What’s Alaska Airlines First Class Like?

This past weekend I flew Alaska Airlines first class roundtrip from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, and wanted to report back on the experience. This isn’t a full trip report about the two flights, but rather just a reflection on Alaska’s overall first class product.

Back in the day when I lived in the Pacific Northwest I flew Alaska all the time, though it has been a while since I’ve flown with them. So I figured I’d share my overall impression of the Alaska first class experience.

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Alaska’s 737-900 aircraft feature 16 first class seats.

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I find the pitch in Alaska’s first class is a bit worse than on other carriers — SeatGuru says it’s 36″, which sounds about right. I definitely prefer the comfort of American’s domestic first class seats, though Alaska’s are perfectly fine for a three hour flight (I’ve still never flown them on a transcon, or worse, from the east coast to Hawaii with a stop on the west coast).

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Before departure there was bottled water at each seat, and on the outbound there were even a couple of biscoffs. On the outbound we were also offered pre-departure beverages, while we weren’t on the return, probably due to the delay. They typically offer pre-departure beverages of choice, which is a nice touch.

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Alaska finally has power ports on most (or maybe even all) of their 737s. Back when I flew them frequently they didn’t have any power ports, which I found to be extremely frustrating. So while none of their planes have built-in entertainment, I appreciate that they have both a USB and 110v outlet.

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Alaska is unique when it comes to catering. They serve at least some food in first class on almost all flights, even hour-long flights. I don’t know of any other U.S. carrier where that’s the case. So even on a 60 minute flight they serve food.

Alaska’s food is pretty good, at least in comparison to what’s offered by other U.S. carriers. I also find that Alaska is one airline where you’re unlikely to gain weight in first class, because their portions aren’t as over-the-top as other airlines, and aside from longer flights, they don’t have over-the-top desserts.

However, they also don’t have meal choices on medium-haul flights.

On the outbound there was a pasta dish, a side salad, and a lemon square bar for dessert.

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On the return flight there was chicken with rice and spinach, a side salad, and a packaged chocolate chip cookie for dessert.

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Alaska also has a solid beverage selection. I especially love their liquor from the Pacific Northwest.

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The crater lake hazelnut espresso vodka is really good. I also quite like the Sun Liquor gin.

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Perhaps what sets Alaska apart the most are the employees. I don’t drink the Alaska Airlines Kool-Aid quite to the degree of others, which is to say that many people in the Pacific Northwest make Alaska Airlines employees sound like they’re exceptional across the board. I haven’t found that to be the case.

However, on average, I find Alaska flight attendants to be among the best of any U.S. airline. Despite growing so much, the airline still sort of has a hometown feel, and their flight attendants are mostly friendly and professional. Both the crew on the outbound and return were top notch.

Speaking more generally of Alaska first class:

  • On transcon and Hawaii flights, Alaska has menus, a multi-course meal, a choice of mains, and a proper dessert
  • Portable tablets are available in first class on most flights over 3.5 hours
  • All (or almost all) Alaska 737s have Gogo wifi, and feature streaming movies and music, which can play to your device
  • If you’re on a paid first class ticket (either in cash or miles — just upgrades don’t qualify) you get complimentary access to Alaska lounges
  • Alaska has started reconfiguring some 737s, to increase first class seat pitch from 36″ to 41″; unfortunately this comes at the expense of four first class seats, though

Bottom line

Alaska Airlines first class is pretty no frills — the legroom isn’t great (at least on the non-reconfigured planes) and there’s no seatback entertainment. At the same time, their crews are among the best in the U.S., and they serve some food on almost all flights, even if the portions are small (which is probably a blessing, since it’s one of the few airlines where I feel like their meals don’t have 2,000 calories).

If you’ve flown Alaska first class, what was your experience like?

Comments

  1. What the hell is up with that glittery Inuit prayer rug thing mounted at the front of the cabin? Anyone?

  2. What happened to that power port? It looks disgusting!!!! I also don’t get why airlines insist to offer Dasani water. Yes, I know it is a contract with Coca-Cola but that water is simply tap water in a bottle with a bunch of bad stuff added to it. It is not a mineral water and it tastes terrible in my opinion.

  3. Santastico,

    I’ve noticed you’ve written about Dasani water a number of times. It’s not spring water, but Dasani gets the job done IMO. Neutral tasting and hydrating. I would rather have Dasani in cabin than Evian if only one choice was available. Fiji or Voss would be great but is unrealistic to expect on US domestic flights.

  4. The Browne wines are very nice; much better than what is typically served in domestic first class of other airlines.

    You are lucky to have gotten a pre departure beverage service; in the past year I have only gotten this on one out of 10 flights with Alaska.

  5. Ben,

    The increase of pitch results in a loss of 4 first class seats on the -800 (which is already complete). -900’s will retain 16 seats, which will soon represent half of the fleet.

  6. I recently flew LAX-PDX and back in AS first. On the outbound, the crew seemed very disorganized, although they were extremely pleasant. Drink orders were taken before takeoff and promptly delivered once airborne, but on this ~105min segment, I didn’t receive my meal until around top of descent and I was in row 3 on the 739ER, so it was a few minutes after that when the last row got their meals. My tray was collected just after we passed through 10,000 feet. Again, the crew was extremely friendly and they were working hard, it just seemed they didn’t have all their ducks in a row. It’s not like I had anything else to do or somewhere to be!

    On the return the following day the equipment was swapped from the 739 to 738 with only 12 F seats, which caused some confusion at the gate when folks hadn’t updated their mobile boarding passes. With a different crew but equally friendly FA, the meal service was just as slow.

    Now, the food was decent tasting and decidedly edible. The same meal was offered in both directions (no choices). Both FAs described it as “Parmesan rice with vegetables” which I suppose is technically correct but it was in fact risotto. Based on the time it took again between each set of trays leaving the galley, I think the meal and plating were simply too complicated for such a short flight. As nice as it is to have a hot meal in cold weather, perhaps a nice cold salad with warm garlic bread or soup would be more appropriate for the short block time. That would be my only real complaint about AS in general – I think they do a nice job overall but maybe try too hard on these short flights. I don’t think they should go cutting meal service since it really sets them apart from everyone else on these shorter flights, but they should rethink what they are offering if it is causing the crew undue grief.

  7. @Tony: I don’t recall writing about Dasani water before but I probably mentioned about in previous posts since I find it terrible. You can search online and see what is inside that bottle. I am not at all for fancy mineral waters and agree you cannot serve imported mineral water in a domestic flight in the US. However, we have great spring water brands here that cost the same as a purified water.

  8. Santastico and Tony – I would never buy filtered tap water like Dasani but I’ll drink it if offered. “Pure spring water” is the thing to look for on the bottle, and two of the cheapest brands (Arrowhead on west coast and Poland Spring on east coast) are both pure spring water and both have zero taste IMO. Same with Ice Mountain. Those I’ll buy. Fiji or Voss are fine too, but a rip-off. Evian? Don’t get me started…

  9. Compared with other legacy non-premium First Class, Alaska stacks up well. Their weakness, imo, is that there’s never been and probably will never be a “wow” factor to the airline the same way Virgin America strived for. Simply put, they do things very boring but they do it very well.

  10. Nice trip report. I had no idea that Alaska served pre-departure beverages – and I am a AS MVP75k – who has had quite a few flights on AS. Mind you i generally fly the shorter or mid-con flights.

  11. @Charlie McMillan: Totally agree with you. Yes, if I am thirsty and the only available water is Dasani, Aquafina or any other purified water I will drink it. But it will never be my option if I have a choice. I live in the Midwest and I can get a box with 40 16.9oz bottles of Ice Mountain water at Costco for $4. I am not a big fan of Fiji water taste but nothing that I would not drink it. As for Evian, they have a very strong brand. I’ve been to the town of Evian in France and the water is great. Yes, I know the brand id owned by Danone and they add a price to it but at least it is natural spring water. I would not buy here in the US but if in France and Switzerland I drink it and it is fine.

  12. Lucky, I am surprised to hear you say that they serve pre-departure beverages of your choice as I’ve always been told that I can get it after we take off. I’ve only received an alcoholic beverage on flights to Hawaii (POG mimosa). I normally fly them first class when I fly with them (transcon and shorter flights) and have only received water as a pre-departure beverage. Maybe because it was a trip to Mexico you got a drink?

    Also, my experience with Alaska has been that when I ask for a refill of my beverage when I receive my meal, I’m always told to wait until they are finished serving the meals to the whole cabin. I find that to be poor service as United, American, Delta, and Virgin will always give you a refill when served a meal.

    I find their first class product to be subpar, but agree that the flight attendants are always king and friendly. I feel sorry for the Virgin America loyalists.

  13. @Lucky,

    Just a heads up, there is built-in entertainment on Alaska, just no seat-back screens. They have some interesting content from the Seattle Film Festival and some other videos that are no charge. They also include access to messaging apps on your phone when you’re flying within the Gogo air-to-ground service area for no charge.

  14. I’ve taken this flight a bunch of times and it always makes me sad that they don’t have margaritas. United usually has a few bottles of margarita mix on board their mexico flights so order early 🙂

    Also, those Alaska First Class seats recline so far that I honestly think you have less room than in Economy if the person in front of you leans all the way back.

    No lounge access in PVR for Alaska First, either, but the lounge is actually kind of sad there anyway. And the duty free lets you do free tequila tasting.

    The Alaska FA’s seem to be big fans of letting the whole plane use the First Class lav (I actually have no problem with it, everyone’s gotta go, y’know), but man the FA’s love to let the whole plane queue up in the front of the plane so your whole flight is spent staring at people’s butts.

  15. Dumbasses complaining about bottled water should be given pond water to drink.

    Fresh, straight-out-of-nature pond water.

  16. In the next couple of weeks I will be flying Alaska’s new premium economy and first class. It will be interesting to see what differences (if any) there are between the new and old. Your description of Alaska’s first class is very accurate, though I find it to be a huge upgrade over their economy seats. The pricing difference between first and economy seems fair enough most times unlike what I see from other brands but I cannot compare between legacy airlines because I have never flown AA or Delta.

  17. My girlfriend doesn’t like spring water because it takes like dirt.
    She does prefer Aquafina and Dasani bigger brands.
    However, she does like Fiji water, mostly because of the shape of the bottle.

  18. I’m flying Alaska F tomorrow from SEA-LAX on a new (Oct 2016) 737-9. First time trying the product, and my expectations are pretty much in line with this review. Any chance this flight will have the increased pitch or were they still taking delivery of them with the old configuration a few months ago?

  19. I assume you redeemed miles for this flight? I rarely find it worth it to redeem miles for such a short flight, especially since flights to Mexico cost more than domestic flights. Did you find it worth the miles you spent?

  20. 100K miles on Alaska so far and never a pre-departure beverage for me. This was clearly an aberration.
    Big BOO on no meal selection for mid-cons. That’s my biggest pet peeve with them.
    Best part of Alaska is the mileage earning, great FAs, and NO DRAMA operations… any delay is always rare and out of their control. They actually act like they know how to get a plane out on time, unlike the big carriers.
    In DFW, after a storm passed, I watched us get fast tracked around a 30 plane line up of AAs to take right off. I don’t know how they make it happen but I could kiss their feet for pulling that off! (getting new flight plan filed before everyone else??)

  21. I’m an Alaska MVP GOLD 75K, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Alaska’s first and new premium classes. My experience has been a bit better than you and some of the comments have described.

    Meal Service: I’ve never not had a choice of meals, although sometimes one choice is used to by the time they get to the back row.

    Drinks: is been my experience that pre-takeoff drinks are completely at the discretion of the flight attendant. I would prefer more consistency. Having said this, it does seem to me more consistent on vacation destination flights. Also, I’ve never felt like the attendant didn’t come back often enough for drinks.

    Seats: OK, they may not be the best first class seats out there, but at least they’re leather. Some of the nasty cloth first class seats the larger legacy carriers have are unacceptable (in my opinion)

    Power in Seats: clearly you hadn’t flown Alaska in a while, because they’ve had power in every flight I’ve been in for a couple years, more. More importantly, their power ports consistently work (I’m calling out American here, on which I’ve found more ports that don’t work than actually work). As for the person who made the silly comment about how ugly the power ports are… really? That’s high on my list of things I want airlines to spend time and money on (read sarcasm into this, for those of you who are literal). Besides, the ports are angled down or backwards (depending on seats) and actually not very visible.

    Entertainment/Internet: I actually like the tablets, but wish they handed them out on shorter flights. My only complaint is that gogo has been really show, lately. Maybe a result of offering free movies and messaging on their network?!

    Premium Class: I like this service, but I’ve found that the flight attendants are a little confused about how it works. Usually drinks are free and unlimited (not every crew member has gotten the memo, but I’m sure that’s just growing pains and will be resolved). Improved pitch and removal of the first class bulkhead has made a big difference and caused me to move my preferred seats from the exit rows to row 6 (behind first class). There is a snack box, as well.

    Overall, I really enjoy Alaska. No, they’re not perfect, but they’re better than most alternatives… not to mention the mileage plan is great. If they could only get their gate agents to board the same way every time… when half the flight is made up of elite travelers, boarding all mileage plan & partner elite members at once gets quite annoying. Alas, first world problems…

  22. The problem with Nestle waters (Arrowhead and Poland Spring) is they have the “eco caps” which only cover about a millimeter of the top of the bottle, so you are making contact with part of the bottle which has been handled and exposed to the elements. The Dasani soda bottle is much more sanitary as it has a full-size cap.

    I really like AS first class for short hops, having real food is so much better than what other airlines give you, plus lounge access is included.

  23. I fly solely Alaska. Never once been offered a pre departure drink in about 100 first class flights. Delta does

  24. Evian is the nicest, softest water I’ve tasted. Voss definitely not worth the expense – I’m still convinced it is treated tap water. Dasani is actively unpleasant. Too many brands to comment on; but in the end, we’re lucky to be able to drink as much safe, drinkable water as we desire.

  25. I’ve traveled in first on the reconfigured -800s and it makes a huge difference, so looking forward to when the rest are done. Having recently experienced AS & DL first transcontinental and recently Air Canada (business domestic transcontinental) – there is no comparison regarding food – AC his heads above US carriers in domestic food – however AS still wins with much higher odds of having a friendly crew. AC lives up to their motto ‘if you’re not happy, we’re not happy’ 9 times out of 10! So, AS remains my carrier of choice from YVR to the USA – especially with the new pitch and PY seats!

  26. Just because other airlines SERVE you larger portions, Lucky, doesn’t mean you have to clean your plate.

    More often than not, one item included in the airline meal is inedible, so you fill up on the remainder of the meal.

  27. 75k Gold member and I have never received a pre-departure cocktail in first class. I flew almost 100k miles last year, 90% in F, and nada, zip, zero pre-departure drinks. It’s actually the one thing I consistently give them negative marks for on their surveys.

  28. @Lucky – Just to confirm as an AS Gold 75K in Seattle, that I only VERY rarely have gotten a pre-departure beverage. I sometimes get a chance to ORDER my drink pre-departure, but that’s it. It’s certainly the very infrequent exception, so you got…Lucky! And I also wish they’d make that more consistent too. It’s a nice touch when it happens.

