned out to be a great way to fly back from from Fairbanks. What's more is that we departed after 10PM from FAI and I arrived in TUS at around 11AM. In other words, almost no time lost on the flights and I still had a full day ahead ahead of me.
Thanks for reading and finally, to spam some photos that I took while in AK. The conditions weren't really that great as it was almost completely overcast the entire time and I didn't manage to get that many decent shots. But I did get at least something (again, feel free to click on the photos below to see more on Flickr):