Inflight With Alaska Beyond

Posts from me are going to be a bit lighter over the next week as I travel to the MaldivesAs you may (or may not) know, I also have a points consulting service, whereby we help people redeem their airline miles. I have several colleagues working with me, and they’re some of the most knowledgeable and passionate people I know in this hobby. They’ve offered to pitch in and write a few posts to give me a bit more time off while I’m traveling, so hopefully you’ll enjoy the additional unique perspectives. This post is from my friend Alex, who is even more of an airline nut than I am.


Last week, Alaska Airlines hosted an event in Seattle to highlight their refreshed inflight experience. This included a two hour joyride on one of their new 737s from Boeing Field, so I likely would have snuck onboard had I not been invited. #AvGeekProblems

Living in Seattle, I fly on Alaska pretty regularly as an elite both up front and in back, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to learn that I didn’t already know, but they touted an in-flight Seattle International Film Festival screening, food from Tom Douglas (a renowned Seattle chef and restaurateur), and wine tasting drinking.

Can’t go wrong with that!

Alaska Beyond

The competition in Seattle has really heated up with Delta, so Alaska has made several changes to their main cabin product in an effort to kept flyers away from “that big bad corporate airline.” It’s called Alaska Beyond, and it sounds a little ridiculous, but I can appreciate that it’s hard to rebrand something people call airplane food, economy seats, inflight entertainment, and airline service.

Beyond Delicious

It’s clear Alaska is marketing to those in the Pacific Northwest, by sourcing from “local” businesses as Seattle’s “hometown” airline. I can’t imagine many flyers factor local wines or food into their decision when purchasing a flight, but I’m not complaining. The Sun Liquor products (especially the Hedge Timmer Gin) and buy-on-board food are all quite good.

Alaska-Airlines-First-Class-3
Sun Liquor Hedge Trimmer Gin

Beyond Entertainment

Alaska chose not to install seatback entertainment in favor of streaming entertainment to personal devices. Once fully rolled out, some streaming content will be free, with the rest available for purchase. This is hosted by Gogo, and it actually works (unlike connecting to the internet) because the media is stored on a server on each aircraft.

Alaska also introduced new Microsoft Surface tablets in lieu of the old digEplayers for rent on midcon and transcon flights (complimentary in first class). After my experience with the tablets over the last two months, I think the digEplayers were better, as they had more content and battery life seemed to be longer. At least these look prettier, and take up less space. Form over function, right?

alaska-airlines-beyond-entertainment-tablet
Alaska’s Microsoft Surface tablets 

Beyond Comfort

The Alaska Beyond project started with the introduction of new Recaro slimline seats on all 737-800 and 737-900/ER airplanes, with 110V and USB power at every seat. 737-400 and 737-700 variants are leaving the fleet in coming years, so Alaska chose not to upgrade those airplanes.

I will say that Alaska’s new Recaro seats in first class are hardly comfortable (poor legroom, awkward seatback angle), but the seats in economy actually are. I can sit comfortably at 6-foot-3 for back-to-back transcons while on a mileage run. Definitely better than the slimline seats I’ve flown on American, Delta, and United.

alaska-airlines-onboard-power
In-seat power

Beyond Service

Nothing changed here, but that’s a good thing. I would say nearly all of Alaska’s employees I’ve interacted with are fantastic. You can tell they enjoy coming to work, and it’s such a vastly different experience from flying one of the big legacy carriers.

The Event/Flight

Alaska Airlines 9668
Boeing Field (BFI) – Boeing Field (BFI)
Thursday, March 26
Depart: 12:37PM
Arrive: 2:28PM
Duration: 1hr51min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-900ER
Seat: 19D (Economy)

alaska-beyond-flightaware
Map of flightpath from flightaware.com

It started with a reception at the Museum of Flight, and I ran into several familiar faces, including Scott from TravelCodex. I found it hilarious that they had Board Room concierges serving alcohol at the event, just like at the airport. It may have only been 11:30 in the morning, but that didn’t seem to stop me people from drinking.

alaska-airlines-board-room-concierge
This really wasn’t staged

After a quick welcome from Joseph Sprague, Alaska Senior Vice President, Communications and External Relations, we were invited outside into the museum’s parking lot to board a nearly new 737-900ER. Those invited included elite frequent flyers, business partners, members of the media, and people from various departments at Alaska.

