Alaska Airlines Introducing Extra Legroom Economy Seating

Alaska Airlines made some pretty significant announcements during their annual investor day conference today.

To summarize the changes:

  • Alaska Airlines will be introducing a new extra legroom economy section called Premium Class, which will feature 3-4″ of extra legroom, plus additional amenities
  • Alaska Airlines will be increasing first class seat pitch from 36″ to 41″, which will be industry leading seat pitch for domestic first class
  • This will be done on 60 planes by the end of 2016, and on the remaining planes by the end of 2017

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Alaska Airlines Premium Class

Clearly Alaska is taking the lead from American, Delta, and United here, which offer Main Cabin Extra, Comfort+, and Economy Plus, respectively.

Here’s what we know about Alaska’s Premium Class:

Customers who upgrade to Premium Class will get priority boarding and enjoy three to four inches more legroom compared with a standard coach seat. In addition, Alaska Airlines plans to offer additional amenities to further enhance the Premium Class in-flight experience. This upgrade option will be available to Alaska Airlines elite Mileage Plan members on a complimentary basis at booking or day of travel dependent on status and fare purchased.

Upgrade pricing and details on the included amenities will be announced closer to customer availability.

While the exact details haven’t yet been announced, Alaska plans on offering additional amenities in Premium Class. Perhaps they’ll take the lead from Delta by offering free drinks and snacks in Premium Class.

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Will Premium Class seats come with free food?

They also suggest that MVP Gold 75K and MVP Gold members will be able to reserve Premium Class seats at the time of booking, while perhaps MVP members will be able to reserve them within 24 hours (or so) of departure.

This new Premium Class will be available on the 737-800s, 737-900s, and E175s. This won’t be available on the 737-400s and 737-700s.

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Alaska economy on the 737

Changes To Alaska First Class

To make room for the new Premium Class, Alaska is adjusting the first class cabins on some of their planes.

First class seat pitch will be increased from 36″ to 41″ on the 737 aircraft which will feature Premium Class, which is a pretty significant improvement. Alaska is basically going from offering the worst first class seat pitch to the best first class seat pitch among US carriers.

Alaska-Airlines-First-Class-4
Alaska 737 first class seat pitch will be greatly improved

The bad news is that the first class cabin will be reduced from 16 seats to 12 seats on the 737-800s, which is bad news for those hoping to upgrade or book discounted first class.

Alaska-Fleet

All-in-all:

  • 737-800 seat count will be reduced by four seats, from 163 to 159; this will happen in the form of them losing four First Class seats and gaining 30 Premium Class seats
  • 737-900 seat count will be reduced by three seats, going from 181 to 178; this will happen by removing three Economy Class seats
  • E175 seat count will remain 76, though 12 Premium Class seats will be added (not sure how exactly that’s happening)

Bottom Line

It’s hardly surprising to see Alaska following the lead of other US airlines, especially as they’re fiercely competing with Delta in Seattle. Presumably they’re both trying to retain their elite members and also generate some revenue with this new product. I’m curious to see the full details of the product offering in the coming months.

What do you make of Alaska’s Premium Class? Are you happy to see it, or sad to see the reduction in first class capacity as a result?

Comments

  1. Lucky,

    If you still lived in Seattle and flew around 65K miles a year would you stick with AA or transfer loyalty to Alaska? My work travel is around 30K miles and primarily on America from CLT or the midwest. However I find Alaska very desirable for transcontinental leisure travel because they fly direct to so many places. I’m wondering with America’s program devaluation and the fact that I’ll get half the miles on my AA account if I fly Alaska if I should the change.

    I’m also hoping that Alaska chooses to differentiate themselves through a traditional FF program.

    Andrew

  2. This is really tempting to me. I am Seattle based and fly about 30% of my miles on Alaska and 70% on AA/BA/Oneworld. But I have been AA loyal, including flying indirect when I could have flown nonstop with Alaska. My only concern with shifting over to AS has been the lack of any extra legroom coach and substandard F. With the AA changes coming, I already determined that if I would likely qualify again for EXP in 2016, but just barely because of the reduced credit for AS flights…or I could credit to AS and BA and earn BA Gold and fall just short of AS MVP Gold.

    At this point I’d say I’d rather be AS MVP Gold, BA Gold, and fly more non-stops…particularly since pretty soon AS First and Premium Economy will be better than comparable products on AA. Then if you consider the additional mileage earned on Alaska, it seems like it becomes a no brainer.

