A Look At Alaska Airlines’ New First Class Summer Menu

Yesterday I flew Alaska A320 first class from Los Angeles to New York (formally a Virgin America plane). I’ve reviewed Virgin America’s transcon first class experience, and have also written about my experience flying this route a while back. In this post I wanted to touch on a few points that I found especially interesting.

Alaska upgrades on former Virgin America planes are surprisingly easy

Former Virgin America planes only have eight first class seats, so you’d think upgrades would be tough to come by, given how few seats people are competing for. Back in the day Virgin America didn’t offer complimentary upgrades, while Alaska now offers complimentary upgrades to all elite members on all routes.

Despite the cabin having just eight seats, last time I flew the route the cabin went out full, but there wasn’t a single person on the upgrade list. I figured that was a one-off. On the flight yesterday, we left with only two people on the upgrade list.

I don’t know what causes this:

  • Maybe out of habit some Alaska elite members stick to Alaska 737s rather than A320s
  • Maybe elite members assume upgrades on these planes aren’t possible or are very difficult to score, given the small cabins

But at least based on my two experiences, I’m quite surprised.

No blankets or pillows, seriously?!

Alaska Airlines already has an uncompetitive product between Los Angeles and New York. All their competitors offer flat beds, while they just offer recliner seats, and soon they’ll install even less comfortable seats. Nonetheless they keep charging premium prices for the route.

I was offered pillows and blankets the last time I took this flight, and I know going forward Alaska intends to offer these on transcons.

So I was quite disappointed when they didn’t load them on this flight. This wasn’t just a one-off, but when I asked the flight attendant about it she said “yeah, it’s hit or miss out of LAX.”

Maybe they need to try harder to “hit,” especially on a premium transcon route?

Trying out Alaska’s new first class summer menu

Alaska recently announced how they were rolling out a summer menu with “west coast suppliers favored.”

Here’s the menu for my lunchtime flight:

Service began with drinks and small ramekins of mixed nuts.

Alaska’s meals are relatively small, and unlike most of their competitors, there’s no appetizer. I was served a single tray with the appetizer, main course, and bread.

On the plus side, the food itself was excellent. The appetizer consisted of salad with blackberries, arugula, radicchio, fresh basil, blackberries, grape tomatoes, and crumbled goat cheese. The main course consisted of fig and balsamic braised beef with spinach risotto.

For dessert they had sea salt with caramel ribbon Salt & Straw ice cream. For those of you not familiar, Salt & Straw is a popular west coast brand, and their ice cream is exceptionally tasty. However, the older I get the more I realize that I might sorta kinda be a little lactose intolerant, and nothing instantly makes me feel that way quite like Salt & Straw, because their ice cream is so rich.

So yeah, Alaska deserves credit for serving very high quality food, though the meals are definitely smaller than on other airlines, and the meal services aren’t as drawn out (both of which I’m fine with).

Bottom line

I can’t believe how easy upgrades have been on my recent Alaska flights operated by former Virgin America planes. I have to be really strategic to clear an upgrade on American between Los Angeles and New York, so I’m a bit surprised upgrades are so easy with such small cabins.

Alaska meal service is solid nowadays, and it definitely feels more to me like what Virgin America used to offer than what Alaska used to offer, and that’s a good thing.

Now they just need to figure out their blanket situation.

If you’ve flown Alaska on a transcon lately, what was your experience like?

Comments

  1. My last two Alaska F transcons out of SFO (one plane VA, the other Alaska) were missing pillows and blankets.

    My recent Virgin flight had a a broken seat (meaning the the FA had to push it up from behind every time I needed to adjust it).

    The weirdest part was after the meal service, all trays were placed on the floor next to the exit, including the pilots’ trays. Imagine 10 trays piled up on the floor for over an hour, blocking access to lav and emergency exit. Later, I saw the FA scraping the each dish individually into the trash before storing the trays in the cart. I snapped a pic, it was so unexpected!!!

  2. The pillow/blanket thing has been present on 2/3 of the last transcons for me this year (though this was prior to them rolling out the ‘new’ blanket service.) Grrrr, c’mon Alaska.

  3. My guess is they are easier upgrades because anyone whose paying for J on LAX/SFO-JFK is going for AA, B6, or DL also I think a lot of AS elite flyers are more regional in the PNW, a SEA-JFK flight for instance would have a mile long upgrade list

  4. I am actually not surprised on how easy upgrades are on these previously VX routes. First, AS has really priced those LAX-JFK flights extraordinarily. With a much watered down product, no one in their right mind will pay for that first class product, if they can get JetBlue Mint or Delta One! I really think AS needs to price those flights correctly.
    Second, thanks for sharing the meals. They look okay. It is actually about the same portion as before but now they served in two courses, instead of three courses. Plus many lazy VX F/As have been serving the meal in one full course before. But I am happy to see the snack basket back.

  5. Alaska has an excellent frequent flyer program — perhaps the best in the United States — but its product isn’t competitive, especially on legacy Alaska aircraft, despite the high prices. I’m not saying they need lie-flat seats. I actually don’t think they do. There’s a market for a good domestic first-class product with good recliner seats. But Alaska’s product isn’t much better than Hawaiian, except better food. And even Hawaiian now has lie-flat seats on its longest domestic flights. I would consider switching to Alaska in a minute IF they had an East Coast presence.

  6. @FNT Delta Diamond —> I agree. For ME — as I’ve said before — I see (virtually) NO REASON for lie-flat seats on transcontinental flights, UNLESS it’s a red-eye and you’re actually, *seriously* trying to sleep. I am perfectly happy with angle-flat recliners when I’m watching IFE/movies on my laptop; otherwise, I’m sitting relatively upright, eating/drinking/working.