alaska-737-parking-lot
Alaska 737-900ER

alaska-airlines-737
Alaska 737-900ER

As I stepped on board the aircraft, one of the flight attendants recognized me from a Los Angeles to Seattle flight I took in December. She even remembered my drink order – a gin and tonic! This is what I mean, the people who work at Alaska are truly excellent.

alaska-airlines-economy-seat
Alaska 737 economy seat

There were gift bags at every seat, and the coolest item inside had to be the gift box from Sun Liquor with a mini of vodka, gin, and rum inside. I happened to sit in front of Erik, the head distiller at Sun Liquor, which was pretty cool. It sounded like Alaska works him day-and-night to produce enough minis for their operation, so I hope the partnership not only sticks around, but grows. 😉

The flight was maybe 60% full (I had the entire row to myself), which was nice given how empty flights aren’t a thing anymore.

alaska-airlines-737-cabin
Alaska 737-900ER cabin

We were welcomed on board by two of Alaska’s chief captains from the Seattle base, had the standard safety demo, and pushed back from the museum parking lot onto the taxiway. Never have I ever…

After a seemingly endless takeoff roll (even with an incredibly light load, 737-900ERs are runway hogs), we were airborne, with great views of SeaTac airport shortly after takeoff.

Alaska-airlines-seatac
View shortly after takeoff

Once at cruise, Joseph Sprague got on the PA to talk about how well the airline is doing financially. Alaska invited a lot of business partners and elite frequent flyers, so it seemed like a pitch to get those on board to invest. Can’t blame them for trying!

Sangita Woerner, Alaska’s new VP of marketing, was then invited up to the PA to talk about Alaska Beyond. I was surprised to find out she was only with the company for two months, given her passion and knowledge.

Microsoft Surface tablets were passed out during the welcome announcements, so when Seattle International Film Festival director Megan Griffiths was invited up to speak, passengers were able to access her films using the tablets. It should be noted that the films weren’t actually on the tablets, but were accessible through the Gogo streaming entertainment. Honestly, there was far too much going on for me to watch a movie.

Tom Douglas himself came through with the crew distributing his next buy-on-board meal item in the menu rotation, which was an ancho molasses (BBQ) pulled chicken sandwich.

tom-douglas-alaska-airlines
Tom Douglas playing flight attendant

It came with a side of coleslaw, and should have come with five or six extra napkins. It was really good for airplane food, but incredibly messy. I’m interested to see how well this can be executed and if it sticks around.

alaska-airlines-food
Tom Douglas ancho molasses pulled chicken sandwich

alaska-airlines-tom-douglas-sandwich
Tom Douglas ancho molasses pulled chicken sandwich

BBQ doesn’t photograph well, so yes, I know it looks awful, but everybody agreed it was delicious.

Flight attendants then came through with wine from Canoe Ridge winery. There was a red blend or a Sauvignon Blanc available, and when asked “red or white?” I replied with “both, please.” As you can see, that worked. 😛

alaska-airlines-wine
Alaska main cabin wine

These are the current main cabin wines for sale on Alaska and both were excellent. Both tasted far better than what I’ve had in international business or first class. Maybe it’s not the same quality on the ground, but it tasted much better at altitude.

After two glasses of wine in a short period of time, I was able to convince the flight attendant I had back in December to pose for a photo.

alaska-airlines-flight-attendant
Alaska flight attendant

Because there was so much going on, I failed to notice that we had been sightseeing along the Oregon coast. It was truly a spectacular day for this event, and Alaska seriously lucked out with the weather.

alaska-airlines-oregon-coast
Oregon coast 

At under two hours, the flight was relatively quick given all that happened. Before I knew it I was back at Boeing Field, ready for a nap. #daydrinking

In Conclusion 

While the flight was a lot of fun, I definitely didn’t learn anything I didn’t know about their product offerings as a frequent customer.

This event was definitely geared towards media not familiar with the Alaska experience. Instead of spending however much on advertising, Alaska just spent that money chartering an airplane, letting the passengers do the talking for them. Working smarter, not harder.

By inviting loyal customers and business partners who didn’t have to be there, they also created a lot of goodwill, something airlines can’t seem to do these days.

I will say that while Alaska Beyond is a lot of hype (come on, we’re talking about economy seats and buy-on-board airplane food), but at the end of the day, it really is a better experience than flying the competition.

