Alaska Airlines Boeing B737-900 (Config. 2) First class

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  • Anonymous


    I flew AS 704 from YVR to LAX on a 737-900 in First.

    I’m a BAEC member and had wanted to fly AA on this route but AA doesn’t fly direct, instead code-sharing with AS. The AA code share fare was £200 more than the AS cost and would have got me Avios but not tier points (which are important for me as a leisure traveller). Fortunately AS is a partner of BA so I voted with my credit card and booked direct with them (which meant I got the Avios anyway for a cheaper price). As an aside, AA do a routing via DFW, which at one point only cost £850 but by the time I’d got my act together that fare had gone up to £2000, which was too much for my blood. For those interested in a mini-tier point run though it might be worthwhile because I calculated it as being worth about 180 points.

    The flight did not get off to an auspicious start when I tried to check in on-line the night before. The OLCI process requires that you input a lot of information (nationality, passport number, passport expiry date and address of residence in the USA). Having put all of that information in, the system then announced that it couldn’t check me in because my documents had to be verified by a member of staff. This was deeply frustrating and there did not appear to be any real reason for it and I was worried that I might have been bumped from what I knew to be a busy flight.

    Consequently I arrived early to the airport at 9.45am. The AS check in desks were at the far side of the terminal with check-in kiosks and bag drop kiosks. Signage in the terminal tells you that you need to fill in a US customs form before you can check-in, which I did and then joined the short queue for the first class desk where I was quickly called forward. Despite my fears, check-in proved to be a breeze with the friendly agent allocating me seat 2D and directing me to the US pre-clearance line.

    It didn’t take long to clear the security machines (which also involved getting my hands swabbed) but the queue for US immigration was a shambles, with the wait made longer by the inexplicable decision to reallocate those agents handling international passengers to the already fast-moving US/Canadian passport holder line, shortly followed by the decision to allow fast-track/priority passengers to queue jump the international line. As a result, it took about 50 minutes to clear it all but given that this was shorter than the 2 hours it took me to clear pre-sequester LAX last year, I guess I shouldn’t complain.

    Airside, YVR airport isn’t much to write home about. There are quite a few shops catering mainly for tourists (think I Love Canada type merchandise) but the choice of eateries really wasn’t great and there was a definite lack of seating space. On the advice of a Canadian friend, I ended up heading for the Priority Lounge, which offers paid-for access starting at CAD35 for 2 hours (but which is, I believe, free to certain status card holders). The lounge receptionist was friendly and you can pay in cash or by credit card. Air Canada also has a lounge in the terminal with access for those with status.

    The Priority Lounge isn’t big (and did fill up while I was there) but offers a good view of the arrivals area (which was absolutely teaming) and has a good mix of chairs and tables. There are TV screens set to CNN, telephone booths offering computers with internet access, a very limited mix of Canadian newspapers and a small conference room.

    They were just finishing the breakfast service as I arrived but I grabbed some sausage and fried noodles. There was also toast, cereal, muffins and fruit salad. The choice of drinks was more limited but I got a ginger ale (alcohol isn’t served until after 11am, at which point there was a fairly good choice of wines and beer). I used the complimentary wi-fi to catch up on my emails. The lunch offering came out while I was reading – not a huge choice (spring rolls, mini-cheese burgers and more fried noodles) but it was tasty enough. The staff were proactive at clearing plates and glasses away and the toilets were small but scrupulously clean.

    The flight was departing from E83, which is a 5 minute walk from the lounge. There are screens in the lounge showing flight departures but it doesn’t show when the gates open, so I made my way there at 12.40 (which my boarding card said was when boarding would start). There was plenty of seating at the gate and the gate agents were proactive about on-board baggage size, telling some passengers that they needed to check in their bags.

    In the end, boarding finally started at 12.50pm with passengers with small children, mobility issues and AS platinum and gold card passengers being called forward first together with the first class passengers. This was vigorously enforced by check-in agents, which was good to see. Boarding was via air bridge.

    First class is arranged in 4 rows of 2×2. Although it was clean, the leather chairs had clearly seen better days with the seat pockets on some being ripped off or torn. The seats were comfy enough though for the flight with good legroom but there’s no in-seat power (which really annoyed the passenger next to me).

    Water was brought around as we waited for the rest of the plane to board. It was a full flight and there were quite a few late passengers so it became obvious by 1.15pm that we weren’t going to make the 1.20pm departure slot. In the end, we pushed back at 1.30pm and drinks and lunch orders taken as we taxied. We eventually took off at 2pm and 10 minutes after we were airborne drinks were brought around with a snack pack.

    AS has an on-board policy that passengers keep their seat belts on at all times, which we were told about several times but I never saw it policed and most people in First seemed to ignore it. (In fact, I saw people getting up and moving about even when the seat belt signs were on without the flight attendants making any mention of it, so it made me wonder what the point of it was).

    There are no overhead monitors on the plane although there is in-flight wi-fi for those who want to pay. The lunch service started at 2.30pm, beginning with the front rows. There was only one option available – a cheese and spinach pasta with salad and an olive oil and vinaigrette dressing. The presentation was fine but I don’t like salad and the pasta wasn’t enough to fill me up (making me pleased that I’d stuff up before hand in the priority lounge). There was a Seattle sea salt chocolate for afterwards, which was very good. The flight attendants were great at keeping glasses topped up as well and trays were cleared away efficiently.

    The flight itself was uneventful apart from some minor turbulence. The pilot was good at keeping people informed of progress. There was one toilet kept for first class passengers, which was kept scrupulously clean.

    We got an announcement 20 minutes before landing and although there was no announcement about turning off electronic devices, one of the flight attendants did ask me to switch off my Kindle. We landed at 4.15pm and disembarked quickly by airbridge.

    Having pre-cleared immigration at YVR, I made it to baggage reclaim about 15 minutes after disembarking and after a couple of minutes, my luggage came out third (despite the fact that no priority tags were put on it).

    All in all, it was an okay flight for what I paid and my only real complaint is with the OLCI process, which I found to be very frustrating.

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