Hello and welcome to a new series of flight reviews.
Like every summer, it was time to head to France for a few weeks to visit family and friends. This time would be a little different than previous years as we would be flying from the West Coast and with a 7-month-old.
We'd bought our tickets earlier in the year, when we still lived in DC, and well before we knew we'd be moving to San Diego. We'd flown la Compagnie before, and wanted to try the brand new A321neo, which was due to be delivered later that spring.
After moving to San Diego in June, we bought tickets on Alaska to get to Newark. I'd recently moved my business from American to Alaska and acquired MVP Gold 75K status. Reservations were made for the day before the La Compagnie flight in an attempt to break up the flying for the baby and minimise jetlag, as well as avoid any chance of misconnecting…because New York airspace.
Booking was very easy on the Alaska Airlines website and infant and spouse information was added to the reservation at the click of a button as it was saved in my Mileage Plan profile–a feature I haven't seen on other carriers. Those who have frequently flown with infants-in-lap know that many airlines don't have the option to add a lap baby to a reservation while booking online and must be called in over the phone. I I always find this super antiquated and a waste of time (ahem, American…ahem). Luckily, Alaska is not one of those airlines–lap infants can be added right on AlaskaAir.com during the normal booking process. 👍
Although we'd only booked about a month before the flight, we were the only ones in First class at the time of booking. Of course, with last minute bookings and upgrades, the cabin would end up being full.
Another nice feature of AlaskaAir.com is the ability to pre-order meals in First class. This is one of the features I appreciated at American.
The difference with Alaska is that it is available on the mobile site and app, unlike AA.
These were the options:
Clicking on the choices brings up a more detailed description.
Check-in on the app 24 hours prior to departure was very quick.
Notice the First class cabin has filled up quite a bit in the few weeks since booking…again, probably mostly upgrades.
The morning of the flight, we arrived at the ticket counter to drop off bags about 1.5 hours prior to departure, and good thing we did because security was a total cluster. Luckily, at least baggage drop-off was fast as there was no queue at the First class/MVP counter.
The 6-7AM bank of flights out of SAN is apparently veeery busy as even the TSA Pre-Check line was out the door. Access to the pre-check lane was also being mismanaged by some overwhelmed third party queue-minders, which was causing quite a stir among pre-check passengers. I'll have to remember to avoid departures from Terminal 2 around this time of the morning…total mess.
Travelling with a baby doesn't make things go any faster as pretty much every bottle of unopened ready-to-eat travel formula was taken out and inspected–yes, even going through Pre-check.
With all that we barely made it to airside in time for boarding.
Once we arrived at the gate, there was mass confusion as the screen was not showing Newark, but….
While Hawaii sounded great, we really needed to get to EWR. We checked the FIDS to see if there had been a gate change but the Newark flight was not on the screens at all. Several other passengers around us were bewildered and panicking.
A gate agent finally made an announcement explaining that there was a problem with the screens and that we were at the correct gate for Newark…phew!
Shortly after, boarding began. We were able to pre-board with the baby. Those extra few seconds are precious when you have to struggle with folding and putting away car seats and strollers at the bottom of the jetway.
As expected on this pre-merger Alaska 739, the First class cabin was equipped with standard recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration.
Though standard recliners aren't ideal for transcon flights in the 5-6 hour range, these seats were plush and quite comfortable with decent recline. The pre-merger Virgin America cradle recliner seats would have been better suited for this type of longer route.
Also, the legroom is above average for domestic First class among US carriers. Alaska lists the seat pitch at 40", whereas the standard is 37-38" on DL, UA, and AA (LUS aircraft).
I like Alaska's new livery…much nicer than the boring previous colours
Each First class seat has a power outlet and USB port
Alaska 737-900ERs feature Boeing Sky Interior and mood lighting. Those modern features are in sharp contrast with the Native Alaskan bulkhead design.
By the time we pushed back, the sun had risen. It was a grey "June Gloom" type of morning, despite it being late August.
As I'd mentioned earlier, this 6AM bank of departures is very busy and taxi time was very long…like JFK-evening-long.
With only one runway, there was a long queue for departure.
The nice thing was that the baby fell asleep during taxi and ended up sleeping most of the flight…woohoo
After a long 45 min+ taxi, we finally took off
Up into the clouds we go
Once above the clouds there was a nice view of the morning cloudy marine layer hugging the coast. These clouds usually burn off by midday.
