Alaska Airlines First Class Impressions

Filed Under: Alaska

After an amazing five days in California, it was time for my mom and me to fly back to Tampa. While we flew United Airlines first class on the outbound (with a connection), we returned nonstop on Alaska Airlines.

Why we booked Alaska Airlines first class

It’s pretty simple — at the time we were flying, Alaska Airlines was the only airline flying nonstop between San Francisco and Tampa. United Airlines usually also flies this route, but it’s suspended at the moment (and even if it weren’t, I’d pick Alaska over United any day of the week).

There’s a real convenience to flying nonstop, particularly when I had mom with me. How did I book us?

  • I redeemed 25,000 American AAdvantage miles for my mom’s ticket
  • I paid cash for my ticket, which cost ~$600 one-way

I credited my flight to American AAdvantage, which should hopefully help me requalify for Executive Platinum status. I wish I had been flying several days later, because Alaska Airlines joined oneworld as of March 31, and on that date Alaska and American introduced a reciprocal upgrade program for elite members.

My upgrade would have likely even cleared, as there were empty seats and confirmable upgrade space until the day-of, but oh well.

Alaska Airlines first class ground experience

Since we both were on paid first class tickets (either cash or miles), we would have been entitled to Alaska Lounge access. Unfortunately Alaska Airlines doesn’t currently have a lounge at SFO, though one will be opening there this summer.

Fortunately Terminal 2 at SFO is one of the nicest terminals in the US, so we didn’t have any issue passing time there. My only complaint about Terminal 2 from an avgeek perspective is that black-dotted windows, which makes it tough to plane spot.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900 at SFO

By the way, it was cool that the Alaska 737 we flew already had the new oneworld logo by the door to the entrance.

Alaska Airlines 737 oneworld logo

Alaska Airlines first class seating

Alaska Airlines’ 737-900s feature a total of 16 first class seats, spread across four rows in a 2-2 configuration.

Alaska Airlines 737 first class cabin

Alaska Airlines’ first class legroom is noticeably more generous than on other US carriers. Apparently the airline has 41″ of pitch on these planes, which is a few more inches than you’ll find on most other airlines. On top of that, the seats are very well padded. So as far as “standard” domestic first class seats go, it doesn’t get better than this.

Alaska Airlines 737 first class seats

Each seat had both a USB and 110v outlet, so it’s easy to stay charged.

Alaska Airlines 737 first class power outlets

Alaska’s cabins are of course instantly recognizable thanks to the pattern on both the bulkhead, and on the divider between first class and economy.

Alaska Airlines’s distinct bulkhead pattern

I also quickly peeked into the economy cabin, which looked reasonably comfortable.

Alaska Airlines’ 737 economy cabin

Alaska Airlines first class catering

Virtually all airlines have significantly cut back catering due to coronavirus, so what was service like on this 4hr30min flight? It was reasonably good, at least compared to what you’ll currently find on other airlines.

There were bottles of water waiting at each seat upon boarding.

Alaska Airlines first class bottled water

Drinks were available throughout the flight, and were served in plastic cups. As you can see, the wine pours were generous, while soda was served in unopened European-sized cans.

Alaska Airlines first class drinks

There were two snack options to eat, which I believe would usually be available for purchase in economy.

Alaska Airlines first class meal

There were two options — a fruit & cheese plate, or a smoked turkey sandwich. I’ve gotta say, the quality of both dishes was fairly good (I mean, at least compared to United’s chicken sandwich).

Alaska Airlines first class meal — fruit & cheese plate

Alaska Airlines first class meal — turkey sandwich

After the meal, chocolate chip cookies were served. These were so soft and gooey, to the point that the cookie couldn’t stay in one piece.

Alaska Airlines first class dessert — cookie

Alaska Airlines first class dessert — cookie

There’s a bit of irony to the way in which airlines have cut service, because nowadays so many first class snacks have to be eaten with your hands. Half the passengers basically seemed to be licking chocolate off their fingers.

On top of all that, a snack basket was frequently brought down the aisle for the remainder of the flight, which had a variety of snack options.

Alaska Airlines first class snacks

This is about the most impressive meal service I’ve seen on a US airline outside of premium transcontinental routes since the pandemic started.

Alaska Airlines first class Wi-Fi & entertainment

Alaska Airlines has Gogo 2Ku Wi-Fi, which is excellent. I have a membership, so was able to stay productive throughout the flight. While Alaska’s 737s don’t have seatback entertainment, there is a library of TV shows and movies that you can stream to your personal device.

