Many reading this will think I’m crazy when I explain how this flight came to be, and that I voluntarily opted for a 9 hour layover in Seattle to go visit my sister in Denver. For aviation geeks, this probably sounds like the butt of a bad airline joke about Delta always taking you through Atlanta, but here’s how I got to this point: flight prices between Chicago and Denver were astronomical for the dates that I needed to go, then it dawned on me that I still had a $100 Credit on Alaska Airlines, an apology for rebooking me on another flight in the past, so I gave it a look. Lo and behold, I could save money over the competition, and give myself an awesome day exploring Seattle - one of my all time favorite cities! Plus there was the added perk of being able to surprise my sister with bagels from Seattle Bagel Company, and to have fish and chips and a Rainer for lunch at Pacific Inn Pub - one of my favorites!
As it turns out, good things do in fact come to those who go! As I was exploring the city, I received an email from Alaska that I’d been given a complimentary upgrade to First Class due to my MVP Status with the airline.
As I mentioned above, I utilized a $100 travel credit as a portion of this booking- which in turn made this far and above the cheapest option to get to Denver. I booked this flight directly on www.alaskaair.com, but Alaska also markets and sells its flights through online travel agencies. I selected a Main Cabin fare, knowing that I could select a Premium seat for free at Check-In with my MVP status. The grand total for my flight from Chicago to Seattle to Denver was $194, which again, was less than both United and Southwest were selling their nonstop flights for on this date. I booked with my American Express Platinum Card, for its 5x Points on Airfare earning, and banked 970 Membership Rewards Points, in addition to the 4,116 Alaska MileagePlan Miles that I earned - it should be noted that because I was given a complimentary upgrade, I did not receive a First Class earning multiplier.
I arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport via Seattle’s Link Light Rail system after spending a long layover exploring downtown Seattle. After a short walk from the rail station, I arrived at the terminal and strolled up to an Alaska Airlines kiosk to print a new boarding pass for my collection. Let me just take a moment to say how much I love Alaska’s kiosks! I know that sounds odd, but they’re so responsive to use and don’t spam you with useless page after page like American’s do. In a matter of seconds, I had my boarding pass and was on my way to the TSA PreCheck lane. Security had a slight wait, but I’d say I was still through in less than 10 minutes.
Once past security, I made my way to the Centurion Lounge - which I gain access to as an American Express Platinum Card Member. There was a long line to get into the lounge as this is one of the smallest in the Centurion network, but after checking in, I only had to wait about 10 minutes before I received a text that it was my time to enter. I settled down in the bar area as it had an amazing view of the tarmac and the movement of Delta aircraft - Sea-Tac is a burgeoning Delta hub. Inside the Centurion Lounge, I enjoyed a nicely crafted, and signature, Blue Door cocktail along with only a bit of snacking knowing that I’d be eating on the aircraft.
It’s worth noting that not all guests will have this ground experience, and even more so that had I purchased a First Class ticket, I would’ve had access to Alaska’s fabulous new flagship Alaska Lounge!
We boarded following Alaska’s standard group protocol: Preboarding, First Class, Group A (MVP Gold+), B (MVP & Premium Class), C (Rear of the Aircraft), D (Front of the Aircraft), & E (Saver Fares). Given my First Class seat, I boarded with the First Class group and was among the first passengers on the plane. Upon stepping into the aircraft, I was greeted by a really fun senior flight attendant, but had to step around a much younger one who was flirting with the four younger guys in the front row - something that would become a theme. I was surprised that there was no water waiting at our seats, and no welcome beverage served, but this may have been a misalignment of expectations from having flown Delta First Class.
Seat & Cabin
I want to start by saying that the cabins of Alaska’s 737-900s & 737-900ERs are quite, well, confused… They’re relatively recently retrofit and have modern Boeing interiors and vibrant blue mood lighting, but older designed tribal patterned bulkheads and prehistoric looking seats. It just doesn’t present as a very cohesive product to me, especially after seeing what it’s like on the retrofit Airbus fleet. The First Class cabin itself is arranged in a 2-2 layout with 4 rows of seats that each feature 21” of width and 44” of pitch. The legroom and width were awesome; however, while the seat was quite plush, I struggled to get comfortable, due in part to my height and legs not reaching the floor as well as to the illy placed equipment box under the seat in front of me. First Class also had a designated lavatory at the front of the aircraft, and a curtain separating it from the Main Cabin.
As soon as boarding was completed, flight attendants came through the First Class cabin with bottled water - as opposed to having it waiting on our seats. Once we reached 10,000 Feet, drink orders were taken and I ordered my signature - a Bourbon & Ginger Ale. As a side note, I quite like that Alaska carries Woodford Reserve. Once drinks were distributed, our flight attendant came through and took dinner orders row by row, and while Alaska allows you to reserve your meal 24 hours prior to departure, it seemed like the entire cabin had been upgraded given that she didn’t make any confirmations. We had a choice of a Salad with Grilled Chicken, or a Turkey Sandwich - I opted for the latter.
It may not look like much, but this roasted turkey sandwich was actually quite excellent! It was served warm and topped with a red pepper spread, provolone cheese and banana peppers. I found it odd that the warm sandwich was served on an ice cold plate, but I got past it as I ate it so quickly. Served all at once, the sandwich also came with a bag of kettle chips, a wrapped chocolate and another bourbon & ginger ale. The food was quite good, more than sufficient for a sub 3 hour flight, and had a vibrant west coast flare as promised. After dinner, I enjoyed a lovely Alaskan Amber Ale.
Amenities & Service
In terms of First Class style amenities, the warm towel served prior to the dinner service was the only item present. There was no pillow, blanket, or amenity kit - although they really weren’t missed on such a short flight. What was present is Alaska’s EXCELLENT Beyond in flight entertainment portal that you can access on your own device. The interface is very intuitive, although you must have the GoGo Inflight app installed, and offers the most movies in the sky, a generous selection of TV series, music, games and a flight tracker. In addition, Alaska stocked Alaska Beyond Magazine at each seat. Inflight WiFi was available as well, but the free messaging component was more than enough for me.
Service, I’m saddened to say, is where this flight didn’t quite hit the mark. While I was initially optimistic with the upbeat tone the one flight attendant had set for the cabin, it became apparent once in the air that the younger flight attendant would be serving First Class that evening. While not intrinsically a problem, she was infinitely more focused on the younger men in Row 1 than attending to the rest of the cabin. She was never impolite, and always friendly when flagged down, but she HAD to be flagged down or called via the call button every time anyone else in the cabin required anything. Again, she was still very nice each time she approached, but I, and the passenger next to me, noted that we felt like a burden calling her versus being proactively approached for a drink refill - which is one of the reasons First Class is so great!
Our descent into Denver was pretty typical: bumpy due to the mountains! We arrived on time and quickly taxied to the gate, where being in the first few rows really pays off! In minutes, I was off the plan and on to get my rental car to drive to the friend’s house where I’d be staying!
It's no secret that I love Alaska, but I must admit that I was slightly disappointed by this flight. It was good, but not excellent - maybe I had my expectations set too high, Alaska has openly admitted that their First Class exists primarily for loyalty upgrades over revenue after all. At the end of the day, I loved this flight as a free upgrade, dinner was free and very tasty, I had plenty of room and my fair share of beverages; however, I don’t think I would have paid a full fare or an upgrade fee for such a short flight. That being said, I would absolutely like to try Alaska’s expanded full first class offerings on a longer flight - especially on the retrofitted Airbus fleet, or the legacy-Virgin America fleet as well! In the end, this flight was another good, if not remarkable, one in the books.