What you’re about to read is a monster of an Alaska Airlines 737-900ER first class review. It covers a full round trip journey from San Diego (SAN) to Orlando (MCO), and as you will see, it’s freaking through.
Segment 1 of 2: San Diego to Orlando
I sort of knew that I was going to regret flying Alaska Airlines to Florida, and it all started when my parents asked me for my flight details so that they could prepare for my arrival.
“It’s Alaska Airlines flight number 760 from San Diego” I said, holding my face in the palm of my hand in anticipation of a confused reply loaded with silly questions.
You see, Alaska airlines isn’t very well-known in the eastern part of United States, as it’s only been in the past few years that they’ve made an aggressive push eastwards in an attempt to grow their network beyond the West Coast. Simply saying the words “Alaska Airlines” is enough to make some people in the east (such as my parents) think of old and rickety DC-3’s flying pallets of fresh salmon down from the Arctic.
“No mom, they are actually a major airline with a hub in San Diego, and they fly to a lot more places than just Alaska. Including Orlando.” A long and awkward pause followed, and I knew that I would be spending a majority of this trip explaining the Alaska Airlines business model over and over to my entire family.
San Diego, CA (SAN) – Orlando, FL (MCO)
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Duration: 3 hours 59 minutes
Seat: 4A (first class)
Fancy a video to go with this written trip report? Ask and ye shall receive (soundtrack courtesy of Epidemic Sound):
I love flying out of San Diego International Airport (most of the time). Its not so fun when I have to get out of bed at 3am to catch a 6am flight, and flying out of terminal 1 sucks pretty bad too.
The pinnacle of suckage involves a 6am flight out of T1, but thankfully I didn’t have it that bad this morning because my flight wasn’t scheduled to depart until 10-ish. So things were only half sucky, and I tried to keep my mind focused on the positive as I walked in and queued up in the security line.
I did fairly well timing my arrival to the airport so that I wouldn’t have to spend very much time waiting before the flight. There is absolutely nothing to do here in terminal 1 (“Circle of Death” sounds better don’t you think?), and good luck finding a quiet place to sit and relax.
This terminal is far too overcrowded at most times of the day thanks entirely to Alaska Airlines and their very aggressive growth here in San Diego over the past few years. They have pushed terminal 1 to it’s absolute limits, and it’s going to be so much better when they move over to terminal 2 east soon.
The pain of being stuck in the Circle of Death for more than 20 minutes caused me to not even notice if we boarded on time. I think we did, but I really can’t say for certain.
It’s been several years since I’ve last been in Alaska Airlines 737-900 first class, and I guess I was sort of expecting things to be a little bit different than last time. I mean, they just swallowed up Virgin America, so it would seem logical to think that maybe they learned a thing or two from that transaction about being hip and offering a fun and competitive first class product. My hopes were high as I walked down the jet bridge and onto the plane.
Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that this was the same old first class product that I remembered from several years ago. Absolutely nothing had changed – the seats were still exactly the same and covered in that familiar blue leather-like material (there’s no way that’s real leather), and the Alaska-style markings on the bulkheads hadn’t changed either.
(Update: the all new Alaska Airlines first class product is much better!)
Despite things looking the same as I remembered from last time, there was one big change that didn’t reveal itself until all of the first class passengers were onboard and we were just about ready to push off the gate. That’s when the flight attendant came through the cabin handing out menus for the lunch service.
It turns out that Alaska Airlines had just revamped their entire menu several weeks prior, offering a much higher quality product with some very delicious (and fancy) options. My last meal in Alaska Airlines first class was hardly memorable, so I was very much looking forward to giving this new menu a try.
For the record, I actually pre-ordered my meal on the Alaska Airlines app several weeks prior, which ended up being unnecessary since both options were still available when the orders were taken.
It was a dark and gloomy departure out of San Diego this morning, but the skies cleared and the sun shined just as expected just minutes after take off. It’s always a treat to look down on the city I love so much, though it does make me start to feel a bit of homesickness even before the trip really begins.
The flight attendant came through the first class cabin handing out little balls of fire (extremely hot towels) 10 minutes after departure, and it wasn’t long before they came through again taking drink orders.
A little unexpected treat was the fact that they also served warm nuts with the drinks, which really hit the spot considering that I was starting to feel hungry. Remember, I flew out of terminal 1 this morning, which has very few options for a quick and delicious breakfast.
