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Monday 8 August 2022

Joyride With Alaska Airlines On Transcon route (Part 1: JFK-SEA)

 Welcome to my trip report on Alaska's flight from JFK to SEA! 

Photo: Doug Kemph 


Before I booked my A320 flight with this airline (SFO-LAX), I was looking at flying with this airline especially for the 737 MAX. At this point, the airline was only operating the MAX 9 series and this type was not operated by any airline in my home airport, so flying with this airline on a transcontinental route would be great. 

As I was spenting a few days in New York, I decided to take a day off for flying. I had a lot of destinations in my mind and that includes flying to FLL (Fort Lauderdale) with Spirit and back with Southwest or fly to Houston with United 767-400ER and back with the 737 MAX 8 but the airfare was very expensive then later on I looked at Alaska and at that point of time, they flew the MAX 9 and A321NEO on JFK-SEA-JFK sectors so after much consideration, I decided to go for it as I can fly the airline's 737 MAX 9 one way and on the return with the A321NEO. The saver airfare was quite attractive so I selected it. Later on, I received an offer to upgrade to the premium class and decided to go for it, only for the JFK-SEA sector. More legroom space will do me good especially on this 6 hours sector, so with that, I was ready for my first 737 MAX experience, well turns out my first 737 MAX experience would take place a few months later instead with Singapore Airlines. More on that to come. 

Booking with the airline

I used both the mobile app and website to navigate and I find using the website is my preference in terms of the layout and reading the information off the page.

I booked my ticket through the website. Looking through the terms and conditions, this suits me as I was able to select the seat for free, but once I choose the seat, I can't change it. This fare includes boarding the aircraft last, no refund or changes allowed unless you cancel the ticket within 24 hours after purchase. The airline encouraged me to upgrade for US$100 for both sectors to the main, I thought about it, decided to save the money instead. 

After much consideration, I decided to upgrade one of the sectors to Premium Class (JFK-SEA sector)

No issues with the website and mobile app when doing the booking. 

Brief History of Alaska Airlines 

Alaska Airlines is based in Seattle, all started in 1932 in which a series of mergers of airlines took place from that period to 1941. In 1942, more mergers took place and the airline which was known as Star Air Service at that time was renamed to Alaska Star Airlines. 2 years later, it was renamed to Alaska Airlines. During the world war 2, the airline suffered a shortage of pilots as many of them were forced to join the military to help out. After the war, the airline started off flying within the state of Alaska and a change of leadership was done in 1952. Charles Willis, Jr became the CEO of the company and introduced the DC-6 and the first airline to introduce in-flight movie. He plays a big role to introducing the jet aircraft into the airline's fleet. The airline throughout the years have faced tough competition from other airlines and have seen rivals such as Eastern, Pan Am come and go and fortunately, it managed to make it through till today. Of course it was not easy for the airline as it had went through tough times especially with the plane crashes like the MD-80 series and maintenance issue was a talking about with this airline at one time. However, the airline made it through and by the 90s, the fleet of the airline has grown big enough to give the other airlines a headache on their own especially when flying to the hub of Alaska Airlines. 

Alaska Airlines, presently,(2022) has a fleet of mostly Boeing 737s and Airbus A320/A321NEO and with its partner, Horizon Air operating both the Dash-8 and ERJ-175. With a massive order of Boeing 737 MAX coming in, the future for this airline looks bright. The planned fleet for this airline would be Boeing 737 MAX 8, 9 and -10 plus the ERJ-175 operated by Horizon Air. What would happen to the Airbus pilots? They can either convert to the 737 MAX or quit and fly with other Airbus operators. 

On the day of departure 

I decided to walk from the hotel to the train station at Aqueduct Racetrack Station which was 2 stops away from Howard Beach JFK Airport station. The walk took about 20 minutes. 

After 16 minutes of waiting, the train arrived. 

Make sure to check with the sign board to ensure you are heading towards the right direction.

Once I changed for the AirTrain, I could then relax. I had ample time to make it for my flight.

American Airlines hanger 

JFK Airport Terminal 7

It was my first time at this terminal. This is the home for Alaska Airlines at JFK Airport. 

I received the boarding pass for the return flight

Checking my flight, it was departing at 1130 hours.

These are the airlines departing from terminal 7, JFK at this time. (June 2022)

As I had no baggage, everything went like a breeze. Passing through TSA security didn't take long and within 20 minutes or so, I was at the airside. After numerous flights with Delta, I was glad to be flying on a different carrier. 

