I flew on Southwest and Alaska, the two airlines competing to be the best of the West Coast and the winner is abundantly clear

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

  • Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines are in competition to be the airline of the West Coast.
  • Both are similar but each has its strengths like Alaska has a greater West Coast route network.
  • Southwest is a great option for leisure travelers but Alaska has more perks for business flyers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The West Coast of the US stretches more than 1,000 miles with no shortage of major cities from San Diego to Seattle.

newport beach

All the major US airlines serve this important region of the country but two are battling for dominance, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Alaska is based in Seattle, although its name suggests otherwise, and is a mid-tier US airline with the bulk of its operations on the West Coast.

alaska airlines

Southwest, on the other hand, is the country’s largest low-cost carrier with a nationwide presence. And while the West Coast is an important region for the airline, it’s just one of many Southwest serves.

Southwest Airlines

Both carriers have sought to grow market share on the West Coast during the pandemic. Southwest added Santa Barbara and Fresno to its California route network while Alaska has added routes from existing cities.

Golden Gate Bridge

I flew on both airlines this year to see which one was truly the airline of the West Coast. Here’s what I found.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

West Coast connectivity: Alaska serves 29 cities up and down the coast, including smaller cities like Everett, Washington; Santa Rosa, California; and Medford, Oregon.

Paine Field in Everett, Washington
Paine Field in Everett, Washington.

Read More: I flew on Alaska for the first time since it stopped blocking middle seats and it was the closest to normal I’ve seen during the pandemic

Southwest serves 15 West Coast cities and plans to serve two more this summer. Bellingham, Washington flights will also open sometime this year.

Southwest Airlines
A Southwest Airlines aircraft departing from Los Angeles.

Winner: Alaska Airlines. The airline’s connectivity between West Coast cities large and small cannot be beaten by Southwest’s existing network.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

What comes with the ticket: Every Southwest ticket includes free seat selection anywhere on the plane after boarding, two checked bags, a carry-on bag, and all the onboard amenities.

Flying Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Southwest has open seating so any open seat is available for passengers.

Flying on Southwest Airlines COVID-19

Alaska does allow free seat selection for economy but charges extra for seats close to the front and exit row seats.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Alaska, like many full-service carriers, has also embraced restrictive basic economy fares that replaced its cheapest fares. The product is generous with and limited advanced seat assignments and a free carry-on bag but flyers will have to pay more for better seats and checked bags.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Southwest doesn’t have change or cancel fees for any ticket.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Alaska has eliminated change fees but not for basic economy fares, known as “saver” fares.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Winner: Southwest Airlines. The flexibility and free extras offered by Southwest put it well and above Alaska. It’s worth noting, however, that even Alaska’s basic economy fares are more generous than many of its competitors.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Boarding: Alaska boards its aircraft in groups that are assigned based on seat location and fare class. First class boards first, followed by elite status holders, those sitting in “premium class.” Economy then boards back to front, for the most part, and basic economy flyers board dead last.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

On Southwest, however, passengers are given a boarding number and group that’s determined by how early they check-in for the flight. Once on the plane, they can select any open seat.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Winner: Southwest Airlines. Alaska’s boarding process relegates basic economy passengers to the very last section while even the passenger with the cheapest ticket on Southwest has the opportunity to board earlier if they check-in at exactly 24 hours prior to departure.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Onboard amenities: Both airlines are in the process of modernizing their fleets but older aircraft remain. On Southwest, for example, I flew on the 737-700 fleet on my most recent trip and it was the furthest from modern.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

But its updated aircraft have a great, modern look, as I found on flights from New York to Orlando in 2020.

Flying on Southwest Airlines COVID-19

Read More: I flew on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic and came away impressed by how well the largest low-cost US airline handled social distancing

Alaska has the same issue. Its newer Max aircraft is a show-stopper but older aircraft seem tired.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max Flight
Flying on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft.

Both airlines also offer paid in-flight WiFi and streaming content.

LAX Day Trip Alaska Airlines
Water onboard an Alaska Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles.

