Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 first class review: SO much better than it used to be!

Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 first class review: SO much better than it used to be!

It’s here! The Boeing 737 MAX has officially entered the Alaska Airlines fleet. Personally, I was very much looking forward to it. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to flying on it, but I was very much looking forward to seeing what the public reaction to it would be. More specifically, would people be avoiding the Alaska Airlines 737 MAX like the plague?

Truth be told, I think the general public has pretty much forgotten about the woes of the MAX series of aircraft. I certainly have. I mean, there’s no other way that I would have stepped foot on this aircraft just 3 short days after entering service if I had any hangups about it. I’m crazy like that. Or maybe just stupid.

San Diego, CA (SAN) – Seattle, WA (SEA)
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Aircraft: 737-9 MAX
Registration: N913AK
Duration: 2 hours 47 minutes
Seat: 4F (First Class)

Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 side view
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 side view illustration by
AS539 flight track
Our route from San Diego to Seattle today as AS539.

My Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 first class review video

I’ve made several videos about Alaska Airlines first class in the past (which you can watch here and here), but this one was a little different.

Not only was I trying to show off what the 737 MAX experience was like with Alaska Airlines, I was also trying to put together an objective review on their newest first class product.

As you can see in the video, it was a really good experience all around. I actually like the MAX. And, as you know from my last Alaska Airlines first class review, I really like Alaska Airlines.

The full transcript of the video (with tons of pics and ridiculous commentary as usual)

I don’t know what the deal is with me and the San Diego International Airport, but I’ve got an awfully good knack for showing it off in gloomy conditions. It poured buckets on my last Hawaiian Airlines flight to Honolulu. And the skies opened up in a downpour just as I was departing on a JetBlue Mint flight to JFK a few weeks before that.

I feel terrible for representing my hometown of San Diego in the not-so-nicest of ways. My sincerest apologies.

Arrival at the airport

Despite the doom and gloom overhead, I was quite excited to be flying on Alaska Airlines’ newest airplane today. It was something that I had been looking forward to for quite some time!

SAN terminal 2 lower level
Of course. Of all the days I chose to shoot this video, it just had to be the ONE rainy day we get in San Diego every year.
Spirt of St Louis San Diego Airport
Anyway, I promise you that (despite what you see in my trip reports), it doesn’t actually rain here all that often.
Terminal 2 east San Diego Airport
You’re standing with me here in Terminal 2 East at the San Diego International Airport, and…gosh dang it…I wish I could say that I told you so.
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX
I was so sure that I would be avoiding the 737 MAX like the plague, and that it would be one of the biggest failures in aviation history, but…
SANspotter Alaska Airlines 737 MAX
…here I am feeling really excited to be flying on the the Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 just three short days after entering service.
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX nose
Was it really safe to assume that everyone would be avoiding the MAX once it returned to service?
SANspotter sitting in terminal 2 San Diego airport
Knowing how quickly I’ve changed my mind about it, probably not.
Empty San Diego airport Terminal 2 east
Then again, it’s awfully quiet this morning. And it wasn’t hard to think that maybe most people were still at home waiting for that goofy SANspotter dork to test it out first.
SANspotter shoes
Fair enough. This wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve risked my life for some views.
Gate 24 San Diego airport
For those of you who are not familiar with what it’s like to fly out of Terminal 2 East here in San Diego, you’re not missing much.
Ugly terminal 2 east San Diego airport
It’s a weird mix of old and new, and the puke…colored…walls…Ok. I’m doing a terrible job representing my home airport. Let’s try this again:
Updated terminal 2 east San Diego airport
Isn’t it amazing how well the San Diego Airport Authority has kept this old 1960’s terminal up to date with modern textures and high-tech amenities? Come to San Diego. You’ll love it.

The boarding process for flight number 539 to Seattle

Those of you who remember how nervous I was before trying out United 737 MAX 9 Economy Plus a few weeks ago will be happy to know that I was as cool as a cucumber today. I almost (just barely) looked like an experienced traveler.

Alaska Airlines mobile boarding pass
This being my second ever 737 MAX flight, I’m far more calm and collected this time. Bring it.
Boarding Alaska Airlines flight
Speaking of bringing it, turns out I had to bring my boarding pass to the scanner. They refused to bring it to me.
Long jet bridge
Ok, enough with the stupid dad jokes. Boarding initiated right on time, and yeah – I was really excited to see what the all new Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX was all about.

My first impressions of the Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 first class cabin

After years and years of being punished with the old Alaska Airlines first class cabins, it was a refreshing sight to see their latest offering. Although it was a stark contrast to the first class seats that I had grown to be familiar with on this quirky little airline from the north, they look very similar to what you’ll find in American Airlines 737-800 first class. At least they’re making progress. 

