Delicious but dated: What it’s like flying Alaska Airlines from Seattle to Hawaii in first class
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I flew Alaska Airlines on a Boeing 737-800 on a recent trip to Kauai in Hawaii. It was from Seattle (SEA) to Lihue Airport (LIH). I love Alaska Airlines and my upgrade success rate has been excellent during my time as a Gold 75K. In fact, I got upgraded on both my recent flights to Hawaii from Seattle. Alaska has great service and has even brought back full meals (that are delicious to boot).
That said, the first-class cabin is not competitive on long-haul routes, especially now that so many carriers are offering lie-flat seats to Hawaii.
Read on for the full review.
I paid a total of $840.57, which is quite high for the main cabin, but prices to Hawaii were soaring at the time as pent-up demand was unleashed. To give you an example, I paid a total of $398 for a similar flight in March. If you were to book right now, you could fly first class for as low as $1,342 round-trip in first class, as low as $382 in “saver” class (Alaska’s version of basic economy) or $490 in the main cabin.
I used my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, which earns 3x miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases. I earned a total of 2,522 Alaska Mileage Plan miles, worth $42.87 according to TPG valuations. We value Alaska miles at 1.8 cents apiece.
I could have used Alaska Mileage Plan miles for the trip. The airline uses a distance-based award chart with a ticket from anywhere in North America to Hawaii for between 15,000 and 50,000 miles for coach and 40,000 and 80,000 miles for first class (one-way). I found availability in September for as low as 30,000 miles round-trip for main cabin or 160,000 for first class. You could get first class as low as 120,000 miles but that includes a brutal layover and a change of planes.
Related: Complete coverage of Alaska Airlines
Boarding in Bozeman
My flight originated in Bozeman, Montana (BZN), where service is always fast and friendly. There were three employees working the ticket counter.
I’ve never encountered a long line at the Alaska counter in Bozeman, but as I mentioned in my review of Avelo Airlines, the Transportation Security Administration lines can be really long.
There are also kiosks where you can check in.
Boarding was on time for my connecting flight to Seattle on a little Dash-8 turboprop plane (also called the Q400).
The glorious N gates lounge in Seattle
The flagship Alaska lounge in Seattle is spectacular.
Alaska Airlines has three lounges at its Seattle home base, including one that I consider one of the nicest in America — the newly opened (2019) Alaska Airlines flagship lounge in the North Satellite.
I didn’t have access to the lounge because I’d been upgraded to first for the Lihue leg, but I still had one last Alaska lounge certificate in my account that was burning a hole in pocket. I ended up spending about four hours in the lounge so I’d say that was a pretty good use of it. I will requalify for Gold 75K status later this year, so I should get another four lounge passes at that time.
There is a magnificent bar with lots of top-shelf options, and not only are drinks free, but the staff refuses to take tips. Same deal at the coffee bar where I always get a Starbucks latte. They make mean cappuccinos too. Service is always friendly and prompt even when there is a line to get in.
The Wi-Fi was lightning fast, as you can see from the screenshot below.
Boarding in Seattle
My flight boarded from the new N gates. Construction is ongoing at this addition to the airport, but my gate was in a section that’s been in use for about a year now.
I was departing from gate N14. The gate has tons of seating, and there are multiple outlets between every seat. It does fill up before the various banks of flights, so keep that in mind.
I got to the gate early to ask about getting pre-cleared for Hawaii, and they were nice about it, but said I would have to wait for my flight’s gate agents to help.
An hour and a half before the flight, gate agents began checking travel documents required for Hawaii, including a QR code that shows you’ve been vaccinated, or tested within 72 hours of departure.
Those who had all their papers in order were given wristbands that say “Alaska Hawaii pre-clear.”
There were three gate agents working the flight, which felt like just enough to do passenger screening and boarding. There were two that were checking paperwork, and another boarding the plane. They were very efficient. I was first in line. It was much easier than in March, when I had to get multiple tests ahead of time. And it was much easier than in January, when I tested out Kauai’s resort bubble.
We boarded two minutes before the posted boarding. It was very smooth. First called to board were passengers who needed extra time, followed by families with small children and then military service personnel. I got to board next with Group A, and it seemed orderly especially considering there was a flight to Honolulu about to start boarding next door.
