Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Flying On Alaska Airlines First Class From SFO to LAX

 Welcome to my trip report on Alaska Airlines A320!



This former Virgin America's Airbus A320 N838VA is being prepared for departure to Seattle at Los Angeles Airport. This aircraft type will be withdrawn in 2023 and replaced by the 737 MAX. 

On board N844VA, Alaska Airlines Airbus A320. 

This was my 3rd flight of the day, I was feeling tired. It was nice to enjoy this premium class even though the flight was short. (Notice the A319/A320 safety card? Only the A320 is operating now.) 

Introduction

Flying with Alaska Airlines has always been in my mind for quite a while. Since the SFO-LAX was a repositioning flight, I need to make sure I have enough time between my arrival flight from ATL and the departure flight. I had a choice between this and United Airlines A320. As I had already flown with UA's A320, Alaska was the clear choice over here. In addition, the airline would be retiring its A320 family so to fly on this aircraft type was an easy choice too. For those wondering why don't I fly to LAX direct or fly the SFO back to New York? The main reason is for the aircraft types (757-300 ATL-SFO) and 757-200 (LAX to MSP), I couldn't find anything else just to ride on the 757s. 

Booking with this airline

The mobile app while is simple to use, can be troublesome to navigate especially when one is looking for the aircraft type of a particular flight. You need to click on the flight, check on the flight details then click on the back option to switch back to the list of flights, for this, I prefer using the web version. Anyway, I went ahead to use the mobile app to book my flights. I tried using my Ipad to access the airline's app but unfortunately, like Spirit airlines, it turns out like that. No full screen size for ipad version (2022) for the airline's app but you can still continue to use the app without issues. 


There were a number of flights including the ERJ-175 flights operated by Horizon Air. I would have gone for the ERJ-175 option, but the last flight was the only option for me and it was operated by the A320 (Not a bad thing actually)


This was how much I paid for the flight, I was quoted $126 for the upgrade to first class. I was glad I waited. 



I choose the window seat, later on just before the day of departure, the cabin was about 3/4 occupied. 


$21 was a great offer and I didn't have to think twice about it. Furthermore, this would considered to be my very first First Class experience, but the airline’s first class product is not like the Qatar, Emirates, ANA or Singapore Airlines but more of a domestic first class or some people would considered it a business class. 

Do note: There is no first class lounge access for paid/miles upgrading of classes. 


Even though it was a night flight, I was glad to grab a window seat. 


History of Alaska Airlines' Airbus fleet (Virgin America)

Alaska Airlines Group acquired Virgin America in April 2016 to increase its home turf in Seattle and when Virgin America was struggling financially, Alaska Group decided it was a golden chance for the Seattle based airline to increase its presence to fight off Delta Airlines and it was delighted to have won the bid war against Jetblue. About 2 years later, Virgin America brand disappeared as its operation has been fully intergrated into Alaska Airline's.

Virgin Group set up this airline initially as Virgin USA and was expected to start flights in mid-2005. Due to difficulty finding investment in the airline, the launch date for the airline to take off was delayed and later on the name was changed to Virgin America. So this airline didn't exactly had the dream start that the management was hoping for. 

After a lot of turbulence in securing the rights to start commercial flights, the airline finally took off in 2007, setting up its base at San Francisco. It operated with losses for a few years until the 3rd quarter of 2010 when it finally made its first profit. This airline was the first to offer WiFi Access which is a big thing back then. The airline continues to expand including introducing routes to Canada which unfortunately didn't last long due to the high operating cost. In 2011, The airline announced a firm order of 60 A320 aircraft with half of them, the NEO version. This order later was modified with some cancellation of the A320CEO and some of the remaining aircraft converted to A321NEO. This airline was one of the first airline to ordered the A320NEO series. Lufthansa was the first to take delivery of the A320NEO while Virgin America was the first to operate the A321NEO. It turns out later that these new aircraft were leased. 

Alaska merger (2016-2018)

A number of airlines were monitoring this airline's situation and in late 2015, Virgin America received a few offers from other airlines regarding a takeover. It turns out that Jetblue and Alaska's offers were the most interesting and after much consideration from the Virgin Group, they agreed a deal with Alaska Airlines to sell Virgin America to them for $2.6 billion including the aircraft leases, debts and the airport slots and routes.

After Alaska Airlines took over the airline, the Alaska Group took about 2 years to intergrate Virgin America into the group and that includes standardising the fleet into 2 types, retiring the Airbus family and the Bombardier Q400, only operating ERJ-175 and Boeing 737 (NG and MAX) in the near future. The first thing Alaska Airlines did when it inherit Virgin America's fleet was to retire the A319CEO (returning them back to the lessor) and slowly retire the A320CEO (flying them till the end of the lease). As the airline wasn't able to cancel the lease of 10 A321NEO, they integrated that aircraft into the fleet temporary and would operate them until the arrival of 737 MAX 10 or perhaps retire them as long as there are enough 737 MAX 9 to replace the A321NEO fleet. From what I heard, the lease of the Airbus planes is expensive so this could be another reason why the airline is looking forward to getting rid of them. The management likes the A321NEO but because of the expensive lease and the preference to operate a common fleet type, sadly, the A321NEO has to bid farewell, but the good news for the aircraft is it won't have any problem finding a new home. 