737 MAX 9 boarding door
The exact moment where I got my first whiff of “new airplane smell”
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX first class seats
Those of you have been lucky enough to fly on a Hawaiian Airlines A321 recently will immediately recognize these seats.
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX first class seats row 1
These are are nearly identical to what they offer on their 5 hour flights out the islands and back, so I’m assuming that they will be perfectly sufficient for a two and a half hour flight up to Seattle. And for anyone who is especially curious, do be sure to read my Alaska Airlines vs Hawaiian Airlines comparison to find out exactly how different (and similar) they really are.
New Alaska Airlines first class seats
And before you start complaining how crappy they look – just take a moment to remember what the old seats were like (which you can see in my Alaska Airlines 737-900 first class review).
New Alaska Airlines first class leg room
This is a huge upgrade in my opinion. And (IMHO), light years better than the seats you’ll find in Alaska Airlines Embraer 175 first class.
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX safety card
Hold on. Safety first! Because….you just never know.
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX first class cabin
And on that morbid thought: welcome to Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX first class!

Yeah, this is pretty much exactly what I remember my Hawaiian Airlines A321 first class experience being like. Except for the seat color…and the floral shirts…and the tropical music…and the Mai Tais…

This sucks!

Lol, no, this doesn’t suck. At least not as much as you think that I think it does. Or something like that. I actually liked this quite a bit.

Alaska Airlines 737 MAX features
It’s clean, roomy, and so much better than what Alaska Airlines first class used to be like.
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX first class power outlets
Any yeah, there are power outlets at every seat (as I’m so un-gracefully demonstrating here).
SANspotter Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX review
As I dig the seatbelt out of my ass, it’s a good time to tell you that I always find Alaska Airlines first class to be a very good value. It’s certainly not the best domestic US first class product, but it is pretty darn good.

I actually find these first class seats to be quite stylish. And before you blast me for saying such a nice thing about such a simple seat, I invite you read my Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 economy review. Those simple seats will make these first class seats look like thrones fit for a King. 

What’s the runway 9 departure like out of SAN?

I’m glad you asked! With the weather being as poopy as it was today, all arrivals and departures were using runway 9 (which flows to the east). The last time I got to experience this was on my Hawaiian Airlines first class flight to Honolulu back in late 2019. It’s been a while!

Rainy San Diego airport
The good thing about picking the worst day ever to make a video about a flight leaving San Diego is that the weather is bad enough for runway 9 to be in use.

Yup – as soon as we get a little wind and rain here in San Diego, they flip the airport around and everything flows to the east. It’s a very rare occurrence, and this video shows you exactly what that’s like:

737 max engine and wing view
I don’t normally feel motion sickness while flying, but the departure out of San Diego this morning was rough.
Storm clouds
It was bumpy as all heck, and I couldn’t see the horizon for the first 5 minutes. Ugh.
View from 737 max window
However – if you look closely at the window, you’ll notice fresh evidence of a GoPro suction cup mount. Apparently, I was not the first airplane nerd to sit in this seat!
View of clouds from Boeing 737 max window
Never in all my years of flying have I seen clouds this gnarly on departure from San Diego. It was very “summer afternoon in Florida” like, which was really trippy to see.
SANspotter looking out the airplane window
Of course, with my short attention span, it wasn’t long until I shifted my thoughts towards the in flight service. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I could have really gone for some Lobster Thermidor right about then.

In-flight entertainment

The most important thing to know about the onboard entertainment in Alaska Airlines first class is that you need to bring your own devices. There are no video screens in the seats. And if you don’t have a phone, tablet, or laptop…you’re out of luck (and you better hope that your seatmate is wildly entertaining).

Alaska Airlines 737 max onboard entertainment
For those of you who are curious, Alaska Airlines onboard entertainment comes in the form of a streaming content service.
Alaska Airlines streaming content not secure
It may not be all that secure, but I promise you that it’s entertaining.
Alaska Airlines streaming content
The only problem I had with it was trying to find something sophisticated enough to pair it appropriately with a lobster main course. It wasn’t easy.

The food

Alaska Airlines has gotten much better with food over the past two years. The menu for this flight (still being somewhat limited due to Covid restrictions) consisted of two options: a fruit and cheese platter or a ham and cheese croissant sandwich. I think you know what I ended up with.

Alaska Airlines first class food
You want to know what’s really disappointing? Having a craving for lobster, but ending up with a pre-packaged fruit and cheese platter. Oh well.
Alaska Airlines fruit and cheese platter
Long time readers of my blog should be very familiar with the sight of cheese in my airline reviews by now (ha!). This wasn’t the end of the world for me.
Alaska Airlines fruit and cheese platter review
The very same fruit and cheese platter I was served in Alaska Airlines 737-800 economy class from SAN to KOA a few years ago. And as far as pre-packaged fruit and cheese platters go, nobody does it better than Alaska Airlines. It’d be nice to see them try the lobster thing though. I’d bet they could totally nail it.
SANspotter airplane meal
Remember in my last review where I made some comments about how annoying pretzel dust can be when having to deal with face masks? Well, that ain’t nothin’ compared to stinky cheese slime and sticky grape juice. I felt like I needed a shower after this.