  3. This is welcome, though long overdue.

    At one point a few years ago, I held both UA 1K and AS MVPG status. I would fly AS nonstops for meetings near DCA and MCO, and then up and down the West Coast. But then the upgrades stopped coming on the transcons (does anyone actually get upgraded on AS transcons anymore?). I could live with that except that their seating only provided eight decent seats in Y—aisle and window in the two exit rows. Those filled up fast, so if I made a reservation less than a couple of weeks before flying, I was banking on being upgraded. I remember standing up after an MCO-SEA flight, not in the exit row, and I was literally hobbled—I had a bit of trouble walking off the plane from how badly my knees had been jammed for six hours. And that was it. I dropped down to MVP status the next year, and then nothing afterwards. And I told everyone I knew that AS needed an answer to the E+ trend.

    Now that it’s here, and now that AS has some new East Coast nonstops I’d be likely to use, will I switch back? (I moved from UA 1K to AA EP in the meantime). It’s quite possible. I’d be giving up the AA systemwide upgrades, but those are becoming less valuable (and heaven help you trying to use them on the A321T LAX-JFK flights). I wouldn’t get any upgrades on the transcons (they’ll be even harder to score with the removal of seats), but I could always bank on decent legroom. It’s tempting.

    So, late, but well done, AS. Now get this rolled out ASAP.

  4. @Andrew

    “I’m also hoping that Alaska chooses to differentiate themselves through a traditional FF program.”

    What do you mean here? AS is widely considered to have one of the best FF programs out there. They have partnerships with lots of great airlines (CX, EK) and make it surprisingly easy to use your miles. Wouldn’t any “differentation… through a traditional FF program” actually worsen their offering to FFs?

  5. @Frank – I assume that what Andrew is saying is that he’s hoping AS does not follow the lead of the Big 3 and move to a revenue based FF program. I agree that AS has one of the best programs in the domestic game now…and I’m certainly hoping that they leave it that way.

  6. It’s funny how good is a premium on your American Airlines. In Europe, BA give free food on every flight – and it’s decent too. Ryanair, which is the worst airline ever, don’t give food on theirs

  7. Great timing. I was just starting to think about which airline to fly/credit in 2016. Given that I’m based in SEA, there was no doubt I’d be on a lot of AS metal for domestic and BA/DL for international. But I was debating crediting miles and status towards AA.

    Overall, the value of MVPG 75K is pretty limited – Alaska F was marginal at best and even then, it was nearly impossible to get upgraded on a transcon like JFK or EWR. But with this, I will absolutely make sure to get at least MVPG.

  8. Thank god! I was stuck in 1F from PVR/SEA. I’m 6’6″, and I was doing the old plant-my-feet-above-my-head-on-the-bulkhead move just to stretch. This will be a welcome change.

  9. If AS really wanted to up the ante, they would make 737 Premium Economy 5 seats accross instead of 6. Reducing the number of F seats is the wrong way to go, but providing more shoulder room in PE would make up for the loss of 4 F seats. Leg room is over rated for all but a few passengers.

  10. I fly with AA, and will hit ExPlat this year after many years at Plat. I used to be based out of DCA and flew Alaska quite a bit.

    My sense with AS is that they upsold F more aggressively than any other carrier. I bought my way up to F on virtually every AS flight I flew. Why not? Paying $150 for a transcon upgrade seemed worthwhile. My second office is in LAX, and flights up the west coast can almost always be upgraded for less than $100. Many of these times, I’d look and see an upgrade list 15-20 names long (esp on DCA-LAX/PDX or EWR/SEA).

    If AS wants to convert significant high profit business travelers, they need to get serious about upgrading frequent flyers instead of selling upgrades at a song to either DL or AA elites or regular flyers.

  11. I agree, this is long overdue, I also agree with what Ken said. Wider seats is what I believe the vast majority of customers are looking for. I would have settled for a compromise between the two.

  12. Seriously thinking of switching from DL to AS. I have been DM for years and 1MM with Delta. Now with all the hoops DL makes even DM flyers go through, I asked AS for a FF match. They gave me 75K status for 2016. Now that they have these products my choice has just gotten easier.

  13. +1 J Zip. DL DM here, based in SEA. No brainier in my mind as I do a fair bit of international travel. Just recently matched over to 75K. Now I think any international on DL gets credited to Delta of course, but domestically where I used to connect on DL, now I’ll bias domestic travel to AS non-stop in addition to crediting any BA/EK flights to AS. Thinking it should easily keep me as DL Plat, maybe DM w the Delta Reserve MQD waiver and the. AS MVP Gold, poss 75K. Not a bad set up in my mind.

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