What's up with Alaska Airlines First Class?

Alaska Airlines First Class has a bit of a queer reputation. It may be one of the least aspirational long-haul first class product in the world. For example, in her trip report on her flight to Hawai'i, Mommy Points said of the seats:

"Of course these are not the fancy 'lie flat' type of seats, but they weren’t bad, and were certainly an upgrade over coach."

"An upgrade over coach" may be the best "damning by faint praise" of a first class seat I've ever read. Did they pressurize the cabin, too?

On the other hand, 100% bonus Medallion Qualification Miles and a 50% class of service bonus was enough to convince me to pony up for paid(!) first class tickets for me and my partner to fly to Kaua'i for Christmas with my family. Of course, I redeemed Barclaycard Arrival miles against the upgrade from refundable coach, turning the holiday into a cheap last-minute mileage run for my last year of Platinum Medallion status with Delta.

Four flights; eight options; one vegetarian dish

As we were hanging out in the terminal at Boston's Logan airport, my partner turned to me and asked, "this is a pretty long flight, they're going to feed us, right?"

I answered, "Hey, we're flying in first class – they've got us taken care of."

Then I started thinking, and Googled, "vegetarian food in Alaska first class." The results were not encouraging.

Let's take a look at the dishes offered on the first three legs I flew (the 4th menu didn't make it home with me):

from bos.JPG

Pretty standard airplane fare: a choice between a slab of meat and a pasta dish with red sauce. We had nothing to worry about after all!

After a night in Portland and a dinner at Pine State Biscuits, we headed to the airport for our flight to Kaua'i. Here's the menu for that flight:

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Here Alaska Airlines broke with longstanding airline tradition and replaced the boring pasta dish with...another slab of meat!

After a relaxing week on the Garden Isle, we begrudgingly headed back to the airport and boarded our flight back to Portland, where these dishes were served:

from kauai.JPG

Here Alaska decided to get even more adventurous and replaced the second slab of meat with...shellfish!

On our final return flight after a very relaxing New Year's weekend in Portland, we had two breakfast options. I enjoyed the quiche (with bacon), while my partner picked her way through a plate of scrambled eggs...with a "beef braised hash." I have no idea what a beef braised hash is, since the flight attendant was happy to serve the eggs without it, which brings me to...

Alaska Airlines flight attendants are amazing

All four legs of our trip were made incredible by the great, friendly, attentive flight attendants. They were happy to do anything possible to accommodate our dietary restrictions, happy to keep our glasses full, and even had a pretty good comedy routine congratulating passengers on getting to spend the holidays in Hawai'i. I love having a good rapport with flight attendants; it's part of the charm of flying for me.

But the hard product is pretty bad

Even "bad" might be too strong a word. But it's uncomfortable in a number of nagging ways:

  • There are no USB or AC power outlets. That's not the biggest deal in the world, but it does mean on a long flight, especially if you're connecting to another long flight (fortunately, we had an overnight stay in Portland between our transcontinental and Hawai'i legs), you're going to need to manage your battery use aggressively on your electronic devices;
  • The personal entertainment players don't fit on the tray tables during meal service. Instead of having a seat-back or fold-out entertainment system, Alaska distributes pretty sizable personal video players. They work great, and have great battery life and video selection, but they take up a lot of space. Once your meal is served, you've got to find a place to stash this unwieldy object, hopefully without losing your place in whatever movie or show you're watching. That's not fun;
  • And it's true: the seats don't recline very much.


As Mommy Points remarked so concisely, it's an upgrade over coach, and I wouldn't hesitate to fly Alaska First Class again if the price was right.

In fact, I'm taking Alaska's non-stop service between Boston and Seattle for Frequent Traveler University in late April, and I'm technically eligible for an upgrade on those flights as a Delta Platinum Medallion.

Fingers crossed!