    @Andrew —> Every flight I’ve taken on former VX flights still has the IFE system in place and active.

    @Scott —> Salt & Straw was founded in 2011, so you’ve only missed hearing about it for 7 years, not 20. ;^) It began in Portland, and while Lucky is right when he writes, “Salt & Straw is a popular west coast brand,” but they only recently opened stores in the City: 2201 Fillmore and 586 Hayes.

    @Lucky —> I haven’t run into the “pillow & blanket” thing on AS, but I *have* noticed a consistent difference between the flights on Boeings versus Airbuses (i.e.: between AS planes and crews and ex-VX planes and crews). Flying on an AS Airbus, while not quite the same as flying Virgin America, is a far more enjoyable experience than on an AS Boeing. Chiefly it comes down to the in-flight crew and service, which is still superior to AS on board. (FWIW, I have NO complaints whatsoever with AS customer service or their ticket-counter or gate agents; it’s only the AS FAs on board AS “legacy” aircraft.)

  7. “there’s no appetizer. I was served a single tray with the appetizer, main course, and bread.” So was there an appetizer or wasnt there?

  8. @N1120A —> I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

    Dr. Charles Platkin, the director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, regularly looks at the snack and meal options for 12 airlines — all located in North America. has studied and ranked the 12 biggest airlines from best to worst based on which carrier serves the healthiest food options on a 1-to-5 star rating, 5 being the best. Dr. Platkin publishes the report on a website entitled dietdetective.com.

    The most recent results, for 2017-2018, are as follows:
    1. TIE: Delta and Virgin America (4 stars)
    3. TIE: Air Canada and JetBlue (3.75 stars)
    5. Alaska (3.5 stars)
    6. United (2.75 stars)
    7. American (2.5 stars)
    8. Frontier (2.25 stars)
    9. Southwest (2 stars)
    10. TIE: Allegiant and Spirit (1.75 stars)
    12. Hawaiian Airlines (1 star)

    The report also states:
    “Comments: The airline [Virgin America] has been purchased Alaska Air, and eventually the Virgin name will be disappear. The good news is that Alaska Air is committed to adopting the healthy food options (and transparency) of Virgin America.”

    See http://www.dietdetective.com/annual-airline-food-investigation-2017-18/

  9. @N1120A —> I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

    Dr. Charles Platkin, a professor at New York’s Hunter College has studied and ranked the 12 biggest North American airlines from best to worst based on which carrier serves the healthiest food options for years. His scores range from zero to five based on a variety of factors such as calorie levels, healthy nutrients, clarity of nutritional information, menu innovation and more. Platkin is the director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center and the editor of the Diet Detective website. scored airlines. His latest report (2017-2018) results are as follows:

    1. TIE — Delta and Virgin America (4 stars)
    3. TIE — Air Canada and JetBlue (3.75 stars)
    5. Alaska (3.5 stars)
    6. United (2.75 stars)
    7. American (2.5 stars)
    8. Frontier (2.25 stars)
    9. Southwest (2 stars)
    10. TIE — Allegiant and Spirit (1.75 stars)
    12. Hawaiian (1 star)

    In re: VX/AS, Dr. Platkin makes the following comment: “The airline has been purchased Alaska Air, and eventually the Virgin name will be disappear. The good news is that Alaska Air is committed to adopting the healthy food options (and transparency) of Virgin America.”

  10. @Scott – Salt and Straw is from Portland, OR. There are two shops in San Francisco now, one just a few blocks from where I live, and they always have a line!

  11. Unlike AA/DL/UA, AS doesn’t seem to differentiate between “premium” and “non-premium” transcon routes. In fact, AS even offered this same menu on longer mid-con flights like SEA-ORD flight.

  12. @N1120A —> Not trying to argue with you, but my last few flights¹ on AS featured Thai chicken salad, a Chicken Bahn Mi, a fruit and cheese plate, a Mediterranean “tapas” plate, and a beef-and-bean burrito that I’m pretty sure contained no beef. On former VX metal, the food offered really hasn’t changed that much.

    _______________
    ¹ FWIW, I’ve flown AS/VX 26 times in the last 12 months, 8 times since January 1st.

  13. @Chuck —> That’s probably true when it comes to mainland flights on Boeings (i.e.: legacy AS fleet), but it’s not the case on Airbuses (legacy VX fleet). Alaska’s website clearly lists different menus for Main Cabin food offered on flights <1.5 hours, versus <2.5 hours. Also, menus are different on legacy VX flights from Nashville and from Mexico. Legacy AS flights have different offerings for flights to/from Hawai'i and Mexico/Costa Rica.

    This info comes from the Alaska website: https://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/flight-experience/main-cabin/food-and-drink and from my personal experience onboard both Alaska's Boeing and Airbus flights.

  14. @Jason, yes all of my experience has been on AS operated 737s, so there may well be additional differences on Airbus operated flights. And come to think of it, the dessert and salad on my SEA-ORD F flights may have been slightly simpler, but it was the same basic format of salad, roll, choice of two entrees and a dessert.

  15. Reading this article on IAD-SFO. FA prvided an excellent meal service. No trays — served the meal in two courses directly on the tray table. However, she did bring the snack basket and the warm towels out very shortly after the meal. It seemed like she wanted to finish service and disappear, but she didn’t. She wasn’t terribly proactive, but she did take care of us throughout the flight. We also had pillows and blankets (thankfully, as the cabin was COLD). However, I have to say that the eastbound meal looked better than the westbound meal and the Virgin snack basket was better than this one. All in all though, the best ride available from the DC market to the bay area.

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