Alaska Airlines’ streaming entertainment pamphlet

Alaska Airlines coronavirus precautions

My only complaint about Alaska’s coronavirus precautions are that the crew didn’t perform the Alaska safety dance live, which is oh-so-catchy.

Disinfecting wipes were handed out during boarding.

Alaska Airlines disinfecting wipes

I was also impressed by Alaska’s general coronavirus announcements — they seemed much more specific and useful than what I’ve heard on other airlines. For example, they clarify that everyone, including those who are vaccinated, need to wear a mask over both their nose and mouth.

And the crew was also great about making sure people wore their masks correctly.

Alaska Airlines first class service

I find that Alaska Airlines has some of the consistently best service of any major US airline. You can often still get a sense of whether you have an ex-Alaska Airlines crew or ex-Virgin America crew in terms of their general service style.

I’m guessing this was an ex-Virgin America crew, since they all seemed very Virgin America “hip,” for lack of a better word. They were super friendly, and did a great job striking a balance between providing personable service and minimizing contact.

Bottom line

This was my first Alaska Airlines flight in quite a while, and it was about as pleasant as flying nowadays can get. Alaska’s first class seats are a cut above what you’ll find on other domestic configured aircraft in the US, and the crew was friendly, Wi-Fi was fast, and food and beverage service was also solid.

While I don’t get to fly Alaska a whole lot living in Miami, I’m thrilled by Alaska’s three transcon routes out of Tampa, and look forward to taking these more now that Alaska and American are offering reciprocal elite benefits.

If you’ve flown Alaska’s first class lately, what was your experience like?

  1. “Apparently the AIRLINE has 41″ of pitch”
    If you mind me pointing out gramatical errors let me know and I’ll stop, lol.

  2. @ Ben — Four transcon routes out of TPA? When I search Matrix ITA, I only see TPA-SEA. Did they discontinue SFO and the other two routes? What are/were those other routes?

  3. @Gene – SEA is year-round. SFO and LAX are seasonal I believe. Not sure what the fourth one Ben’s referring to is.

  4. @ Gene — My mistake, should have said three routes. SEA is year-round, and LAX and SFO are seasonal.

  5. I had a good FC AS SEA -> LAX experience recently. I still can’t fathom why taking your mask off in a closed airspace with 8-16 people around you… who are also unmasked… is a good idea during Covid.

    And if you say “but HEPA”, you clearly don’t work in a hospital. Surgeons wear masks during surgery despite HEPA. In fact, all staff in all locations still wear them.

  6. I’ve found AS to be consistent, good, and reliable. Some of their airplane cabins could use some updating, but I’ve always found them clean, well maintained, and the cabin crew are almost always pleasant and engaging. The food is essentially representative of what you get on a US carrier but it is just fine and the cookies are indeed great. Where AS does not compete well is in the transcon market in select markets, notably NYC, where frequency and frills count. It will be interesting to see what they do with the LAX/SFO service out of JFK as the market recovers.

  7. Seat back screens are all that is missing on Alaska.
    I will actually choose Delta , just to get one

  8. @Lucky – I agree that these “old style” seats may be the most cushy among US carriers, but I don’t think that it’s fair to say “So as far as “standard” domestic first class seats go, it doesn’t get better than this.” when their is no seat-back IFE.

    I’d sacrifice 1″ of pitch and a bit of padding in domestic first class for IFE. It’s nice to be able to use 2 screens on a flight. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this preference.

  9. One FYI – the UA SFO-TPA route is generally NOT a redeye. Since the route started, it was always with a mid-day or mid-afternoon departure from SFO, with evening arrival into TPA. The redeye is usually the second flight that only operated during peak seasons around the holidays. Suspended at the moment as you said so does not really matter but it’s actually quite convenient when operating, especially when it had the 2 or 3pm PT departure time from SFO.

  10. @ Charles — Whoops, good to know, thanks. When I was looking at it a while back I saw a redeye, but will update post to reflect that.

  11. I believe Alaska has the best domestic first class service. Their food prior to the pandemic was amazing and they have been able to transition to a much more simple product while still being good. FA’s are always nice which makes its feel like they enjoy working for Alaska. Much different vibe when flying the other majors.