At the airside 

My flight was departing from gate 5. 

It was time to board N277AK 

Flight route: JFK-SEA 

Miles: 2,421 

My ride: N277AK (Photo: Jason Whitebird)

Boeing 737-990ER (WL)
Delivered to Alaska Airlines in August 2017
Configuration: C16 Y165
Engines: 2 X CFM56-7B27E
6517th Boeing 737
Age: 5 years (2022) 
Built in Renton (RNT)

Date of departure: 9 June 2022
Airline: Alaska Airlines 
Flight: AS185
Route: JFK-SEA
Aircraft: Boeing 737-990ER 
Registration: N277AK
Seat: 8A 
Departure terminal: 7
Departure gate: 5
Class: Premium 
Load: 90% Y Class (Rest of the classes full load) 
Schedule departure: 1130
Boarding: 1050
Push back: 1133
Take off: 1143
Flight time announced: 5 hours 45 minutes
Actual flight time: 5 hours 52 minutes
Schedule arrival: 1440 
Touch down: 1434 
SEA terminal: North Satellite 
SEA gate: N6
Departure runway: 22R 
Arrival runway:16R 

My In-Flight Experience 

This route was originally scheduled to be operated by the 737 MAX 9 but was changed to the 737-800 and later on, the 737-900ER. I was skeptical about flying the MAX because of the accidents and all the drama that went on after that. However, I feel that the aircraft has been fully scrutinised and even though I am willing to fly on it, I do have to admit, I do have some reservation against this aircraft type. Perhaps after a few flights of this aircraft type, that should help. Anyway it doesn't matter, the 737NG was operating on this flight. 

Boarding started half an hour before departure time. Looking at the number of passengers at the gate area, it looked like a full flight, possibly why the 737-900ER was operated instead of the 737-800. The 737-900 (Non-ER) was still in operation at this time and only 3 were left operation and its very unlikely this aircraft would fly on the transcon route. Anyway, once on board, I made my way to the seat greeted by the friendly crew at the front of the cabin. 

This young Boeing 737-900ER cabin looks pretty inside and I got myself settled down quickly with my seatmates appearing not long after. For this flight, I took along with my Ipad and airpod as I knew I am most likely won't be able to nap on this daytime flight. 

The service on board was good, crew came around to offer in-flight preorder meal and snacks. For some reasons, I wasn't able to pre-order so I just had the free snacks received from the cabin crew. It was a waste because I wanted to try the signature fruit and cheese meal. Never mind, there is always next time! For this flight, there were 2 beverage service and somehow I managed to get through the almost 6 hours flight without issue. The better legroom space in this class does helps. 

As the airline focus on streaming on our own devices, WiFi was also available with a fee of $8 for the entire flight, was it worth it? Perhaps. Comparing this and Jetblue on similar transcon routes, The New York based airline is my preference as it has the In-Flight Entertainment system, Free Wifi and a better Economy class seat in my opinion. As for the in-flight service? I find the service on both flights pretty similar. Both receiving the same marks for in-flight service. 

Anyway, our flight had turbulence from time to time but landing in rainy Seattle was a surprisingly smooth affair. While the plane was on approach,  I was lucky enough to spot the undelivered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. After arrival, I would have about 9 hours of transit before my return flight to JFK. Stay tuned for my next trip report. 

First Class 

This is the older First Class product seat featuring 41' inch legroom space and 20' inch seat width with 4 rows of 4 First Class configured on this aircraft. 

The design on the bulkhead wall, what do you think of it? Personally I like it. 

The recliner seats on this old First Class cabin

Each seat comes with a blanket and a box of water.

Well, it does look comfortable but is it worth the extra few hundred bucks? That's up to you to decide. Personally, for this flight duration and if I do need some rest, I may pay for the upgrade if its available. 

Premium Class

The seats are similar to the Economy Class, only difference is the extra 4' inches legroom space. What's premium about it? Complimentary alcoholic drink and priority boarding. Besides these, there is nothing else difference in terms of service between the Economy Class and the Premium cabin. I paid $159 for the upgrade, was it worth it? The extra legroom space does help but other than that, nothing to shout about. 

This was my seat, 8A. 

There is a divider to split the 2 classes (First and Premium)

Notice the legroom space? 

We were waiting for departure. 

I was able to fit my Ipad in the seat pocket 

The power charging socket and usb charging point are convenientally located (bottom) near the seat pocket. 