While it was perfectly clear and sunny further inland
What a sharp contrast in landscapes a few minutes make as we overfly the desert
On longer flights like this, tablets are provided free in First class and available for rent in Premium class and Main cabin. I definitely appreciate that some sort of IFE is provided, and the tablets have a good amount of movies and TV series; however, it would be nice if the seats had tablet holders at eye-level, especially during meal times.
As I've been flying Alaska more and more lately, I've learned that PDBs (Pre-departure beverages) don't really happen. Luckily, aside from this, the service is so friendly and attentive–both on board and on the ground–that I don't mind so much.
Shortly after takeoff, the wonderful FA working First was out in the cabin taking drink and breakfast orders, at which time she confirmed my pre-ordered selection. We asked if it would be ok to take turns eating, as one of us would have to hold the baby–she was very understanding.
Having already taken several flights with the little one, we quickly learned that thrashing baby arms and a tray-table full of food and drinks can be a recipe for disaster 😆
I enjoyed a mimosa and some nice views, as I waited for my turn.
Flying over the desert Southwest never gets old. I'm guessing this is over Arizona close to the Grand Canyon, but not sure.
Anyone know what this is? Looks like an extinct volcano
The meal service is surprisingly coursed out, which is pretty fancy for a breakfast flight, IMO. Due to the baby situation, though, the FA offered to bring everything at once, which I appreciate.
The meal service began with a strawberry smoothie and another mimosa.
I had selected the Heirloom Tomato Shakshuka option:
Poached cage-free egg in a savory stew of ripe heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and fresh herbs. Served with sautéed rainbow Swiss chard, chicken chorizo sausage, and diced avocado.
Aside from the "poached egg" being more of a hard-boiled egg, it was a very good and creative breakfast. Definitely more interesting than the usual omelet and sausage you regularly on the US3.
Agriculture in the desert.
After finishing up my breakfast, it was the baby's turn to eat
Note to parents: The forward lavatory in First class does NOT have a changing table on any of the 737 fleet (i.e. Legacy Alaska planes), so you have to go all the way to the back of the aircraft to change a diaper. It is a bit inconvenient, but babies often get bored on planes so a little walk doesn't hurt.
View from the back. The Boeing Sky Interior always looks sleek.
As we got closer to Newark, the FAs made several passes of the snack basket.
Our route was a little more northerly than usual, giving a nice view of Lake Eerie.
FA's were wonderful throughout the flight and all so complimentary on how well-behaved our son was. Every FA came by to say hi and see the baby, and most even got to hold him. Very sweet!
Before long, we began our descent and the cabin was readied for landing.
Yes there are hills/mountains near NYC!
Such wide open and green spaces, you wouldn't think you're so close to New York, but the city can be seen on the horizon. After taking a more northerly route, we then swung around for landing from the south.
Newark, NJ and the Jersey Turnpike in the foreground
Due to the long taxi for departure in San Diego, we landed about 10 minutes late.
Views of downtown Manhattan and World Trade Center as we taxied to the gate.
The Alaska operations at Newark are out of Terminal A…not the nicest facilities. Granted none of the Newark terminals are very nice, but Terminal A is particularly dingy and cramped.
We waited on board a bit after arriving at the gate. Now that we have to wait for the gate-checked carseat and stroller to come up to the jetbridge, we're no longer in a rush to get off the plane.
The nice thing was that once we got to baggage claim, the bags were already there.
One last view of our aircraft from the AirTrain…and in the distance the La Compagnie 321neo, which will be tomorrow's ride.
Thanks for reading and see you soon for the review of the new La Compagnie A321neo!
Obviously a pre-merger Virgin America bird, with its more spacious cradle recliners in First, would have been better suited for a longer transcon flight like this; however, it was overall a very enjoyable flight. For a domestic First cabin, the legroom was definitely better than average and the seats were well-padded and comfortable. It was nice that Entertainment tablets were provided but tablet holders at eye-level integrated into the seat-backs would have been nice as looking down for too long can strain your neck and it's practically impossible to watch a movie and eat at the same time. I was impressed with the catering, which I found to be creative.
The cabin crew were fantastic and truly made us feel like VIPs, checking in on us and the baby regularly.
While the premium product between pre-merger VX and AS can be a bit inconsistent at the moment, so far I'm pretty happy with my switch to Alaska as the service has been top notch and super friendly on every flight, on the ground, and on the phone.