The seats and cabin
My flight was a Boeing 737-800 with the tail number N577AS and it showed every year of its 14-year history. The cabin felt a bit dated, and so did the seats.
I was seated in 1C in the first-class cabin. There are only three rows of two seats. I got the aisle. I have a love-hate relationship with Alaska Airlines first-class seats. Often in these older planes, the seats are super well padded and comfy. I think they are much more comfortable than anything else in the sky including most lie-flat seats I’ve sat in over the years. The problem is they aren’t lie-flat. These are old-school recliner seats and they only recline about 6 inches so they aren’t the best for long flights when you want to sleep.
The seat is 20 inches across at the rear and 23 inches across at the headrest.
There were hand sanitizer wipes and cartons of water already placed at each first-class seat.
There are also power outlets, though they are “well loved” and your plugs may or may not stay in during the flight. My larger laptop charger sometimes fell out.
There are vents and flight attendant call buttons above the seats as usual.
There are small pullout drink tables in between the seats in first class. The actual tray table was 20 inches by 10 inches with plenty of space to work on laptops, though it’s tight when you want to eat at the same time.
The Wi-Fi speed wasn’t great, but at $8 for the whole flight, I’m not complaining too much.
I was able to upload that screenshot.
There were no in-seat TV screens. Alaska used to provide hand-held individual entertainment devices, but they went away during the pandemic and won’t be coming back. You need to log in to Alaska Airlines on your personal devices to see entertainment choices. There were 24 new releases, probably at least 150 movies and some 200 TV shows. In fact, Alaska says there are more than 1,000 choices. There were also lots of audio selections, including music.
There were 57 documentaries alone, including the Alaska Airlines podcast series “Talking Flight,” available as well. They talk to pilots, flight attendants and other workers in the commercial and military aviation industry. Fun to listen to for a while during the flight.
No Alaska flight is complete without the … interesting bulkhead “art.”
Food and beverage
Two warm and friendly flight attendants worked the first-class cabin. Our attendant came through during taxiing to take our meal and drink orders. There were no pre-departure beverages, but there were cartons of water. There were only two meal options left so I assume my seatmate and I were the only two passengers who’d been upgraded.
The choices were either a cheese and fruit plate or a butternut squash risotto, which is what I selected. There was also a chicken dish available, though they were out of that by the time the flight attendant took our orders.
The liquor selection was pretty basic with the most pricey probably being the Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey. There was Jack Daniel’s and Tito’s Vodka and the chardonnay was from Canoe Ridge Vineyard.
They came through the first-class cabin about a half-hour after takeoff with snacks. It was just a few minutes later that dinner was served. My risotto was surprisingly good. The side salad with spinach, cous cous and pomegranate seeds was delicious. And there was some kind of pudding tart that was superb.
Part of the reason the food tasted so good, I think, is because it’s been so rare that I’ve had a real meal in first class, as the airlines suspended most true meal service for much of the pandemic.
Flight attendants came through the cabin pretty regularly, and were friendly and efficient.
The flight attendant call button was pushed, and the flight attendant responded within one minute. I’d call that pretty good service.
An hour before landing, the flight attendants came through the cabin with the snack basket again. Inside there were PeaTos chips made with veggies, Kind bars and Cooper Street granola cookie bars, among other treats.
At that point, I asked for coffee and the attendant made a new pot for me. I asked for a refill which another flight attendant brought me a few minutes before we started our initial descent into LIH.
We ended up landing at 9:13 p.m. about 17 minutes early. Deplaning was quick and easy. In fact, I was the first one off the plane. It was by far the easiest Hawaii entry I’ve had in all three times I’ve been during the pandemic.
I’ve become a huge fan of Alaska Airlines since I switched my loyalty from American Airlines back in 2019 (to Alaska and to Delta Air Lines). That said, the first-class cabin just isn’t competitive on long-haul routes. I love how comfy the seats are, but the fact they only recline a few inches means that I have trouble sleeping on overnight or transcontinental flights, which is a huge annoyance.
Featured photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines.
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