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Tesla
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Posts: 216
Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:53 pm

Flying Transcon: Alaska Airlines A320 PHL-SFO F

Wed Sep 18, 2019 7:21 pm

Flying Transcon: Alaska Airlines A320 PHL-SFO 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.

Two years ago on a trip to Seattle I tried both Virgin America's A320 First Class from PHL-SFO-SEA and Alaska Airlines' B737-900ER First Class SEA-PHL. In the time since, the merger of Virgin America into Alaska Airlines was completed, with all former Virgin aicraft receiving new Alaska livery. Interior retrofit is ongoing. At time of publication approximately a quarter of the former Virgin fleet now have the new Alaska First Class seats.

The time has come for me to return to Seattle once again. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to fly Alaska Airlines on the former Virgin America A320s, to see what's changed. Just like when I flew to Seattle on Virgin two years ago, I would once again connect PHL-SFO-SEA. On the one hand, I could get a chance to fly the excellent Virgin America First Class seats one more time before they're all replaced by Alaska Airlines First Class. On the other hand, I could get one of the aircraft which already have the Alaska interior. Either case would be fine by me. I really liked the Virgin seats, so I'd be happy to fly cross-country in them again, this time sampling the new Alaska onboard service. But I'd also be happy to get the brand-new Alaska interior, to see what they have planned for the fleet going forward.

In the end, two days prior to my flights, the seatmaps updated from the Virgin America First Class (only two rows) to the Alaska First Class (three rows). I was excited to get to try the new Alaska seats and service on my two flights PHL-SFO-SEA.

Please enjoy the report, and I look forward to your comments.

PHL-SFO
Alaska Airlines AS1141
Departure: 08:15 (actual 08:04)
Arrival: 11:20 (actual 11:33)
Actual Block Time: 6h29
Actual Flight Time: 5h54
Seat: 2A First Class
Airbus A320

I enjoyed an in-person check-in, and my bags were checked through to Seattle. I was given a cardstock boarding pass, only for the PHL-SFO flight. Precheck security had no line. I got to the gate at 07:00, with an Alaska 737-800 pushing back from the adjacent gate, ready for the nonstop flight PHL-SEA. My aircraft arrived to the gate at the same time. N638VA is my A320 today, one of the 25% of former Virgin America planes to have already received the new Alaska Airlines interior. Interestingly this plane was scheduled to take me not only to SFO, but also the connecting flight to Seattle, too. It would be my first time having both flights operated by the same plane. I had no chance of missing my connection! Boarding was set for 07:35 and departure for 08:15. I was happy to be flying Alaska Airlines today, on the same routing as my Virgin America flights two years ago, on a former Virgin America plane, but now with new Alaska service and new Alaska seats.

At the gate in PHL as the nonstop to SEA pushes back:

Image

Pre-boarding began at 07:30, with passengers needing extra time and assistance and families with small children, followed by active duty military members. General boarding began on-time at 07:35 with First Class. I headed down to my waiting A320. I found a nice new cabin with three rows of 2-2 First Class, up from two rows on Virgin America.

Seats 2AC:

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The gray leather seats had blankets and water bottles provided, with the water bottles in little cup holders in the central armrest area, a nice touch. The seats were spacious and comfortable, with very good legroom for domestic First Class, and Alaska even added a footrest which folds down from the seat ahead, a nice feature which is very uncommon. There was also an electrical outlet and USB port for each seat. Settling in, I thought the seat and cabin were very nice, with blue lighting at the ceiling. Alaska did a nice job with the new interior.

Legroom shot:

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Safety card:

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Overhead view:

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A pre-departure coffee, orange juice or mimosa was offered, so I guess I'll have to start with a mimosa. A nice pre-departure offering improved from my Alaska Airlines B737 SEA-PHL two years ago. Boarding completed in fifteen minutes, with a load of 119/138 (according to the screen at the gate), and with the load in First Class only 7/12. I was lucky to have no seatmate for this long transcon flight.

Pre-departure mimosa - note cupholders for water bottles:

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Cabin overview:

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A manual safety demo was performed. Sit back, relax and enjoy our 5h36 flight to San Francisco. Pushback was early at 08:04. After a bit of a wait typical during PHL morning departures, it was finally our turn to take off at 08:31. Our takeoff from Runway 9L was a typical A320 takeoff. We flew past Center City, then made a u-turn right around Center City making for great views of the city of Philadelphia. An announcement as we crossed 10,000 feet explained that over 700 movies were available on Alaska Beyond entertainment to stream to your device. Service would begin shortly.