Alaska does surpass Southwest, however, by offering in-seat power to keep devices charged.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Winner: Alaska Airlines. Both airlines offer similar products but Alaska just eeks ahead with in-seat power.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

In-flight service: Both airlines have restored portions of their in-flight service since the pandemic began. Alaska, for example, serves soft drinks and snacks.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Southwest just brought back Coke, Diet Coke, and 7UP, as well as more snacks.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Read More: Southwest is reverting to its normal boarding policy and bringing back fan-favorite in-flight amenities

Before the pandemic, however, Alaska sold meals and snack boxes while Southwest just stuck to drinks and small snacks.

LAX Day Trip Alaska Airlines
The contents of one of Alaska Airlines’ picnic packs.

Winner: Alaska Airlines.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

West Coast feel: Alaska has its roots in the West Coast and that shows in its branding. The colors are vibrant, there is a focus on West Coast brands in the in-flight service, and the airline is based in Seattle.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Southwest has a generic appeal as it connects the US through bases across the country with no specific ties to the West Coast. There’s no West Coast feel.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Winner: Alaska Airlines: There’s an undeniable feeling when flying on Alaska that it’s more in tune with the West Coast vibe than Southwest.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

National connectivity: Alaska is highly concentrated on the West Coast while Southwest has bases across the US.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Southwest doesn’t have the sprawling West Coast network that Alaska does but it does offer connections between most of the region’s major cities and connections to the rest of the country through its mid-continent bases in places like Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, and Dallas.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Southwest Airlines aircraft at Denver International Airport.

Alaska only has hubs in the West Coast cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, requiring a stop in one of those cities before heading east. The airline does partner with airlines like American to offer mixed-airline itineraries but that could be difficult if the airlines are in two different terminals.

LAX Day Trip Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines aircraft at Los Angeles International Airport.

Winner: Southwest Airlines. Having more mid-continent bases allows for more convenient journeys with lower travel times for customers.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Business traveler amenities: Corporate travelers have different priorities than most leisure travelers and will often spend more for seats in premium cabins and access lounges.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Alaska has premium lounges in six airports, and partners with American and Qantas on lounge access for members. Southwest does not have any lounges.

Alaska Lounge Seattle
The Alaska Lounge at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Alaska’s jet aircraft also have first class cabins, the domain of the business traveling road warrior, while Southwest does not.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

A special section of economy is also available on Alaska. Called “premium class,” seats in the section offer additional legroom and come with complimentary alcoholic beverages.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Alaska is also a member of the Oneworld airline alliance and Alaska’s elite status holders can use their benefits on other airlines like American and British Airways, and vice versa. Southwest is not a part of any airline alliance.

american airlines

Southwest does have a special fare for business travelers, called “Business Select,” that includes extras like priority boarding and free alcoholic drinks (suspended during the pandemic).

Flying on Southwest Airlines COVID-19

And Southwest does have better connectivity outside of the West Coast. A business traveler in St. Louis looking to fly to New York couldn’t even choose Alaska if they wanted to.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic from Miami International Airport.

Winner: Alaska Airlines. Business travelers have more premium amenities at their disposal on Alaska, if the choice is between Alaska and Southwest.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Airline of the West Coast: Alaska Airlines. Both airlines are incredibly similar but Alaska has more West Coast-oriented amenities to help it pull ahead of Southwest.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The COVID-19 pandemic has turbo-charged the surge in fentanyl overdoses sweeping the western states, as drug experts warn of a crisis within a crisis

Drug Overdose
A drug user lies on the sidewalk in San Francisco, California on April 26, 2018.

  • Drug overdose deaths hit record levels last year with more than 81,000 fatalities, according to the CDC.
  • Fentanyl, involved in most of the deaths, is now sweeping the western US with a 98% rise in 10 states.
  • The synthetic opioid is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more than heroin.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

US drug overdose deaths hit record levels last year with more than 81,000 fatalities, according to the CDC. Fentanyl was involved in almost all of them and the dangerous drug is now sweeping the western states, agitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) told Insider: “Fentanyl has been found mixed with many other drugs. People who buy drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA are frequently not aware that these may be laced with fentanyl.”

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid generally used in hospitals to treat pain after surgery, is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more than heroin, meaning just two milligrams of it can be deadly, only a fraction of the lethal dose needed for the older opiate.

Fentanyl
A pharmacy technician prepares syringes containing fentanyl at the University of Utah Hospital, in Salt Lake City, Utah on June 1, 2018.

Dr. Paul H. Earley, an addiction medicine physician with the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) told Insider: “We’re in the middle of a crisis within a crisis. The substance use disorder crisis, which is already with us, is dramatically worsened by COVID-19. Why? Because addiction is a disease of isolation and despair.”