Next up was the distribution of portable video players, which was complementary for all first class passengers. These same video players were available to those in coach today as well, for a cost of $10 per person. I passed on it, not exactly feeling in the mood for movies or TV. Lunch was the only thing on my mind at this point, which was perfect because that’s what’s coming next…
Overall, the lunch service on today’s flight was pretty good, though a bit on the slow side. I was seated in row four, and by the time the flight attendants reached me, the people in the first two rows had already finished their meals and were waiting for their trays to be cleared.
So, I guess that means if you want to be one of the first ones to eat on Alaska Airlines, you need to sit in the first two rows. Those of us in rows three and four had to suffer a bit as we waited our turn to feast.
I devoured my meal completely, making me realize that I was much hungrier than I thought I was. It wasn’t the best first class meal I’ve ever had, but it was pretty darn tasty and I had no complaints.
But wait, there’s more! Another unexpected little treat were the little containers of Nancy’s Fancy vanilla ice cream they handed out about an hour after the meal service. I
thought for sure that there would be nothing else other than a snack basket for the rest of the flight to Orlando today, but they came through in a big way with that ice cream and I had fun for the next 30 minutes chiseling away at it with the fork they served it with.
It eventually thawed enough to eat, and it was a nice and flavorful complement to the view outside of my window as I bobbed my head to an eclectic selection of music.
I think I napped for a little bit once I came down from the sugar high, because I woke up just as we were approaching the Western coast of Florida. We came in right over top of Tampa, which seemed odd to me considering that it’s so much farther south than Orlando and it seemed to be a little bit of an awkward way in to MCO. But then again, I’m not a pilot so what do I know?
The most interesting thing about the approach into Orlando was the fact that there weren’t any clouds in the skies above Florida today. Seriously – flying into Florida in the late afternoon can be a scary experience with the notorious storms that bubble up here on a daily basis, but there was none of that happening today.
It was the most beautiful and clear landing that I’ve ever experienced at any airport in Florida, and it honestly felt a bit weird. The last time I was here, the storms were fierce and the butt-pucker factor was pegged in the red zone.
Once on the ground, the pilot left her in high gear and we darn near flew over to our arrival gate. It was the fastest taxi that I’ve ever experienced, and combined with the sunny blue skies overhead, it was sensory overload.
Unfortunately, that fast taxi over to the gate sort of bit us in the ass because we had to sit and wait for about 20 minutes for our gate to open up. I’m not sure what the hurry was if our gate was already occupied, but they were very much in a rush to get us over there as fast as humanly possible. Weird.
The only benefit for having to sit there and wait was the fact that it gave me some time to think about how I was going to respond to all of those silly Alaska Airlines questions I was sure to get from my family over the coming week.
Segment 2 of 2: Orlando to San Diego
If I was a normal (sane) human being, I would have relaxed a bit and passed on the opportunity to review the return segment to San Diego. I mean, it was the exact same flight – but in reverse. Even the seat was the same!
I’m far from normal though, so here we go with a full report of what the return trip was like:
Orlando, FL (MCO) – San Diego, CA (SAN)
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Duration: 4 hours 55 minutes
Seat: 4A (first class)
My parents live about an hour and a half south of Orlando along the Atlantic coast, so my day began mentally preparing myself for a drive up the I-95 over a bowl of Cheerios. Dad insisted on grilling burgers for before I left (“you gotta start the day with a good meal!”) which wasn’t totally necessary considering that I had to be out the door at 10:30 AM and those Cheerios hadn’t even started to digest yet.
So there we sat as a family out on the back porch eating burgers at 10 AM even though nobody was hungry, and it didn’t bother me a bit. My dad is cool as hell.
Despite expecting congestion worse than the 405 in LA, there was absolutely zero traffic on the drive up to Orlando and I arrived early with plenty of time to kill before my flight.
Everyone had been telling me how much of a zoo MCO was going to be with it being spring break and all, but it was a total breeze and I was checked in and through security in less than 15 minutes. Yeah, “anticlimactic” is probably the best word to describe the start of this trip home.
If you’ve never been to MCO, you would probably be very surprised at the amount of international traffic that filters in and out of this place. From Emirates to Thomas Cook to TAM (and everything in between), it’s obvious that the entire world has a strong fascination with Mickey Mouse and all of his Disney-branded friends.
Maybe it’s because I live in the US and I first went to Disney World at a very young age, but it’s interesting to me that people would fly in from all over the world to burn up valuable vacation time at Disney World. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I just don’t get it.