  12. Seeing this really makes me miss Virgin America. I’ve stuck with Alaska because it’s still way better than the other alternatives (the main one being United, for SFO), but the Virgin F experience — with 52″ of pitch, seat-back IFE, and good-for-domestic-planefare food — was worlds better than this. (I also can’t STAND the “distinct” (i.e., gross ’70s era mom-and-pop shop) bulkhead pattern.)

  13. Just so you know, 41″ is considerably shorter than JetBlue’s Mint product (58 or 60 inches, depending on the configuration).

    I realize they don’t serve SFO-TPA and they weirdly don’t market the seats as either business or first, but they’re just one of probably many with more legroom.

    I do agree AS does a fantastic job in every way, and I fly them often.

  14. Good, balanced review. AS continues to do a great job and I’m excited for their entry into OW. I just hope they don’t devalue their frequent flier program.

  15. Ben, you got a wine pour? Like, out of a bottle?? For the past year, it’s been not-very-good wine in a can in Alaska First. That’s great news if it’s a permanent change!

  16. @Ben – going for AA Exec Platinum again even with your limited international travel these days?

  17. More padding over no seat-back is a win.

    In fact, lack of seatback IFE is a huge plus in a typical domestic seat.

    Nobody poking the back of my seat every time they want to adjust the screen, channel or volume. No forced viewing of advertisements. Less light pollution when I’m trying to sleep. No risk of my paperback book being nonfunctional.

  18. Ben would be interested to read a post describing why you’re focusing on American status vs Alaska given the redemption rates for Alaska are better.

  19. The 6-hour first class trip on Apr 5 was great in terms of service, food, and comfort. The only thing that ruined this particular flight was that there were two lap babies that were noisy. The parents sitting behind us were trying hard to settle the baby. But everything that they did ended up bumping or pulling on the backs of our seats. So while noise cancelling headphones helped, it was the adults that disturbed our experience. So, are there any airlines that do not allow lap babies in first class? I will pay top price to go non-stop with adults only to avoid that experience again.

  20. Very good review of the current first class product. I’m Gold 75K on AS although I haven’t been on a plane in 12 months. It seems the current 1st class meals are the previous coach buy on board meals (minus the cookie). Also you commented about the nice cushy 1st class seat. I LOVED THOSE SEATS. Although that’s the old 1st seats. The new highly touted 1st class seat in my opinion is rock hard thin seats. Also you mentioned the bulkhead design. Alaska Airlines has always had that carpeted pattern which I’ve always liked. Unfortunately they are changing that too with a very plain non carpeted bulkhead. And I cracked up about your comment on the dots on the SFO windows. I always complain about airports that have those. It ruins pics. DTW has them too. I do have a question. Did they have coffee? Last time I flew a year ago their was no coffee and no alcohol. Just water bottles. Thank you for posting a trip review of the current product. Great job. Happy Landings

  21. Premier coach for less than half price. You can purchase the same meal as 1st class and still a lot less

  22. I guess the seats are padded and comfortable, I just can’t get over how dated the finishes, wrinkled leather, and dated bulkhead pattern make the cabin feel. Almost looks like “big front seats” on Spirit in the cover photo. Also no IFE, but I know Alaska doesn’t plan to add it, either.

    Anyone know how far along they are in the rollout of the new Recaro seats? Are they only going on the ex-VA aircraft and the ex-Alaska aircraft are keeping the old seats? Or is this just a slow rollout across the fleet?

  23. Now that Alaska is a member of OW, I wonder if they will they become a transfer partner for AMEX Membership Rewards?

  24. @ Canadian Platinum — I don’t see that happening. Just as American doesn’t partner with a transferable points currency, I don’t think Alaska will either. It seems at odds with Mileage Plan’s overall strategy.

  25. Their ‘entertainment’ (on your phone) looks pretty complicated to get it work. As much as a cheap-ify as it is on AA, it works (most of the time at least). I agree with you on the meal – everything airlines are service for cost savings, ahem, “safety” requires eating with hands. Good observation there.

  26. @ Charlie — I booked this last minute, and economy was ~$250 cheaper than first class, and Alaska’s extra legroom economy was less than $150 cheaper. So definitely not “less than half price.”

  27. @ Michael Lashchuk — Thanks! Yep, coffee was available on request. I believe it’s automatically offered on flights before 10AM, but it’s available on request the rest of the day, though I didn’t have any.

