This would be my first flight on Alaska and my first visit to the West Coast since 2007. Time sure flies! I booked a one-way in first class from AUS to SJC because Alaska was running a sale and I had an Amex offer available. SJC was closer to the friends I was visiting than SFO (otherwise I probably would have gone with United).
As usual, I got to the Austin airport right before boarding started - the CLEAR and TSA Pre lines were empty this early Saturday morning.
AS301 was departing from Gate 3, which blocked the view of the plane, unfortunately. Boarding began promptly at 7:45am with those needing assistance.
When I booked the flight, it was an Alaska A320 with the seat map showing 3 rows in first class. However, before boarding, I noticed this sign on the fuselage, which indicated that this is an ex-Virgin plane.
Today I was flying on N365VA, an A320 delivered in June 2016.
Here are the ex-Virgin America interiors, arranged in two rows of 2-2. I was seated in 2A. Small bottles of water were already waiting for me at the seat.
The seats are rather unique for current domestic F seats. There were literature pockets in front of the seat, with seat controls on the left and the IFE controls on the right. There are additional seat controls when you open the left armrest. The seat reclines quite far in both direction and has a fold down footrest. A power outlet can be found below the left armrest and the the audio jack is below the center armrest.
55 inches of pitch, quite impressive for an NA domestic F cabin.
During boarding we had the purple/blue Virgin mood lighting.
Cari, the purser, offered orange juice, coffee, or something else for PDBs. I went with orange juice. Captain Rich announced at 8:09am there was a maintenance issue, but that it was already taken care of and we were just waiting on the paperwork. The flight time would be 3:27 today.
We pushed back at 8:32am (7 minutes behind schedule) and took off 10 minutes later.
After takeoff, I checked out the lavatory. The front lavatory on the A320 is as one would expect - cramped. No amenities to be found here.
Alaska offers meal pre-selection for domestic first on flights over a certain blocked time.
Here is the on-board menu by comparison. The free tasting for two in Seattle seem like a great deal - has anyone taken advantage of this offer?
These ex-Virgin seats also have IFEs, which I discovered after takeoff. They were responsive and fairly crisp. My main complaint about them, however, was if you tilt them in any way, it is hard to set both IFE screens up where the side-by-side passengers can both view them comfortably.
There was a decent variety of movies and show, as well as a seat-to-seat chat function, and a good flight map. I chose to watch Creed this flight. Nothing spectacular, but a good addition to the Rocky franchise.
Orders were taken at 7 minutes after takeoff, with Cari informing me that I will be receiving my pre-ordered meal. Service began a short while after. I requested green tea to start.
For my pre-selected meal, I chose the winter breakfast bowl. Cari brought it all out on a single wooden tray approximately 45 minutes after takeoff. I really like the wooden trays Alaska goes with here. Often airline trays look like cafeteria trays and these have a bit more character to them. As for the meal itself, it was pretty good as far as domestic F breakfasts go.
Cari collected the tray very quickly after she noticed I was finished.
Approximately 90 minutes before landing, Cari came around with a snack basket filled with the usual granola, chips, etc . . . I chose an oatmeal cookie. Afterwards, the snack basket (which I neglected to take a picture of) was displayed in the galley for passengers to help themselves.
A few shots out of the window:
I noticed that the flight map still shows the plane with Virgin America livery.
About 30 minutes before landing, I asked Cari if it was too late for a cup of coffee. It wasn't. I only now discovered the little center trays - would have been handy during boarding, etc . . .
Right before landing, mints were offered.
During our descent, I wasn't able to get my seat fully into an upright position because the lower footrest was still somewhat extended. Cari tried to help and manually reset the seat, but we weren't able to get it back into position. She said that it would be no problem for landing and we just let the seat stay as is. That's the problem with these Virgin America seats; the controls were very unresponsive.
We landed at 10:04AM PT.
We pulled up at Gate 22 at 10:12AM. Since San Jose is a small airport, I was curbside minutes later.
Cabin & Seat: I feel a little conflicted about these seats. On the one hand, they offer excellent legroom, great recline, are well-padded, and have IFEs. On the other hand, the controls are very unresponsive, there is very little storage space underneath them, and the setup with the IFEs make it difficult for both passengers to arrange at a comfortable angle.
Service: Cari provided excellent service. Throughout the flight she was enthusiastic and professional. Everything was handled with care and a bright smile. Any requests were taken care of promptly.
Meal & Catering: Breakfast is hard to cater for any airline, but Alaska did pretty well here. The meal was tasty and the fruits were fairly fresh.
Bottom Line: Alaska and Southwest are the only airlines that offer a direct to SJC from AUS. Due to the schedule, Southwest was not an option this Saturday. In addition, given how reasonably Alaska prices its F cabin, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this flight.