I was wondering will the airline extend the lease of the A321NEO if the fleet of 737 MAX 10 fails to be delivered as scheduled due to the outgoing issues with the FAA. As for now, Boeing is hoping to get the aircraft certified for commercial service before the year end (2022) to convince the regulators with the new cockpit alert requirements. Boeing has to meet the conditions by the end of this year with the congress. Failing to do so, may require them to rework the jet crew’s alerting system which results to additional training for the pilots and the MAX 10 could become a different type rating with the -8 and -9 MAX for the pilots, this would mean additional cost for the airline! 

This is the Boeing 737 MAX 10 (Photo: Bill Wang) 


Virgin America was the first operator of the Airbus A321NEO (Photo: Airbus)



Unfortunately, I didn't get to experience Virgin America's service but I heard a lot of postive reviews on this airline. This is my friend's trip report on it (Carfield), his trip reports are exceptional! Click here for the link. 

Aircraft check!

Checking Flightradar24, N844VA gets the honour to fly me to LAX!


This is San Francisco Terminal 2 




As it was dinner time, I decided to go to a nearby restaurant and grab a bite. The beverages and food at the airport is definitely on the pricey side. 

I chose the chicken sandwich which tasted not bad. 



Flight route: SFO to LAX 


Miles: 337 

Time to board! 



My ride: N822VA 

Airbus A320 (leased from Merx Aviation June 2018)
Virgin American aircraft (2011 to 2018)
Alaska Airlines (2018 to present) 
Delivered to Alaska Airlines in 2018
Configuration: C12 Y138
Engines: 2 X CFM56-5B4/3
4581th Airbus A320 
Built in Toulouse
Note: This aircraft would be retired in 2023 when the lease ends

This aircraft was absorbed into Alaska's fleet from Virgin America (Photo: Roland Bergmann - Spotterteam Graz) 

In Virgin America's livery 


Now in Alaska's livery (Photo: Jonathan Morgan)


Date of departure: 7 June 2022
Airlines: Alaska Airlines
Flight: AS768 
Route: SFO-LAX
Aircraft type: Airbus A320CEO 
Seat: 2A (First Class) 
Departure terminal: 2
Departure gate: D8 
Scheduled departure: 2228
Load in F class: Full 
Boarding: 2159
Push back: 2226
Take off: 2237
Flight duration: 1 hour 13 mins 
Actual flight time: 56 mins
Scheduled arrival: 2333
Touch down: 2333
Departure runway: 28L
Arrival runway: 24L
Arrival terminal: 6 

First Class Cabin 

This is a new First Class cabin product by Alaska Airlines who chosen this design by Recaro to enhance the passenger's experience. This new product was launched in 2018 and has been rolling out progressively in the fleet. For this aircraft Airbus A320, there are 3 rows of 4 First Class seats at the front of the aircraft, easy for the crew to spend more attention on these passengers flying on this class. With a 21-inch seat width and 40 inches of legroom space, this is comfortable for longer routes, but for first class type of service, perhaps a flat bed seat would be better. 

The question for some frequent travellers is do they prefer a more premium business class flat bed seat or this product? If it's a day flight, I won't mind travelling on this product but for a night flight, I am more likely to take a nap, I would definitely prefer a lie-flat business class seat. 



The 2 Photos below (From Alaska Airlines)

It's a pity that the airline isn't keeping this aircraft longer. Spending a lot of money to refurblished the A320 family only to retire them soon, isn't it more economical to retain the Virgin's cabin and operate them until the 737 MAX enters the fleet and replace them one by one? 


The mood lighting certainly enhance the comfort level of today's travelling.


More photos of the First Class Seat 

What is supposed to be the placement of the In-Flight Entertainment Screen for a lot of airlines, is a magazine holder for Alaska's new products (all classes). 

This magazine holder consists of the airline's safety card, disposal bag and the in-flight entertainment information and in-flight menu. 


The leg support 


The gap between the seats allow you to take a peek a the cabin crew's station in the front.


Very nice legroom space 


Both charging port and socket are available for all the First Class passengers 


The front row seat (row 1A and B)


The armrest 


My verdict: To be honest, I find this more of a premium economy product rather than first class as comparing with the competitors, the seats on this class seem quite underwhelming. Even though you have the 40' inch legroom space and wider seat width than Economy Class, you can only recline to a certain angle and with a seat mate besides you, you need to climb over him or her to get aisle access. Without the In-Flight Entertainment screen, you need to use your own device for streaming or the paid wifi offered by the airline. I rather have the personal screen (PTV)  in front of me than to use my own device. So will I pay full fare to experience this on a longer sector? Probably not, I am fine sitting behind. 


