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