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jrdudes123
Topic Author
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:07 pm

SJC-AUS Alaska Airline's Ex-Virgin America First Class

Sun Mar 22, 2020 12:08 am

Airline: Alaska Airlines
Aircraft Type: A320-214
Flight #: AS353
Aircraft Registration: N284VA
Route: AUS-SJC
Class: First Class
Flight Time: 3:18

Due to the spread of COVID-19, I was able to get a cheap upgrade to First Class, despite the fact that I booked my flight 2 days before departure. Because this was my first experience in first class, I've decided to share it with everyone in the form of my first trip report, so feedback is always welcome!



So for the background on this trip, I'm currently a college student in Texas that has decided to fly back home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic since classes went online, and I wanted to be home in case my dorms suddenly close and flights begin to stop. Thankfully flights are so cheap that booking last minute didn't make a huge dent in my wallet, and I was even able to get a very cheap upgrade.

The day of the flight started very busily, trying to finalize things before flying back home to the west coast. The only shuttle service from my university to Austin Bergstrom Airport stopped running since the beginning of this year, so I had to rideshare. I was lucky to find one in the same week since everyone was trying to quarantine themselves from the virus. The only ride available left for Austin at 1 PM, so when we arrived in Austin 2 hours later at 3 PM, we had plenty of time before our 6:30 PM flight.

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The airport was quite empty due to the COVID-19 travel advisories, so both First Class and Economy check-in lines were pretty empty. I had a bag to check-in, so I ditched the kiosks.

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Although gate 32 was all the way west of the terminal, I had to go through the center TSA checkpoint since checkpoint 3 that led to gate 32 didn’t have TSA precheck. Going through security and the terminal was pretty uneventful, although the terminal was noticeably quieter since the terminal usually hosts live music very often. Many shops were also closed.

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Alaska Airlines has a pretty small presence in Austin, so I didn't have a lounge to indulge in during the 3-hour wait. Instead, I was able to enjoy some plane spotting, including seeing my plane pull into the gate. The departure board also displayed an unusually large number of canceled flights, especially from Southwest and United.

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Boarding was very quick, but because there were maybe 15 passengers at most on this flight, priority boarding didn’t matter very much.

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In my experience, Alaska Airlines have always utilized ex-Virgin Atlantic A320s on routes from Austin to the Bay Area, and I was happy to see the Virgin American first-class seats greet me. The initial impression that caught my eye was the humongous legroom. I couldn’t even reach the seat in front of me with my feet, although I'm only 5'7''. For my first ever first-class experience, I was absolutely blown away, and now understand why many people are disappointed that they're leaving Alaska's fleet.

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The crew was very nice and efficient, getting us ready to depart in no time. Before we pushed back I was asked about my selection on the dinner menu, which consisted of either the herbed chicken gnocchi or the vegetarian bibimbap. I love Korean food, so bibimbap was an obvious choice for me. We pushed backed 10 minutes after boarding, and after a brief taxi we took off from runway 17L. Behind us were a Southwest 737 and a Delta 757.

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Dinner was served around 15 minutes after take-off. My bibimbap meal consisted of a warm oatmeal cookie, warm bread with butter, mixed greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and of course, the bibimbap, which consisted of steamed Calrose rice topped with shiitake mushrooms, sautéed spinach, fried egg and pickled vegetables drizzled with gochujang sauce and scallions. I loved the modern wood-like tray design, which is made of plastic with anti-slip rubber on the top side. The utensils were metal and wrapped in a real fabric napkin.

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The meal was delicious, and throughout the flight, I felt well-cared for. The crew frequently asked me if I was satisfied and brought me drinks and snacks when I needed it while leaving me alone while I was working.

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The seat came with a USB port and an electrical outlet, as well as an ethernet port. The USB port on my seat wasn’t working but I had a plug for the outlet to supplement it. The seat had buttons with “comfort” and “relax” presets, as well as individual adjustment for the backrest, leg rest, and the footrest.

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Hidden under the right handle where the tray table is located are controls for the massage function of the seat, which I thought was quite unique on airplane seats. In reality, it wasn’t all that significant, and it wouldn’t make the seat worse without it.

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The tray table could be folded in half of the drinks or folded out for meal service or work. I like that it slides forward and backward as well, so getting in and out of my seat was very convenient.

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Under the left armrest is where the IFE screen is located. It’s the same size screen as the economy screens and comes with a remote. I didn’t like the design of it being attached to the arm because it got in the way of folding out the tray table while it was facing me, and I always hit the screen when I fold the table open.

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I get access to three windows but at seat up position the head is located directly between two windows so during take-off and landing I have to either lean forward or look backward to view out the window.