I appreciated the legroom space 

Verdict: This product is definitely not the strongest in the market but at least it does have some advantages over the standard Economy Class such as better legroom space and priority to board (important especially for overhead storage). The seat is comfortable but extra padding on it would be better. Overall, I am satisfied with my experience on this class. But would I pay more just to fly on it? Depends on the flight duration, if its less than 3 hours, I won't unless they offer a good deal. 

What's available in the seat pocket?

Finally on board Alaska's 737, a popular type in the airline. I wished I was on the MAX 9 though as I had flown on 737-900ER many times. 

Economy Class 

The Boeing Sky Interior is certainly well-liked by both the crew and the passengers. 

In-Flight Entertainment

Ipad version 

The in-flight menu 

A good variety of beverages was available upon request. 

There was a good selection of movies to choose from 

Seat map was available for viewing. The streaming connection to my Ipad was quite fast, no issue watching the movies on it. 

I wonder whether this airline has plans to follow Delta and Jetblue by offering complimentary WiFi. Perhaps they could do so and charge for faster speed Wifi. 

Even though there were choices of movies on the IFE system, I decided to watch the movies I downloaded from Netflix. 

Enjoying my drink and snack while watching the movie. 

The mobile phone version of the airline's IFE system 

I could also use it to check on my flight's progress. 

A visit to the lavatory 

There are 3 lavatory at the rear of the 737 MAX 9/900ER configuration. I will definitely avoid sitting near the rear of this aircraft due to the noise. 

The size of the lavatory is ok and the condition of the toilet was clean. 

Window shot photos 

This is my first ride flying on a 737 with the split-scimitar winglets also known as the AT Winglet, featuring the blended, split-scimitar and raked winglets. Some of the airlines of the 737NG have upgraded the winglets to this type and all the 737 MAX aircraft come installed with this winglets. It is said to offer up to 2.2% fuel reduction and a slight increase range which airlines are looking for. 

After take off, we were greeted by a good view of the city. 

The view of JFK Airport 

On approach to Seattle 

It was a rainy condition when we started descending into Seattle. Weather forecast informed us that the city would be experiencing showers through out the day and that ruined my plan. 

This is Boeing Renton Factory (below) with many 737s being prepared for delivery. 

Even though it was pouring, the flight arrival to Seattle was smooth. 

It was my first time at Seattle Airport, not the ideal weather to visit. 

With that, my 6 hours flight on the 737-900ER is over. I have to admit, time went past quickly on this flight. 

My flight summary 

On arrival at Seattle 

I did consider heading to town to explore the city but because of the weather, I decided to stay put at the airport.

With that, I stayed around at the airport for 7 hours before heading back to JFK that day, and more on that in my next trip report. The next trip report is even more exciting, why? N927VA was assigned to fly me back to JFK. This is one of the 2 Airbus A321NEO featuring the 'More to Love' special livery.

My rating:

Airline's website/mobile app: 3/5 
Airport staff at JFK Airport: 4/5
In-Flight Service: 4/5 
Cleanliness of aircraft: 5/5
Condition of the seat: 4.5/5
In-Flight Entertainment: 3/5 (I prefer the IFE System) 
In-Flight Snack and drink: 3.5/5 
Seat comfort: 3.5/5 
Cabin interior: 4.5/5 
Punctuality: 5/5
Overall rating: 35/50
Percentage: 70%
Verdict: Above average 


The lack of an In-Flight Entertainment system and the underwhelming premium class product with this airline especially on a 6 hours flight wasn't so bad after all. I guess my entertainment on my Ipad and a couple of drink service kept me occupied through out the flight. Overall it was a pleasant flight and I won't hesitate to fly on a narrow-body for flights longer than 5 hours depending on the airline's configuration of the aircraft. The important thing for longer flights on a narrow-body is it is better to pay more for seats with better legroom space, as that makes a difference especially for tall passengers. 

Some folks complain about flying on single aisle aircraft on 3 hour flight and longer and this is understandable as single aisle means inconvenience for both crew and passengers such as passengers queueing up to use the lavatory while the crew had to do their in-flight service with the trolleys. Fortunately, I didn't have to find out on this flight as the time I used the toilet, the passageway was clear. I hope the next time I fly with Alaska's 737, it would be on the MAX. 

Hope you enjoy this trip report! Have a great one!

For my previous trip report (Delta Airlines A321CEO MSP-LGA), click here
For my next trip report (Alaska Airlines Part 2: SEA-JFK), click here


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