OK, I’m getting way off track here and this hasn’t been much of an Alaska Airlines trip report so far. Telling you that the aircraft doing the honors of flying me from Orlando to San Diego this afternoon was wearing the new livery would be a fantastic way to get this pointed in the right direction again, so let’s do that.
Yep, I was pretty excited about this because I haven’t had any luck getting on an aircraft wearing these new colors yet, and that was kind of cool.
I thought for sure that it was going to be a very light load to San Diego today, because the gate area was fairly empty up until about 20 minutes before the boarding process started. It filled up really quickly after that though, as if they were all waiting until the very last minute to leave Disney World before coming to the airport.
I could only dream of having precision timing skills like that, because I always seem to show up stupidly early wherever I go.
Anyway, for those of you who are curious, yes – you can do a short layover in the Orlando airport without stressing out. I can’t – but you (and every other normal person in this world) probably could.
It was indeed a full flight this afternoon, and it took a good long while to get that 737–900 filled up ‘til no seat was left. I passed the time by taking pictures of the safety card and sipping on water (usual SANspotter stuff) while the rest of the passengers up here in first class did far more normal things like stalking on Facebook and taking advantage of the free alcohol.
Just as it was on the way in to Orlando a week ago, the skies were clear and bright as we made our way out of town and pointed west towards San Diego.
Experiencing such nice weather in Florida is nothing short of odd to me, because if it’s not raining cats and dogs by 3 PM, it’s hard to remember that I’m actually in Florida and I might as well be anywhere else in the southeastern United States. Afternoon thunderstorms are mandatory in Florida – will someone go please remind Mother Nature of this?
I am a huge fan of consistent airline products, and 20 minutes into this flight I was feeling pretty good (and having deja vu) about the Alaska Airlines first class experience. So far it had been a complete mirror copy of what I experienced on the San Diego to Orlando segment one week prior. Menus were distributed while on the ground, with drinks and warm nuts arriving exactly 10 minutes after takeoff.
Complementary portable video players were also handed out just like last time, so I decided to take advantage of the freebie and see what it was all about. This is a trip report after all, and I’ve got to try everything even if I don’t really care to watch movies or TV.
Long story short, it was actually a nice little Microsoft-based product. Android and iOS offer the best mobile experiences by far, but I’m happy to report that this felt fairly high-end and I never cursed once as I tried to find something good to watch.
Lunch was served approximately 20 minutes after the warm nuts, and just like last time, those of us in rows three and four had to wait while those in rows one and two feasted like kings. Yes, the service is slow, but at least they’re consistent and it was exactly the same as it was on my previous flight. I don’t mind slow service as long as I know what to expect going in.
The only thing different about the service this time compared to last was the timing of the rock-hard Nancy’s Fancy vanilla ice cream. On the flight from San Diego to Orlando, they served it approximately one hour after the meal. On this flight to San Diego, it came immediately after they cleared the trays.
And no, I totally did not need ice cream today considering that I was eating hamburgers by 10 AM and I had just finished a huge carb-loaded lunch. Although unnecessary, ice cream is really hard to resist when it’s sitting there right in front of me, so I tipped my hat to Nancy before diving in head first.
The majority of the flight after the meal service consisted of napping on and off in between tinkering with that portable video player. I don’t really know what the deal was, but my attention span was not strong enough to watch a complete movie from beginning to end and I just went back-and-forth from napping to watching to napping to watching.
The flight attendants kept busy by coming through the aisle every now and then with beverages and snack baskets, but putting more things into my belly was the absolute last thing on my mind. I had consumed a sufficient amount of calories for today, and I felt ashamed even thinking about food.
Our arrival into San Diego was nothing short of amazing. The initial approach over East County wasn’t the most spectacular I’ve ever had into SAN, but it was at the very last moment right before we reached the tallest buildings of downtown that the magic happened with the angle of the sun reflecting off the rustic textures of this city. Man I love San Diego! It was one certainly of the best arrivals I’ve ever experienced here.
So what do you think? Was it worth writing an entirely new post with all new pictures, or do you think I could have got away with simply posting the previous trip report in reverse? The fact that I’m asking this question says a lot about the consistency of the Alaska Airlines first class product.
Nearly everything that I experienced on both segments of this trip happened at nearly the same times with the same high-quality levels of service. Let’s be honest here – that’s something that we don’t see very often on domestic US airlines, so it’s kind of a big deal. It’s been a while since I’ve flown first class on Alaska, but if they keep this up, I may just have to start flying with them a lot more.