There is a small pocket for you to place in the small items such as handphone, earpiece, but nothing bigger than a mini Ipad, for Ipads, you can place it inside the magazine folder. 


Sorry for the lack of photos and for the Economy and Premium Class products, you can check them out on my upcoming A321NEO flight with this airline, the products are the same. I will post the link here once the reports are done. 

My in-flight experience 

It's a rare occasion that I get to fly on a class above Economy so I was looking forward to this flight. This aircraft arrived on time from Washington D.C and will fly its last flight for the day to LAX. My biggest worry about flying on the last flight of the day is if anything serious happens, the flight gets cancelled and I would most likely be put onto a next flight which means my hotel booking would be affected and also depending on the flight I get rescheduled, I might miss the following day's flight to MSP. Thankfully, nothing of such happened. Boarding started with the people with disability to board first followed by First Class passengers and it was great to be able to be one of the first to board. 

Once on board, there were 2 crew chit chatting away, ignoring my presence as I made my way to my seat. I wondered whether did they notice me walking pass them. Not a good start to the flight! Got myself settled with the seats around me occupied. I noticed a packet box of drink was at my seat so that means no welcome drink service? I find this strange considering this is first class and even on my premium class experience with Virgin Atlantic, a pre-departure drink service was served. Anyway back to the flight, a couple of avation enthusiasts were sitting behind me and they were talking loud enough for me to hear what they are talking about from the start to the arrival. Once we left the gate, the captain made his introductory announcement and updated us on our flight route and weather. I enjoyed these seats, for a change as I was able to fully stretched out my legs (I am 6 foot 4). Later on during the flight, we were given a snack meal but the crew did it in a dimmed blue mood lighting, why wasn't the light turned on? It made it a bit challenging for me to check the snacks on the basket which the crew told us to choose. 

The rest of the flight was uneventful. The conversation behind me kept going, that's how quiet the front of the aircraft is, I better not get too used to it! We touched down exactly on time and that's the end of the flying trip for me, I couldn't wait to rest. 

What's going on on board Alaska Airlines?


For this short flight, I didn't bother using the streaming service. Just rested and enjoy the more comfortable cabin that I normally fly on. 




For First Class passengers, you are allowed to choose any of these (below). 


The safety card 


The disposal bag 


What's available for drink service? 

Even though there was a box of water available at my seat, I opt for another one as I intended to keep one for later. 


I can't remember what are the choices but instead of picking my usual Biscoff, I went for this instead (below), quite tasty. 


In-Flight Entertainment (Personal Mobile Device) 

 $8 seems reasonable for longer flights. 





I was able to keep track of my flight progress and messenging is complimentary for all passengers. 


Some window shot photos

I was lucky to see this plane, its like a good omen! This is N927VA, easily recognised by the mismatched nose cone. Few days later, this aircraft flew me from SEA to JFK! 


The overview of SFO Airport 




We touched down smoothly at LAX Airport. 


My flight summary 




After my flight, I headed straight to the hotel 


This is the LAX- Four Points by Sheraton. I was glad I was just staying for a night. 


Everything inside the room looks old and worn, to make it worse, the shower spray wasn't working and I was too tired to send a complaint. The next morning after checking out, I managed to find somewhere to shower before heading to the airport for my exciting flight to MSP. 




My rating 

Airline's website/mobile app: 3/5
Airport staff at SFO Airport: 4/5 
In-Flight Service: 2.5/5
Cleanliness of aircraft: 4/5 
Condition of the seat: 5/5
In-Flight Entertainment: 3.5/5
In-Flight snack: 4/5 (considering the timing of the flight, a light snack like this is acceptable) 
Seat comfort: 3.5/5 (Considering this a premium product) 
Cabin interior: 4.5/5 (Looks bright and clean - I like it)
Punctuality: 5/5
Overall rating: 39/50
Percentage: 78%
Verdict: Great! 

Conclusion

Finally I ticked this 90 years old airline off my list, it has been an airline that I wanted to fly on for a long time. It's unimaginable at first that I would be flying on Airbus aircraft with Alaska Airlines as this airline has long been a loyal Boeing customer since the 737-200 days. Even though this flight is far from a perfect one, but I enjoyed every minute especially on a class cabin that I rarely set foot on. Despite the short duration of this flight, it was nice to be able to stretch my legs. Unless the airfare is at a reasonable rate, I will happily, be sitting at the back of the aircraft or maybe the premium class which I will cover on my next Alaska trip report, so stay tuned for that! So for my flights with this airline, I will be covering all 3 classes. Hope you enjoy this trip report. 


For the first flight of the day trip report (Delta Airlines A321NEO BOS-ATL), click here
For my previous trip report (Delta Airlines Boeing 757-300 ATL-SFO), click here
For my next trip report (Delta Airlines Boeing 757-200 LAX-MSP), click here

Thanks for reading! 
Charles 

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