Healthy to Hawaii: Alaska (737-800) in Economy from San Jose to Kauai
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Having never flown Alaska Airlines and likewise having never flown into Lihue, Kauai, I went into my Hawaii-bound flight with an open mind. I felt a bit uneasy with the idea of spending a five-hour flight in an unknown economy-class cabin. Would the seats be glorified lawn chairs, crunching and numbing my legs? Would I have nothing but stale pretzels and old coffee to snack on all the way to Hawaii? Would there be a dire lavatory issue like on a recent American flight to Hawaii? There was nothing to do but get to my gate and find out.
I booked this ticket as part of a round-trip, multi-city itinerary that included an outbound segment from San Jose (SJC) to Lihue, Kauai (LIH) in Alaska economy and the return segment from LIH to Oakland (OAK) in Alaska's first class. The entire itinerary cost $1,113, though if you're looking to just book a one-way segment in economy from SJC to Kauai, prices range from around $170 to well over $700, depending on the dates you travel.
We paid for this ticket with The Platinum Card® from American Express in order to take advantage of the card's 5x bonus category on airfare booked directly through the airline. We earned a substantial 5,565 Membership Rewards points for this ticket, which are worth about $106 according to TPG's latest valuations.
If you'd prefer to go the redemption route for this flight, you can expect to pay between 15,000 and 50,000 MileagePlan miles each way, plus minimal taxes and fees. If you're short on Alaska miles, you could sign up for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.
I checked-in for my flight the night before I was scheduled to depart and paid for a checked bag for my weeklong Hawaii trip. But the day before, on a positioning flight from Newark (EWR) flight out to San Jose (SJC), United lost my bag, meaning I had to get to SJC early and ask for a baggage refund from Alaska.
I arrived at the airport at about 6am to get the issue sorted out. There were only a few other bleary-eyed flyers at the Alaska check-in desk. The desk agent quickly filed to reverse the luggage charge on my credit card and printed my boarding pass, and I was off to my gate.
My flight departed out of SJC’s Terminal B's Gate 30, which shared an itty-bitty corner with gates 29 and 28, all crammed in side by side. The gate started out peacefully but then got chaotic and confusing when all three gates boarded flights at the same time.
Waiting at my gate, I got a kick out of looking out onto the runway and seeing Alaska’s Salmon Thirty Salmon, the Boeing 737 in a special color scheme the airline uses for its first-catch-of-the-year salmon ceremony in Seattle.
Boarding began right on time, and even though the Boeing 737-800 was completely full, the process went smoothly and was completed in about 25 minutes. Alaska boarded in four groups, A to D. Being in coach and a complete Alaska neophyte, I ended up in Group D.
Walking down the jet bridge, I noticed that my plane’s livery had the iconic Alaska Native on the tail fin, but with special Hawaiian flair: A partial lei adorned his neck and got me thinking of my tropical destination. Alaska also set the mood by piping in ukulele music during boarding.
Cabin and Seat
Alaska’s 738 economy cabin had 117 seats laid out in a 3-3 configuration. Each economy seat had about 31 inches of pitch and was 17 inches wide.
I was in Seat 19A — a window seat just above the wing. The seat felt comfortable for the five-hour flight.
It had good recline, and I didn’t feel squished or antsy at all, rare for me on a flight of this length in economy. There was also a universal power outlet with a USB port at each economy seat, which made it convenient to work on my laptop.
This 737, registered N535AS, was more than 7 years old but didn’t feel any worse for wear.
There was a slight delay in our push back from the gate due to a maintenance issue in the cockpit (the pilot said there was something wrong with his seatbelt). It set us back about 20 minutes, but we made up for the lost time in the air.
Alaska offered streaming tablets for rent to watch movies and TV shows or stream music. They were $10 for economy passengers and came with a headset.
Passengers could also download the Gogo Entertainment app to their personal devices, but the flight attendants stressed this had to be done quickly, as we would lose our Wi-Fi connection once we were over the Pacific Ocean.
I opted to rent a streaming tablet. The device came with a built-in stand that I could set up on my tray table or hook on the back of the seat in front of me. The movie options were mediocre, but I found “The Post,” which I had wanted to see for months.
If you want to go the rental route, I recommend bringing your own pair of earphones. The pair Alaska gave me had poor sound quality, to the point where I couldn’t understand the movie dialogue. Luckily, I had my own pair of earbuds with me. The devices were not Bluetooth-capable.
Because Wi-Fi wasn’t available over the ocean, I couldn’t use the flight tracker on the tablet.
Food and Beverage
There was a complimentary beverage service and snacks for purchase. I was excited to try the new Taste of the West Coast menu, but they didn’t have my first choice, the turkey artichoke baguette, on board. There were only snack boxes available, so I bought the protein pack for $10. It had pita points, white cheddar cheese, green grapes, Greek yogurt, berries, almonds, cold-cut turkey and a hard-boiled egg. It left me satisfied and didn’t make me feel like I was eating junk, like some of the other airline snack boxes that are packed with chips and cookies.
Before I knew it, we were approaching the Garden Isle, Kauai. The flight landed right on time at 11:20am Hawaii time.
I was comfortable and entertained during my first flight with Alaska. Little things, like the Hawaiian music while boarding, the outlet at my seat and a healthier snack box made a huge difference to me in economy. The flight crew was friendly and helpful and enhanced my experience on board, the entertainment options were affordable and plenty, and the seats felt spacious enough. Besides a few minor disappointments, the flight seemed to go by quickly, which is certainly not always the case with economy cabins. I was only disappointed with the food options available on board: It was a five-hour flight during breakfast and lunch, with only snack boxes available for purchase.
All in all, though, I was pleasantly surprised with Alaska’s product. If seats in Alaska economy are available to future destinations I’m looking to go to, I will certainly snatch them up!