Hello and welcome to another series of flight reports! This series will cover a trip I took this summer to Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta.
Washington, DC to Seattle, WA (IAD - SEA) | Alaska | 737-900ER [THIS REPORT] Seattle, WA to Calgary, AB (SEA - YYC) | Horizon | E175 Seattle, WA to Edmonton, AB (SEA - YEG) | Horizon | Q400 [REPORT HERE] Calgary, AB to Denver, CO (YYC - DEN) | United | A320 [REPORT HERE] Denver, CO to Washington, DC (DEN - IAD) | United | 737-900ER [REPORT HERE]
I arrived at Dulles about two and a half hours early for the 5:20pm departure. This being my second time departing from Dulles, I wanted to try out taking the Metro + Bus option to get to the airport. Once you reach the current end of the Silver Line in Reston, you walk over the Dulles Toll Road and down into the parking garage / bus station. Then, you wait for the Metro shuttle bus to take you the remaining five or six miles to the airport. However, the shuttle bus only comes every 20 minutes during the middle of the day, and I had arrived about one minute after the previous bus had departed. All in all, the metro/bus option wasn't awful, but it also wasn't anything to write home about. The all-in cost was still far less than what my parking bill would have been, but driving myself would have been much shorter in time, at least in the middle of the day. The shuttle bus costs $5 to ride each way (on top of whatever the Metro cost), and payment for both directions is collected at a desk just inside the arrivals level of the main terminal.
After entering the arrivals level of the terminal, I made my way upstairs then searched for the Alaska ticket counter. Pre-merger, Alaska only had one daily flight from Dulles, to Seattle. However, Virgin America had five daily flights, two to Las Angeles and three to San Francisco. The Alaska and Virgin America counters clearly had not yet been combined, however, as the Alaska one (complete with new branding) was completely empty when I arrived despite the Virgin flight to California scheduled to leave in 90 minutes.
I quickly grabbed my boarding pass then headed for security. There are three main checkpoint areas at Dulles (I think), one standard screening area towards each end of the main terminal, and a dedicated pre-check checkpoint in the center. The central pre-check area had a line that must've been 200+ people long. After declining a Clear agent trying to sell me their expedited service, I made my way towards the eastern checkpoint. Once on the escalator, I could see that there was practically no line at all for the standard screening.
However, in the time between having my ID and boarding pass checked and reaching the security check, I checked my phone and saw that my flight from Seattle to Calgary that night had just been cancelled. This summer, Horizon has had a large problem staffing all of their flying. I suspected that this cancellation nearly 10 hours before departure with no significant weather was due to that problem as well. Unfortunately, this complicated things for my trip, as I was planning on meeting a friend in Seattle and flying on the same flight to Calgary. More on that later.
Passing through security I took the Aerotrain over to Concourse B. I got some dinner from the nearby Chipotle and went and sat at gate B65. N224AK, a just-over-one-year-old 737 arrived nearly 35 minutes ahead of schedule from Seattle. N224AK was Alaska's first 737 to bear an -AK registration – all previous 737s are -AS.
Boarding began on time just before 5:00pm, and I quickly found my seat in row 19. I had a nice view of our neighbor, an Austrian 767 prepping for departure to Vienna.
Even though Alaska does not have seat-back IFE, I was excited to try out their streaming entertainment and free messaging via the GoGo WiFi. Legroom was on the upper end of what I consider to be standard these days.
Alaska has both USB and AC power at every seat.
I also really enjoyed the Sky Interior on this aircraft, as well as the bulkhead styling at the front of the cabin.
Due to the relatively light passenger load, the middle seat next to me remained empty as the cabin door was closed right at scheduled time.
Pushing back from gate B65, with a great view of some of the international carriers that service Dulles.
A good view of the main terminal building…
and one of Dulles' iconic "moon buggies." The crane in the background is there for construction of the on-airport Metro station.
Starting the long taxi over to runway 01R.
A look at the Z gates.
We then stopped on the taxiway for a few minutes, just off the United Express ground-level gates in Concourse A.
Looks like a runway direction swap just occurred, now departing runway 19L.
We however, headed the long way around to runway 30 for our westerly departure.
Passing some United traffic heading for runway 19L.
Taxiing back the way we came on the south side of Concourse C/D.
A United 777 resting between flights.
A Qatar 777-300ER doing the same, with the ATC Tower looking on.
A pair of United 767-400ERs.
Looking back at the lineup we had just passed, along with a pair of heavy followers.
It's pretty clear which airline has a sizable hub at Dulles.
We then joined the back of a DCA-esque waiting area near the end of runway 30. The captain then came on the PA to give us an update. Apparently, as we were taxiing for departure, there was a runway direction shift (called it), and a passing storm to the west had slowed west-bound departures. The captain predicted a wait time of around 25 minutes then shut down one of our engines.
Even though there was quite a handful of aircraft waiting for departure, our line was moving. The United CRJ-700 towards the middle of the frame was leaving our queue.
A United 787-9 heading for runway 30. I believe it was departing to LHR.
A South African A330, heading to Ghana.
About 15 minutes after the captain's announcement, we were cleared to head for runway 30.
KLM would be departing in front of us.
Considering this was a west-bound transcon flight on a -900ER, I was expecting quite a long takeoff roll on this hot afternoon.
Once past the -900ERs signature shallow initial climb, we were off.
Soon after departure, we passed by the storm that had complicated the departure spacing out of Dulles.
We quickly climbed above the thickening cloud layer.
I connected to the inflight WiFi as soon as it became available to try out the free messaging. Whats App and Facebook Messenger worked well – it also appeared to support iMessage for iPhone users.
Even though the service is labelled as not able to send picture messages nor access general internet services, I was able to both send images and view (at least see our location) our flight on Flightradar24.
Alaska's entertainment selection (streaming to personal devices) was quite good. I ended up watching The Martian for about half the flight, spending the rest of the flight texting (via the free messaging) with my friend in Seattle, trying to figure out a plan to get to Alberta that night. Luckily, the late flight to Edmonton looked pretty open, so we went ahead and changed to that.
Already nearing Cleveland.
Service was a fairly typical domestic offering of drinks and small snack. I swear the Biscoff cookies were smaller than the ones Delta serves – the Starbucks coffee was way better than Delta's, however. There was also more substantial food options available for purchase.
The flight passed relatively quickly with the streaming entertainment offering. Clear skies most of the way across the upper midwest into Montana.
Descent began just over five hours after takeoff. Our arrival from the North meant I had a great view of the Cascades.
Beautiful evening in Seattle. Mount Rainier was visible most of the way down the arrival.
Starting our turn south towards SEA.
Turning onto final for 16L just before downtown Seattle.
A view of Lake Washington and Bellevue.
On the right side of this image is the Boeing facility in Renton – every 737 starts its life here.
Short final for 16L.
Floating past a brand new United 777-300ER undergoing fleet induction prior to entering service.
A relatively smooth landing.
Heading for gate C15 past one of Alaska's few remaining 737-400Cs. It was just announced that the final flight for this subfleet would be October 18.
The beginnings of the North Satellite extension project.
Pulling into C15, with a view of the "Salmon Thirty Salmon" across the aisle.
And that concludes my first flight with Alaska! I had about an hour until my flight up to Edmonton was due to depart, and that's where the next part will pick up.
Washington - IAD
Seattle - SEA
I really enjoyed my first flight with Alaska. The cabin was comfortable and the entertainment options were plentiful. I look forward to considering Alaska for any future west-coast trips.
Dulles Airport sure does show a lot better when flying out of the A/B Concourse. It really is miles above United's C/D Concourse.
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