Seat comfort

Maybe it’s just me, but I find the 737 MAX to be quieter than all other variants of the 737. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s any more comfortable, but less noisy is always good.

View of Sierra Nevada mountains
I dedicate this view to Neil from the Moments In The Sky YouTube channel. He’s currently under lockdown in the UK due to COVID, and I can’t wait until he can get back in the air again continue where he left off before everything shut down.
Relaxing in Alaska Airlines 737 max 9 first class
Meanwhile, my Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX first class experience has been really chill so far.
Alaska Airlines 737 max 9 first class experience
No, these are not super-luxurious seats or anything, but they are perfectly fine for medium-range routes such as this. On the flip side, this is downright spectacular compared to the old Alaska 737-700 first class experience.
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX lavatory
It’s not very often that I’ll get up to use the lavatory on flights under three hours, but the cheese slime and grape juice made this a necessity.
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX toilet
Other than that, there’s not much else to say about this. It is kind of neat that these lavatories are very 787-like though. Cool!
Alaska Airlines first class cookie
I may not have got fresh lobster on this flight, but they did come through with melty-hot freshly-baked cookies.
Alaska Airlines first class snacks
The only problem was: was I supposed to eat the cookie….or keep gathering b-roll for the review?
Flight to Seattle scenery
The solution to that problem, of course, was to capture b-roll first, and THEN eat the cookie.
Descent into Seattle
Which worked out very well since we were descending into Seattle just as I took my last bite.

The arrival into Seattle

Once I got past the irony of leaving a rainy San Diego and arriving into a bright and sunny Seattle, I pressed my nose to the window and enjoyed the sights (and sounds) all the way in.

Overflying Seattle downtown
If you’ve never flown into Seattle before, my advice is to sit on the left hand side of the aircraft. You’re likely to get a much better view of the city on the way in – and trust me – there is a lot of neat stuff to see.
Seattle Tacoma airport
I could totally see myself living here if it wasn’t for all the rain during the winter months. Seattle is easily one of my favorite cities in the US.
Arrival in Seattle
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Seattle…where the local time is…I don’t…actually…know.

What I do know is that I’m very impressed with how Alaska Airlines has configured the first class cabin on their 737 MAX 9. It’s spacious, bright, and combined with the typically great Alaska Airlines cabin crews, extremely competitive against what the other US airlines are offering. I just wish they would offer a premium lie-flat business class product like JetBlue Mint Suites.

End of Alaska airlines flight
This is it for my 737 MAX adventures for a while, but not to worry. I’ve got lots of other fun flight reviews coming soon, and I hope you’ll stick around for those.
Walking off Alaska Airlines 737 max 9
Until then, thanks for reading, and…you know what? I’m not even mad about the lobster thing anymore. Just wanted to make that clear before this review ends. Thanks.
N913AK first Alaska Airlines 737 max 9
So long N913AK! I’m sure we’ll meet again at some point (hopefully sooner rather than later, because I have a hankerin’ to do a killer Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 Premium Class review).

Should you avoid the Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX?

No – if only to experience what the latest and greatest Alaska Airlines first class experience is all about. The food won’t be any better, nor will the cabin crews. The seats, however, are far better than what a lot of the older Alaska Airlines 737s still have.

The 737 MAX is a glimpse into the not-so-distant future of Alaska Airlines. And based on what I have seen (and felt), I’m quite looking forward to it.

Pros and cons of Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX first class

Long story short, all you need to know is that the first class seats on (in?) the Alaska Airlines 737 MAX series of aircraft are the same seats that you can find in Hawaiian Airlines A321 first class. It’s basically the same experience – without the floral shirts, tropical food, and Mai Tai’s of course.


  • The seats are really good for flights under three hours. They are highly configurable, there are power outlets, as well as storage bins (and pockets) to cram your things into.
  • There’s enough leg room to allow the window seat passenger to get up and access the aisle without requiring the aisle seat passenger to stand up. It won’t be particularly graceful, but it is possible.
  • Although this isn’t something specific to the MAX, I’ll say it anyway: the Alaska Airlines cabin crews are typically the friendliest in the United States. I don’t know what Alaska Airlines feeds these people, but whatever it is seems to be making them extremely friendly and pleasant to deal with.


  • There are no video screens in the seats (which is a big deal when comparing Alaska Airlines vs Delta – an airline which features video screens at every seat on every flight). If video entertainment is what you’re looking for, it is available – but it comes in the form of a complementary streaming service to your own devices.
  • Although the seats are great for flights under three hours, they may not be all that great for flights longer than that. They’re a little hard.

Comments (2)

  1. Carol Sherwood

    May 22, 2023
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      May 22, 2023

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