- Alaska Airlines is a growing mid-tier US carrier that’s been on the rise in recent years and expanding on both coasts.
- Middle seats are no longer blocked but there’s still a big emphasis on social distancing.
- Snacks and beverages are also offered to passengers, with the onboard experience largely normal.
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While its main sandbox is the West Coast, the airline now operates transcontinental flights from numerous East Coast cities. It’s not as big as the majors in the big four US airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines, but Alaska has been getting its name out there in a big way.
Middle seats on Alaska flights were blocked until January 7, the second-longest seat-blocking tenure of a major US airline behind Delta. Now, flights can be filled nearly to capacity in economy.
Here’s what flying Alaska Airlines is like during the pandemic.
Alaska’s primary hub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was busier than I expected when I arrived for my Friday afternoon flight to Los Angeles. As the airport’s top carrier, many of those flyers would be flying Alaska.
The entire Alaska Airlines check-in, however, had been overhauled with new safety features like plexiglass partitions at the counters…
Social distancing placards in queues…
Hand sanitizer stations…
And wipe stations in between check-in kiosks. It was an impressive start to my trip on the airline.
And before I even got to the airport, I was required to acknowledge a health agreement. Standard for most major US airlines now, I had to affirm that I haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 10 days, hadn’t been exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and hadn’t exhibited symptoms in the past three days, in addition to agreeing to the airline’s mask policy.
The flight appeared to be largely empty and it was looking good that I’d have a row to myself. Alaska flies near-hourly between Seattle and Los Angeles so there was no shortage of flights available, even during the pandemic.
I quickly got my ticket from the kiosk and headed to the gate. I hadn’t flown on Alaska since before the pandemic when I flew from New York to LA to get In-n-Out Burger, so I was excited to fly the airline once more.
The same set of social distancing measures that I found at check-in were also at the gate, including more plexiglass partitions, hand sanitizing stations, and floor placards.
The airport also had its own social distancing agenda, blocking every other seat in the gate area with placards.
But while I had hoped for an empty flight, it turned out that this afternoon flight to Los Angeles was very popular with airline employees and standby passengers. There were at least 25 people looking to jump on board this flight, potentially thwarting my chances of an empty row.
Boarding began around 30 minutes prior to departure with Alaska following its normal boarding procedure. Customers board with their assigned group, listed on their boarding passes.
After pre-boarding, first class boards first followed by Alaska elites and those seated in “premium class.” Regular economy passengers in the back of the plane then board followed by those closer to the front. Basic economy flyers, regardless of seat location, board dead last.
More social distancing placards lined the jetway leading up to the aircraft. “Mind your wingspan” is Alaska’s slogan of choice for social distancing.
Flight attendants welcomed us as we filed into the Boeing 737 Max but nothing in the way of hand sanitizer or sanitary wipes were offered, as some other airlines are doing.
Walking past first class, however, I noticed each seat was given hand sanitizing wipes, a perk that economy class didn’t get.
I later saw on the airline’s website that they were available “on request.”
Source: Alaska Airlines
The plane was spotless, however, as is to be expected since this was a brand-new plane that only began flying for Alaska a few days prior.
Alaska, like most airlines, disinfects aircraft using electrostatic spraying, or “fogging.”
Aircraft are also cleaned by crews before each flight, the airline says.
Source: Alaska Airlines
The cleaning measures truly showed. I had no concerns whatsoever about the cleanliness of the plane.
I chose seat 28F for the two-hour flight to Los Angeles, a window seat on the right side of the plane facing forward.
Everything from the seat area to the tray tables was spotless.
Alaska even had some of its new safety protocols listed in this booklet with a website link where flyers could view the full spread of measures being taken by the airline to keep passengers safe.
This flight would feature an in-flight drink and snack service with nine different hot and cold beverages on offer ranging from Coke to orange juice.
The rest of the plane slowly filled up and Alaska’s boarding procedure meant the front filled out before the back. Those boarding last would have to walk through an entire plane full of people if they were seated in the back.
Flight attendants during the boarding process continually reminded passengers that they were “obligated” to wear a face mask.
One flight attendant was also walking around with masks to give to flyers that needed.
Even the safety briefing included a reminder that wearing a mask while flying is now federal law. Passengers were asked to report any offenses to flight attendants.
The flight departed with quite a few middle seats open. Alaska doesn’t currently block middle seats in regular economy as of January 7 so having any seats open was pure luck.
Flight attendants also worked to space passengers by moving them into empty rows. The aisle seat in my row, for example, was given to a passenger that was in a crowded row.
Soon enough, we were airborne and bound for Los Angeles.
Flight attendants quickly began the in-flight service, starting with snacks.
The bag included a variety of items from pretzels to flaxseed chips.
Then the drink cart came around and gloved flight attendants distributed full beverage cans accompanied by a cup of ice and hand sanitizing wipes. Printed on the napkin was a message asking flyers to put their masks on between bites and sips.
Once the service was over, I took a walk around the plane and only found a few passengers flouting the mask rule. Compliance, for the most part, was good.
Alaska also isn’t afraid to ban passengers for not wearing a mask. Almost 450 flyers have been banned as of March 17.
The rest of the flight was spent enjoying the views of the West Coast as we headed towards Los Angeles.
Alaska, overall, has largely returned to normal when it comes to things like boarding and the in-flight service. I was surprised to see how much was on offer compared to other airlines.
I was also impressed by the airline’s investment in social distancing measures at its Seattle hub, with everything from hand sanitizing stations to floor placards.
And even though it meant I didn’t get the row to myself, I appreciated flight attendants being proactive in moving people around to distance flyers when possible.
The routine flight down the coast was largely uneventful and soon enough, it was time to land in Los Angeles.
After we landed, flight attendants reminded passengers to social distance when deplaning.
But most passengers just wanted off and didn’t mind crowding the aisle, as is normal when flying regardless of whether there’s an ongoing pandemic.