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For the remainder of the flight, I spent time working on some engineering assignments, trying to stay awake for the whole flight so I can enjoy my first class seat to its full extent while enjoying the beautiful evening sky. I'm used to sitting behind the wing in economy class, so it's so nice to enjoy such an unobstructed view of the sky.

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And before I knew it, we were descending into San Jose.

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We arrived at the gate very quickly, and I was out of the airport in no time, mainly to avoid the virus.

So that concludes my flight! I would give this flight a 9.0/10. The score may be biased for my first experience, but I believe this is one of the best first-class domestic products to exist. The seats were old but still functioned very well. The seats were electrically powered and provided lots of legroom as well as reclining angle. The food and presentation felt modern and the flavors were great for a meal on a flight of 3 hours. I do look forward to trying the new Alaska Airlines first class and American Airlines first class with my miles later on, but I'd love to see what others think about this seat and Alaska Airline's soft product.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review, and feedback is always welcome!
 
F9Animal
Posts: 4379
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2004 7:13 am

Re: SJC-AUS Alaska Airline's Ex-Virgin America First Class

Sun Mar 22, 2020 3:54 pm

Wow!!! Awesome TR!! I absolutely love and miss Virgin America. Looks like they took out all the Red systems from the plane. Wish AS would adopt the Virgin first class seats.

Now, the food looks awesome too! Alaska has really improved the food service. One thing I cannot fly AS without is their cheese and fruit platter. Are they still offering it?
I Am A Different Animal!!
 
jrdudes123
Topic Author
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:07 pm

Re: SJC-AUS Alaska Airline's Ex-Virgin America First Class

Sun Mar 22, 2020 8:28 pm

F9Animal wrote:
Wow!!! Awesome TR!! I absolutely love and miss Virgin America. Looks like they took out all the Red systems from the plane. Wish AS would adopt the Virgin first class seats.

Now, the food looks awesome too! Alaska has really improved the food service. One thing I cannot fly AS without is their cheese and fruit platter. Are they still offering it?


Thank you! I really miss it too, I never realized how superior its domestic product was compared to the other US airlines such as legroom and powered first-class seats. AS just rebranded the red IFE system on the old planes, but they're all due to be replaced by the new BYOD retrofit cabins.

I love what AS has done with their food product, and yes, they still offer the cheese and fruit platter!
 
767747
Posts: 2218
Joined: Wed Jan 26, 2005 10:08 am

Re: SJC-AUS Alaska Airline's Ex-Virgin America First Class

Sun Mar 22, 2020 9:41 pm

Looks like a great flight with AS. Sorry that I never got a chance to fly on Virgin America when it was around, but nice to see their A320 cabins still in the sky on several routes.

Thank you for sharing!
I love to fly!
 
PresRDC
Posts: 544
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 1999 5:00 am

Re: SJC-AUS Alaska Airline's Ex-Virgin America First Class

Tue Mar 24, 2020 5:30 pm

I noticed drinks were served in plastic cups. Is that the norm for AS?
 
jrdudes123
Topic Author
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:07 pm

Re: SJC-AUS Alaska Airline's Ex-Virgin America First Class

Wed Mar 25, 2020 9:45 pm

767747 wrote:
Looks like a great flight with AS. Sorry that I never got a chance to fly on Virgin America when it was around, but nice to see their A320 cabins still in the sky on several routes.

Thank you for sharing!


Thanks for reading! It's a pity that Virgin America didn't last, and unfortunately, these old cabins will inevitably be replaced by the Alaska interiors soon.
 
jrdudes123
Topic Author
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:07 pm

Re: SJC-AUS Alaska Airline's Ex-Virgin America First Class

Wed Mar 25, 2020 9:46 pm

PresRDC wrote:
I noticed drinks were served in plastic cups. Is that the norm for AS?


I'm pretty sure AS uses glass cups on longer routes, and I think they used plastic cups either because of the route length or because of the virus.
 
SESGDL
Posts: 2876
Joined: Sat Jan 13, 2001 6:25 am

Re: SJC-AUS Alaska Airline's Ex-Virgin America First Class

Sat Mar 28, 2020 2:45 pm

Great report! Sad to see that these aircraft will likely be retired. And not to be nit picky, but that’s a DL 321, not a 757.


Jeremy
 
jrdudes123
Topic Author
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:07 pm

Re: SJC-AUS Alaska Airline's Ex-Virgin America First Class

Sun Mar 29, 2020 8:03 am

SESGDL wrote:
Great report! Sad to see that these aircraft will likely be retired. And not to be nit picky, but that’s a DL 321, not a 757.


Jeremy


I believe the AS A320s will all be converted to new AS cabins, not retired. And good catch on that DL A321, I can't believe I missed that!

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