Friday, January 25, 2013

Buh-bye peanuts: Traveling First Class on Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines 737-800.

By: Albert Rodriguez
Trip and Shout Editor
Flight Review: Alaska Airlines, First Class (Seattle to Atlanta)
(All photos taken by Albert Rodriguez, except aircraft exterior image)

Everyone should fly First Class at least once in their lifetime.  If not for the splurge, then to realize how generic Coach has become.  And although First Class can also be accused of being ordinary, I do believe Alaska Airlines is one company that gets it right.

How to score a First Class seat?  You can pay full fare - it's not that expensive for domestic trips (especially short hops).  Some airlines allow you to purchase an upgrade 24 hours prior to departure for as low as $50.  If you accumulate all your miles into one frequent flyer program and earn 'tier status', you'll be eligible for complimentary upgrades, or you can sacrifice 15K miles for an upgrade (subject to availability).  Celebrities, such as Kelly Clarkson and Kristin Wiig and Oliver Stone, have flown Alaska's First Class in recent months.

Here's what a First Class experience aboard Alaska Airlines is like on a 5-hour journey to Atlanta.

Coffee and mini scone at the Board Room.

First Class passengers can check in at the very North end of Alaska Airlines' Sea-Tac counters.  You'll receive a boarding pass with stamped approval to enter the priority security lane - this saves lots of time (I zipped through security in about 4 minutes).  Your checked-in bags should be tagged with priority tags, which means they'll be the first to be unloaded onto the carousel at your destination.  Full fare tickets and awards redemption tickets allow you access to the "Board Room", Alaska Airlines' VIP Lounge in Sea-Tac's main terminal, but complimentary upgrades don't come with lounge passes (and I'm not sure about paid upgrades). 


First Class passengers will board immediately after disabled persons and families traveling with small children.  I flew on a 737-800 to Atlanta, and First Class seats had a 37.0 pitch x 21.0 width (compared to 32.0 pitch x 17.0 width).  Depending on the aircraft, the First Class cabin occupies the first 3 or 4 rows of the plane.  The seat configuration is 2-2 across vs. 3-3 in Coach. 

Pre-takeoff water and coffee.

Once in your seat, a flight attendant will come by to take any coats or jackets you'd like hung for the duration of the flight (they hand them back just before landing).  Alaska will serve complimentary water and coffee prior to takeoff on morning flights, and later in the day they might offer an alcoholic beverage.  Flight attendants will also distribute menu cards, which usually offer 2 entrees to choose from.  And, for those of us with small bladders, First Class passengers have access to a separate lavatory at the front of the plane.   


Mimosa and snack.
Now airborne, in-flight service begins with beverages and packaged snack.  Beer, wine and cocktails are complimentary throughout the flight, so even on morning treks you'll see First Class passengers sipping wine or, like me, mimosas.  By the way, my mimosa was delicious and the fruit garnish was a nice touch.  In total, I had 2 mimosas, 1/2 glass of Chardonnay, coffee and iced water - all served in glassware - during my flight.


Breakfast, part 1.
Breakfast, part 2.
Here's a big plus to flying First Class...actual food.  For breakfast, our choices were Chorizo Green Chile Quiche w/ Roma Tomato & Asparagus Garnish or Cinammon Apple & Walnut Strudel w/ Scrambled Eggs and Chicken Apple Sausage.  I chose the latter.  The two-course meal started with a plate of Fresh Seasonal Fruit and Cinnamon Scone - the scone was warm and really good, the fruit was surprisingly ripe (not always the case).  Although my entree was tasty, especially the strudel, I kept glancing over at my co-passenger's quiche that smelled and looked amazing.  This was a hearty breakfast and I was impressed with the portions, presentation and flavor.  Prior to landing, we were served warm nuts to go with our 'last call' for drinks.


Dig-E player.
For medium-haul flights (usually over 3 hours), Alaska Airlines provides First Class passengers with complimentary Dig-E players, a personal entertainment system loaded with on-demand movies, TV shows, music and news programs.  Coach passengers can rent them for $8-$10.  I watched "The Campaign" (it's hilarious!) and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" during my flight.


Of course, First Class seating comes with more attentive service.  Flight attendants will come through the aisle frequently to refill drinks or to check up on you, and prior to landing will distribute hot towels to freshen up.  The flight attendants on my trip were friendly and efficient - I didn't notice them standing around talking; they did their jobs that included giving the First Class lavatory a quick wipe down.  

Pre-landing warm nuts.

I've flown First Class on two other airlines besides Alaska, and Alaska is my favorite.  The food is better, the wine is better, there's a better variety of meals and larger portions, and I just think it's a better value for your buck than what other airlines offer.  I wish Alaska flew bigger aircraft, especially cross-country, but I was quite pleased with their First Class product and look forward to future experiences.     




  1. I must say, I thought this was a pretty interesting read when it comes to this topic. Liked the material. . .

    1. Thank you, Calvin. I appreciate the feedback. Safe travels wherever you are going next!

  2. Thank you for the info about to fly from Hawaii to Seattle and think I will upgrade.

    1. Apologies for a very late response. Did you upgrade to Hawaii, after all? The meals outbound Hawaii are very thoughtful and delicious, plus the mai tais!

  3. I really really like studying and following your publish as I discover them incredibly useful and exciting. This publish is similarly useful as well as exciting . Thank you for details you been placing on creating your website such an exciting. I provided something for my details. First Class Airfare

    1. Very much appreciate your comment. I wanted to write something that was useful to anyone that might consider upgrading; I didn't want to brag about the experience. I do think Alaska has a good domestic First Class product. Safe travels to you!

  4. Found out today that paid upgrades are NOT eligible for Board Room access.

    1. I didn't know that, and thanks for sharing. Board Room access does come with Award ticket redemption, however. And they're all-day, so you can use them for pre-departure and post-arrival, providing both airports have Board Rooms.