The flight attendant came by one by one to each passenger for meal orders. In my case, my meal pre-order was confirmed. Alaska started offering pre-orders of meals two weeks before departure. Choices had been a Caprese omelet or corn and bacon hash - both sounded appealing - or a fruit and cheese plate. I had picked the omelet. The flight attendant explained that it came with bread and butter, and Greek yogurt with granola as well. I decided I'd pass on the yogurt and granola. To drink I couldn't decide between a hot tea or another mimosa, so I asked for both. It worked out perfectly because the tea was served super hot, giving me time to first enjoy the mimosa and then the tea with breakfast. The passengers seated behind me weren't ready to eat yet, but the flight attendant offered to prepare their meals anytime upon request. As I read the Alaska Beyond inflight magazine, hot towels were given out.

About 45 minutes into the flight, breakfast was served. It was actually really good! I thought the presentation was very nice. The omelet included potato and bacon as sides. Everything was well-cooked and tasty. The bread was some sort of cinnamon scone, and it was really good. This breakfast was a huge improvement over my Alaska meal two years ago. I noticed the yogurt and granola were served in square dishes as well, not just a packaged container of yogurt. Really nice.

Breakfast beverages:

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Breakfast:

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After breakfast I asked the flight attendant about the availability of tablets, typically available on Alaska's transcon flights. Unfortunately no tablets were loaded on this flight. The flight attendant explained how to use my device to get the GoGo entertainment app to watch inflight entertainment. I got the app installed easily. I found lots of entertainment available for streaming, plus a flight tracker. My first movie was The Aftermath.

During the movie an offer of drinks was made, and I got an ice water. This seat was very thoughtfully designed. Part of the tray table folds out so your device can stand up for easy viewing of the streaming entertainment. The seatback also had a strap for the magazine compartment which would double as a tablet holder for tablets in a case. I reclined and deployed the footrest and was quite comfortable.

Tray table, device prop, magazine holder/tablet strap, and footrest:

Image

Center armrest, cupholders, USB port, and electrical outlet:

Image

My movie finished with 3h to go in flight. We were taking a southerly route, and had just crossed from Oklahoma into Texas. It was convenient to have a flight tracker to check on our progress.

My next movie was Good Night And Good Luck. The snack basket was brought out during the movie, and then later I asked for a Sprite Zero to go with my snack.

Snack service:

Image

The movie finished with 1h to go, and we were just crossing into Nevada. Next up, I had just enough time for a National Geographic documentary, Deep Water Horizon: In Their Own Words. An announcement advised 30 minutes to go, and that we'd be beginning descent soon. The documentary finished with under 20 minutes to go.

Landing was on 28R as a United Express CRJ landed parallel on 28L at 14:25. We parked at gate 51A at 14:33, or 11:33 Pacific time. My next flight to Seattle would be departing at 12:20 from the same gate - because it was scheduled to be the same aircraft.
 
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Tesla
Topic Author
Posts: 216
Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:53 pm

Re: Flying Transcon: Alaska Airlines A320 PHL-SFO F

Wed Sep 18, 2019 7:21 pm

SFO-SEA
Alaska Airlines AS1751
Departure: 12:20 (actual 12:30)
Arrival: 14:45 (actual 14:26)
Actual Block Time: 1h56
Actual Flight Time: 1h37
Seat: 1A First Class
Airbus A320

I had been very happy with my flight into San Francisco, and I was also happy to have another Alaska Airlines A320 segment to Seattle. I decided to try out the bulkhead this time. Having received only the first flight's boarding pass back at check-in, I stopped by the podium for a boarding pass. The agent discovered some issue where my seat assignment had been lost, and he had trouble locating me on the flight. He was eventually able to correct it, but didn't explain exactly what had happened.

Pre-boarding was in the same order as last time, and then general boarding began at 14:55. My seat this time was bulkhead window 1A. I found water bottles but no blankets this time. As far as the bulkhead, there was no cutout for additional foot room, and I found space to be a little limited. There was no footrest either. I also took note of a modern new bulkhead design, as opposed to the traditional Alaska native design.

Seats 1AC:

Image

No pre-departure beverages were offered. The load in First Class this time was 12/12.

Legroom shot:

Image

A manual safety demo was performed. Sit back and relax for our 1h30 flight to Seattle. After the safety demo, the First Class flight attendant came to the front of the cabin to provide a choice of two options for lunch: a hot mozzarella chicken sandwich with potato chips, or a cold protein plate with hummus, pita and fruit. She then proceeded to take orders. I ordered the protein platter and an Alaskan craft beer. There had been no pre-ordering of meals for this short flight. I hadn't been sure if there would be a meal at all, since other legacy carriers don't offer meal service on similar short flights.