Now I’m just eagerly awaiting the improvements to their first class product. 😉

Comments

  1. maybe i’m insane but i actually LIKED the recaro slimline on a UA flight i had a few months back — and i’m also 6’3″. felt a lot better than what i’ve experienced in other Y cabins. not going to have me jumping to fly economy or anything but not nearly as bad as i’d expected. maybe that was it… lowered expectations.

    excited for JFK-SEA to begin as i’ve wanted to try AS for some time now.

  2. So… for a flight from San Francisco to Seattle, which is better: Virgin America or Alaska? (Both for First and for Economy?)

  3. Is any blogger or insider going to bring AS to task for their uncomfortable F product? If they want to compete for premium traffic in the transcontinental market, they will have to revisit their meager legroom. Why is no one putting pressure on AS about this?

  4. @Jonathan – honestly, I think Virgin has a better product in both cabins, but I strongly prefer Alaska’s loyalty program and frequency on the route, so I’ll never even consider VX unless AS is sold out.

    @Darrin – I know, the legroom is abysmal in first class on the reconfigured aircraft. The only issue is that there’s really no space for them to increase the pitch unless they shrink the legroom in coach or remove a row, and I doubt either are going to happen. Apart from shareholders pressuring AS into increasing the F pitch, I think we’re out of luck.

  5. No need to glorify drinking so much – It really is not that cool to have a bunch of cheap wine just because it is free. thank you for the rest of the article, very informative.

  6. Lucky you to be invited to this event, I’m jealous. With regard to DL vs AS, I look at it this way:
    with the same ticket price,
    the same schedule,
    the same B737,
    Alaska’s employees are better and the loyalty program is superior to DL.
    Great job with the photos. Next time, take me with you.

  7. @Darin – I dont think Alaska is really playing for premium transcon tickets. Seattle to ATL/DC/NY/BOS is just not a big enough market that it makes it worth specially outfitting planes for transcon service. Especially since the big corporate contracts that will pay for those seats are more likely to go to Delta anyhow.

    As for that sandwhich, I don’t see how that could possibly work. Buy on board food needs to be able to stay good over multiple flights during the day. Do they put it together when you order it? If the sandwhich was sitting already made for more than a few hours the bread would turn to mush.

  8. As a 75k and Alaska Loyalist (to a fault) I am both jealous and sad I wasn’t invited.

    Maybe next time…

  9. @Done deal

    I can appreciate your thoughts on drinking, although it’s definitely meant in a humorous way more than anything else. Some people get my humor, others, not so much. 😉

  10. @Dan – I believe the flights that serve this are likely only catered ex-SEA for departures ex-SEA, so they should be relatively “fresh.”

  11. @chris – There were just a handful of AS elites on the flight, and I believe they were in the top EQM/spend for Alaska metal flights, so the qualification criteria was pretty steep.

    And hey, I wasn’t invited as an elite either, so don’t feel too bad. 🙂

  12. @Dan, I didn’t mean flatbed seats. As AS expands into longer stage length flights (midcon/transcon) folks are going to become more vocal about an F cabin that is not suited for 4,5 hours and above. If AS added just a little bit more legroom, they would be near, if not perfect.

  13. We just flew SAN-BOS in F class last weekend and I find your comments about the Recaro seats interesting. It validates my wife’s impression of them as uncomfortably tight. She hated them. I did kind of agree with her, but didn’t bag on them nearly to the extent that she did. The tablet did run out of power after about 4 hours, but fortunately my Samsung phone power cord worked to keep it going. The food (croissant French toast for breakfast and cod for dinner on the return) was outstanding. The crews for the most part (including our very funny co-pilot from Boston to San Diego) were typical of Alaska Airlines – warm and friendly. Now just do something about those seats AS, and you have an ultimate winner!

  14. I disagree about the recaro seats in Y. The leg room is good especially row 17 , but the seat are very uncomfortable. On sea-ewr about an hour in it was very hard to sit on.

  15. FYI- the new media players are Toshiba Encores, not Microsoft Surfaces. And they’re of _significantly_ higher screen quality than the old ones.

    I’ve never managed to burn the battery out on either, so can’t comment there.

    (MVP Gold flyer posting from an Alaska Beyond flight…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *