Alaska Airlines Is Making Changes To Their First Class

Alaska Airlines has announced today that they’re going to be making improvements to their first class menu and experience, with a “west coast twist.” These upgrades are mostly fairly minor, though still interesting to note.

My guess is that these are being announced as Alaska and Virgin America align their inflight experiences. Alaska and Virgin America have been on a single operating certificate since the beginning of the year, and as of April 24, 2018, all Virgin America flights will have Alaska flight numbers, meaning that the airlines will be fully integrated as of that point.

Alaska Airlines will be introducing new first class menus as of this week, and additional product extras will be introduced throughout 2018. Here’s how Alaska Airlines describes their product improvements:

Fresh, local menu selections

  • Seasonal menus. Dig into all new meals on flights over 675 miles. Guests will pick from fresh, healthy options including salads and protein plates. Taking inspiration from our Signature Fruit & Cheese Platter, on most flights under 675 miles, guests will be offered a fresh snack – like a chipotle or edamame hummus plate with whole wheat pita and veggies. To ensure preferred choices are available and to reduce waste, meals can now be reserved on the Alaska app before travel on many of our longest flights, with more on the way.
  • Local delights. Relish in West Coast treats including Nancy’s Fancy gelatos and Sweet Lady Jane brownies from California, and Chuckanut cheesecakes and Seattle Chocolate truffles from Washington.
  • Wine, brews and specialty beverages. Sip the best from up-and-coming West Coast wineries and microbreweries. Wake up to smoothie shots and a variety of full-leaf teas. Starting this summer, a new winemaker program will introduce guests to unique selections that rotate on a regular basis.
  • Signature service. Guests can look forward to continuing to receive Alaska’s genuine caring service throughout their journey. On board, a refreshed dining concept will launch later this year with a focus on meeting individual guest preferences around rest, relaxation and productivity.

Thoughtful product extras

  • Inflight amenities. Settle in with a cozy quilted throw and entertainment tablet on longer flights. The quilted throw will roll out during spring while new larger tablets will arrive later this year.
  • Elevated serviceware. To complement our new menus, guests can look forward to dining on one-of-a-kind Schönwald serving pieces inspired by Virgin America. The stylish and functional collection brings to life the fresh ingredients on offer. Alaska will continue to individually plate each meal on board to better accommodate guest preferences and dietary restrictions.
  • Custom seats and interiors. Recline and relax with a footrest, tablet holder, increased cushioning and thoughtful new design details. Refreshed cabin interiors will debut this fall with nearly half the mainline fleet retrofitted by the end of 2019.
  • Reimagined lounges. Picture a living room with a barista. We’re unveiling upgrades soon at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The JFK Lounge opens in April and a new flagship 15,000-square-foot Seattle lounge is scheduled to open in 2019. Alaska continues to be the only domestic airline providing all paid First Class guests with complimentary access to airport lounges.


Obviously they’re using a lot of marketing terms here and there’s not that much substance to some of these things. What do I take away most from this?

  • Alaska will begin offering quilted throws (as of this spring) and enhanced entertainment tablets (as of later this year) on longer flights
  • All Alaska flights with meals will have a vegetarian choice, which wasn’t previously the case (many Alaska flights didn’t have a meal choice at all)
  • Alaska will introduce new first class seats later this year, and half of the fleet will be reconfigured by the end of 2019; these seats will only be slightly more spacious than their current first class seats, and as expected, Alaska won’t be introducing a dedicated flat bed product on transcon flights
  • The Alaska Lounge at New York JFK will be opening in April, and a new flagship Alaska Lounge will be opening in Seattle in 2019


Alaska’s current first class seats

Virgin America’s current first class seats


The new first class coming to Alaska & Virgin America

Bottom line

This sounds to me like the start of Alaska and Virgin America aligning their inflight products, as the above applies to flights on both airlines (even though they’re technically already one). Long term Virgin America first class flyers are getting a downgrade, while Alaska first class flyers are getting an upgrade. The good news for Virgin flyers is that eventually all flights will be eligible for complimentary upgrades, including those operated by ex-Virgin America planes.

Are there any product improvements here that stand out to you?

Comments

  1. I just hope the new F seats have good recline. The current ones barely recline and feels like the same seating angle as Y seat.

  2. I see a flat bed advantage only in red eye flights. For daytime flights, I don’t want to sleep. I also avoid red eye transcons, if possible. Therefore, not having flat beds are ok with me.

    Disclaimer: I don’t fly AS much.

  3. 675 miles is an interesting pick. SEA-SFO is barely above it while SEA-OAK is slightly below it.

  4. I dunno. I don’t think this is anything to scoff at. No, they’re not rolling out a whole new experience, but I’d say these are some fairly decent upgrades to an existing product while trying to merge the airlines and still be cost-conscious. It also sounds like they’ll be implementing some sort of dine-on-demand concept, too, which is neat. And if they can compete with Sky Clubs in the lounge arena, that would be great. I’m consistently underwhelmed by Alaska’s lounges but hopefully the competition from DL at SEA can force them to up their game.

  5. All of these are nice steps forward no doubt, but yeah it doesn’t change that JetBlue Mint is clobbering them on transcon routes in terms of product and ground experience (aka not flying out of JFK T7) while undercutting them dramatically in terms of price. And I don’t care if Alaska dinosaurs think IFEs are a thing of the past, the Alaska tablets are pieces of junk that slow down service, have to be collected, and eat up what little table space you have.

    I really do wish Alaska would get some sort of flat bed or full recline for transcons, as many of their eastbound flights are red-eyes and it is a really really rough flight in Alaska F as it stands.

  6. Myu suggestion to those that prefer JetBlue enjoy ! As for us AS FF it’s a welcome change oh be it a slow one, but AS has never been one to jump in. But they do treat their FF very well much better than JB.

    I am not sure anyone fly’s for the dining experience other than EK and Singapore Airlines so anything editable is welcome.

  7. I guess we will have to wait for SFO to finish Terminal 1 before there is an Alaska lounge. Maybe in 2021 there will be a lounge at SFO.

  8. What AS really needs is a better FF award system. Their outdated, stingy “one person in F” award makes them fairly useless to anyone that is not single, unless the two people like paying 50% more for their award seats than the advertised rate. And you can forget two people trying to get a Cathay award flight….

  9. What about pillows to go with the duvet? It’s shameful to have a FC without pillows when you want to sleep or take a cat nap.

  10. Where is the vegetarian option? I thought the veggie plate was more of an example snack. Maybe I missed it in the bullet points…

  11. I answered my own question. Looks like the vegetarian option is listed on the press release, but wasn’t included in the blog post.

    “All menus will have a vegetarian option available.”

    This is pretty cool!

  12. 1. Alaska needs an East Coast hub if they’re ever going to be more than a niche airline. At least unlike Hawaiian they fly to more destinations than their namesake.
    2. Alaska needs pillows.
    3. Pre-ordering of meals is HUGE. Puts more pressure on Delta.

  13. Alaska’s hype sets a very high bar to hurdle. Let’s hope they can do it, and it’s not all rubbish like UA’s Polaris service which is getting the full walk-back.
    Alaska’s F food has ranged from ordinary to inedible, so anything along the lines of what is suggested here will be a improvement.

  14. I noticed there were photos of raspberries being served.
    My experience with those raspberries was not impressive. On two separate occasions, I was served moldy raspberries on cheesecake. I complained but they continued to serve a highly perishable fruit!

  15. The little airline that thinks they invented First Class.
    I always chuckle when I walk the isle to my coach seat and see all those looks as if to say:
    “look at me – I made it to First Class”

  16. Flew Alaska this morning DCA-LAX and they were rolling out the new menu. Breakfast was surprisingly good – smoothie shot, frittata, decent wines.

  17. The best news headline would have read: ‘Alaska Admits Big Mistake; Will Convert Carrier To Virgin Atlantic Model’. VA’s F class seat was/is superior to AS’s, as was their overall hard and soft product. Sad still that VA has gone away. The rush to the bottom continues, except Jet Blue’s Mint product some of the Transcon offerings with lie flat.

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