Pushback was at 12:30. We taxied directly to 1R, and with no waiting, we took off from a stop at 12:39. The same exact plane, but a much better takeoff this time, with better pushback into the seat, and it seemed faster, too. Also, the same exact plane, but all different crew this time.

We had under 1h30 to go right after takeoff, so I decided to just listen to music this time. I was also making use of the electrical outlet to recharge my phone, depleted from watching streaming IFE all of the last flight.

Service began with hot towels. Meals were quickly served along with my beer. Beers on offer were Fremont Lush IPA (80 IBUs), Lagunita Sumpin' Easy Ale (51 IBUs), Session Premium Lager (18 IBUs), and Alaskan White Ale (15 IBUs). I was impressed with the beer selection, including the unique inclusion of IBU ratings, plus the fact that none of the Alaskan craft beers I'd had last time on Alaska Airlines were still on the menu. Last time I'd tried the Amber and Icy Bay IPA. Not typically a white ale person, but I like to try all the Alaskan beers on Alaska Airlines, and I enjoyed the Alaskan White Ale. Actually I really liked the meal overall. It was a great light lunch, perfect for a short flight like this. Everything was tasty; the hummus in particular was excellent, and the Seattle chocolate was a nice touch. After lunch, we had only 1h to go.

Lunch service (not pictured: pita bread, brought out later):

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A beer refill was offered, but I decided to decline. I continued to relax and listen to music while watching the world pass by out the window.

Our progress:

Image

At 14:00 it was time for the cabin prep announcement. Our landing onto 16R was at 14:16, and I was happy to see the LH B744 waiting to depart - I was on that departure out of Seattle about a year ago. We arrived to the gate at 14:26.

Two years ago I had flown both Virgin America A320 First Class and Alaska Airlines B737-900ER First Class. Virgin America First Class had become my favorite domestic flight, but I had found Alaska Airlines First Class, on the other hand, to be quite unremarkable. I am happy to report that Alaska has really improved since two years ago. On the long flight, I enjoyed a great PDB and onboard service, and a great meal, with pre-ordering. On the short flight, I appreciated a full service with hot towels and a choice of two meals, one hot and one cold, all on a flight short enough to not even get a meal on other airlines. I found Alaska's service to be really good, and I also liked the serveware and meal presentation - and to top it all off, a great beer selection. I really liked the nice new seats - the most spacious of any in domestic First Class, and also the most comfortable, with the nice addition of the footrest. The streaming IFE worked well, especially with the convenient places to prop your device, but was very battery intensive! Then again personal electical outlets are available. I found that the bulkhead was really not as good as the second row. Legroom was restricted by the bulkhead, and footroom was reduced, too. The comfortable footrest wasn't present, either, and there were no seatback pockets for extra storage. I definitely preferred the second row, which was way more comfortable and spacious, with better storage, too. And finally Alaska still offers a 20-minute bag guarantee for checked bags, and mine arrived in less than 15.

I would be happy to fly the new Alaska Airlines A320 First Class again, and I'm also curious if the service on the 737 fleet has been improved to this new standard as well.

Previous Flying Transcon trip reports:
Flying Transcon: United P.S. 757-200 JFK-SFO J
Flying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F
Flying Transcon: Alaska Airlines B737-900ER SEA-PHL F
Flying Transcon: United P.S. Polaris 777-300ER EWR-SFO-EWR J
Flying Transcon: JetBlue Mint A321 BOS-SEA-BOS
 
packmedic
Posts: 62
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2015 4:03 am

Re: Flying Transcon: Alaska Airlines A320 PHL-SFO F

Thu Sep 19, 2019 8:55 am

Tesla wrote:
I would be happy to fly the new Alaska Airlines A320 First Class again, and I'm also curious if the service on the 737 fleet has been improved to this new standard as well.


As of now, the new seats are only being installed on the MAXs, 737-700s and the Airbus fleet. All -700s have been retrofitted and roughly 25% of the Airbus fleet has the new interior.

The service itself (meals, amenities, etc) is identical across all mainline fleet types
A319 A320 A321 A332 A333 A359 A388 AT72 B717 B733 B734 B734C B735 B73G B738 B739 B744 B752 B764 B772 B789 B78X CRJ2 CRJ7 CRJ9 DH8D E135 E140 E145 E170 E175 E190 MD80 MD90

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