Over 40 states have reported an increase in opioid overdose deaths during the pandemic, accounting for a 38% rise across the country, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

However, a CDC report revealed that western states have been most afflicted, with a 98% rise in 10 states, largely due to fentanyl use.

Data from California, Washington, Arizona, Texas, and Colorado showed fentanyl deaths increased by 371% between 2017 and 2019.

Jake, who only provided his first name in fear of being arrested for his addiction, told NPR that he has been addicted to opioids for the past six years. He was initially a heroin user and now a fentanyl user.

He said: “I just started smoking [fentanyl] pills because that was the thing that was around; it was so easy to get. Soon as I wake up, I have to have a pill. The high is not very long, so 20 minutes after I smoke a pill, I want to smoke another one, you know?”

COVID-19 is presenting a new set of challenges for drug users

Fentanyl
Travis Hayes, 65, injects what he says is the synthetic drug fentanyl in San Francisco, California on February 27, 2020.

There are over 2 million opioid users in the US, with an average of around 130 opioid overdose deaths a day, the CDC also noted.

Now, COVID-19 is presenting a new set of challenges for drug users.

NIDA also told Insider: “This increased risk of illness is not only due to potentially adverse social circumstances and living conditions, but also to the drugs’ physiological effects on pulmonary, cardiac, metabolic, and immune functions, all of which are targeted by COVID-19 as well.

“As a result, people with substance use disorders who develop coronavirus are much more likely to be hospitalized and to die, compared with the general population.”

According to the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP), opioid overdoses rose by 18% in March 2020 compared to the previous year, 29% in April, and 42% in May 2020.

A JAMA Psychiatry report found that between March and October, the weekly rate of emergency department visits for drug overdoses increased by up to 45% compared to the same period in 2019.

Fentanyl
Emergency services investigate after four people were take to the hospital with possible fentanyl exposure in Los Angeles, California on December 31, 2019.

Fentanyl’s potency and the fact so little is needed to make it deadly is now killing people who had managed their addictions for years.

Help for drug users has also been partially shutdown. A National Council for Behavioral Health survey revealed that 54% of behavioral health organizations have closed their programs while 65% had to turn away, reschedule or cancel appointments due to financial losses and reduced capacity during the pandemic.

Although some of these programs have provided services online, they require the internet and a phone or computer to access.

Distributing naloxone to those at risk of overdosing

One possible solution is the use of naloxone, a medication which temporarily blocks the effects of opioids and ‘reverses’ overdoses. Administered by injection or nasal spray, the potency of fentanyl means extra doses may be needed compared to other opioids.

Naloxone
A Cincinnati Fire Department medic nasally administers Naloxone to a man while responding to a possible overdose report at a gas station in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio on November 2, 2017.

More than 700,000 doses of naloxone were distributed to people at risk of overdosing last year. However, almost one in three of the sterile syringe programs that offered the medication either ran out of it or had to ration it for three months, according to the CDC.

Dr. Paul H. Earley also told Insider: “I have a Naloxone overdose kit in my car, I have one in my home. And really, the more that that available that becomes, the more lives we’re going to save.”

Opening overdose prevention sites

Opening overdose prevention sites (OPSs), sometimes known as supervised injection sites (SISs) or safe consumption rooms (SCRs), has also been suggested after the success of similar facilities abroad.

Canada is home to the first legal OPS in North America, Insite. Insite opened its doors in Vancouver in 2003, and between 2017 and 2020, medical staff were able to prevent 4,763 drug overdoses.

Over 120 of them exist across 10 countries but there has never been an overdose death recorded in any, the Drug Policy Alliance notes.

Insite, Canada
Richard Chenery injects heroin he bought on the street at Insite in Vancouver, Canada on May 11, 2011.

An Institute for Clinical and Economic Review report also found that such sites also save money on a long-term basis.

Last month, almost 80 lawmakers sent a letter to Congress urging them to provide money for the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant (MHBG) as part of the upcoming COVID-19 relief bill.

The $5 billion grant would be used to assess communities’ situations and implement prevention and treatment strategies.

The money would be in addition to the $4.25 million approved by Congress as part of the omnibus spending bill in December 2020.

Read the original article on Business Insider