    I’m in F about half the time with AS, and do definitely appreciate the free digi-players for entertainment when I’m not just working on my laptop the entire flight. It’s been fairly well-known for a while now to avoid booking row 4 if possible, since you can get burned by IRROPS that way. This will become more important as the reconfig of certain planes from 16 to 12 proceeds apace…

    (btw: I believe that’s actually an 800 in your photo, not a 900…)

    @Deb – The Premium Economy experience will only be in terms of an extra snack and [apparently?]-unlimited drinks. They started refitting the 737 fleet with the nicer seats (increased pitch) a couple years ago. For a while, it was a nice little secret that 6-9 were now as good as the exit rows for pitch. We knew they’d eventually begin up-selling them, and that moment arrived last month. 🙁

  29. Not specifically about their First Class, but I like Alaska better now that they have an all 737 fleet. A few years back they were flying a lot of old rear-engined DC-9’s and I’m glad to see the back of those. They even lost one off the coast of LA.

    Pretty much only see them on Delta now, who never met an old plane they didn’t like.

  30. Hawaiian serves a meal on all flights.

    I’ve found Delta and Hawaiian to be the most generous at making sure passengers in first-class never have an empty glass. I’ve had first-class flights on American at 7 a.m. on a Monday in which the flight attendant didn’t serve coffee until 40 minutes after takeoff.

  31. To quote the late Herb Caen, “Random thoughts and bon mots . . . ”

    @FNT Delta Diamond —> 1) Yes, Hawaiian serves a meal on all flights FROM THE MAINLAND TO HAWAI’I, but not on inter-island flights. 2) But it remains completely inedible.

    @Olorin —> As a dedicated Virgin America customer with Gold status (and MVP Gold on Alaska because of it), I’m glad to hear your comments about Alaska. That said, I have no doubt that VX’s First Class is far superior to what’s found on AS. To start with, there are the seats: 55″ of pitch/21″ width, built-in IFE, and power ports; versus 36″ of pitch/21″ width, no IFE (some tablets), and power ports. The food appears better on VX (from what I’ve tasted and from what I’ve read). I’ll give the flight attendants a tie . . . That said, I’m looking forward to experiencing AS First at some point, but probably not until I have to — if there’s a VX option, for now I’ll take it.

  32. Alaska “First Class” is actually every other US airline’s lesser Business Class and to brand it as First Class is outrageous. Using BA points it is a two category upgrade (or perhaps that is old news). Nonsense.

    Compare this product to Air Canada lie-flat business class and weep.

    How low is low in the US airline business?

  33. Debating between premium economy and first class. Has anyone flown the new premium economy on Alaska? Thoughts? We’ve flown their first class before. I agree; it’s nice, but not outstanding. The best part of Alaska is that the people are among the nicest we’ve met on any airline. The food on the last flight was a rubbery, sugary waffle that neither of us cared for. I’ve had much better food on other airlines. We also weren’t offered much in the way of drinks. Both Sun Country and American offered better and more frequent drink service in first class. Our upcoming trip is a shorter one, so the free luggage isn’t really a big deal. I don’t think we will each check a bag just because it’s a hassle carrying around extra bags.

  34. Regularly upgraded to both FC and Premium Econ on Alaska as a Gold 75K member flying between 90-110k on Alaska on average the past few years. The new pitch in FC is MUCH appreciated. The food seems to have slipped a bit and I missed the test run of the tapas style 3 plate transcontinental meal choices they tried last year. It was too much food but fun to choose and the food was a step up.

    Premium economy pitch is not as large as the exit row, but about what FC used to be, but with the 17.5 width Econ seats. The snack box is laughable. The no limit drinks is coming along as FAs get used to it.

    I think the best perks are not the seats but the ones that come with 75k, including digiplayers on longer flights, carry on bags brought to the door of the plane vs the carousel, mileage bonuses, and no change fees

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