  28. The best thing about Alaska First Class is you can actually get upgraded. My family of 4 MVPs (Alaska’s lowest level) all got upgraded both directions SEA-ATL in March.

  29. @ Sean — Good idea for a post, thanks! Let me see what I can do. The short answer is that ultimately living in Miami I think there’s still value in crediting to the airline you fly the most in order to have the best upgrade priority. I’m curious to see what kind of changes we see to Mileage Plan in the coming months.

  30. @ slappychasez — To be clear, I’m not at all on track to requalify this year. However, I am hoping that American further lowers elite requirements, so for the time being I’m still flying American (or crediting to AAdvantage) when possible.

  31. @ jjmpdx — Hah, that was for my mom. That’s how it was presented, though I’m not sure if in the galley it came out of a can or bottle.

  32. @ Pat — Indeed, JetBlue is the outlier, and I wouldn’t consider JetBlue to offer “standard” first class seating, which is why I added that caveat.

  33. I kind of have to laugh at the ‘European-sized cans’ as a European I can say those are cocktail-sized mixer cans, not the standard by far, European sized cans are 330ml and only slightly smaller than the US standard can.

  34. My last Alaska Airlines First class flight was in November 2019, so of course pre-pandemic. My GF and I wanted an extra night at the Park Hyatt NYC and I burned a ton of miles to fly JFK-LAX. And I regret it to this day. The seat bottom was thin and uncomfortable and the overall experience was meh. I feel like I could have had better value buying gift cards, It was that bad. Granted we flew in on a 321T in J, which is a far better option outside the onboard food. However outside of international long haul F/J I rarely eat meals provided on an airplane. Domestic catering outside of JetBlue is shit.
    Give me a comfy seat and free flowing booze, all the other perks are insignificant.

  35. Wow, they must have changed. I loved Alaska in the 70’s and their first class service was stellar. Come the early 2000’s, their first class service had deteriorated terribly. When I would get upgraded via Delta (back when they were speaking) I noticed they never gave a pre-departure cocktail, after takeoff they would ask what you wanted to drink, and then bring it out when they brought their meal – always a cold meal. Good, but cold. Then the FA’s would disappear into economy and you would see them again only when they cleared your tray for landing. So, glad they have improved. However, that cabin looked kind of dumpy and old to me.

  36. I’m guessing that AS is not offering tablets for streaming in First? They were doing that, of course, prior to the pandemic.

  37. Long term alaska flyer and they are at an all time low continually running out of food and no drinks first class or otherwise. Halfway to million mile club I’m looking at other options. I would not fly alaska over ANY airline right now!

  38. I do know Alaska temporarily got rid of the tablets even in First (I haven’t heard if they’ve brought them back). I can see them permanently getting rid of it. They’ll say our research shows people prefer to watch on their own devices. I dont know about you but I prefer watching on a screen in the seat back at eye level. The real reason airlines have taken these out as it saves weight and costs. Alaska charged 8 to 10 bucks for the tablet in coach free in first. They got rid of these pre covid 2 yrs ago even in first on SEA ANC (3.5hr flt).

  39. @Lucky You say you’ll take Alaska over UA any day of the week, is this saying you’d take Alaska first class versus UA’s “new” Polaris class like you did ORD>SFO? It sounds like it but hard to believe you’d pass up on an actual lie flat bed on a transcon.

  40. The old seats are great, they look so dated but they’re so comfortable with all the padding. The new ones however are awful, unfortunately. Hard as hell, no padding and my seat cushion kept sliding. I guess I must have flown one of the refurbished Virgin planes (oh how I do miss the Virgin seats!!).

  41. We are fond of Alaska due to our experience. Back in Summer 2019, we flew from SEA to DFW to check on our rental property. Our next door neighbor was supposed to sit for our puppy. Midway in flight, we texted them a reminder, and they realized that they misplaced our house key and the garage door was locked from the inside. We were in a panic, must have been somewhere over CO. We asked the lead flight attendant if they were going to fly back to SEA and they did not, but the captain would. She spoke to the captain, and then the captain himself came out and offered to take our house key back to Seattle. As soon as he landed, he texted my next door neighbor who were already waiting at the airport to pick up the key. No locked out puppy – thanks to Alaska.

  42. I’ve flown a number of AS flights since mid-Feb. F is given choice of fruit and cheese or breakfast / turkey sandwich depending on time of day. You can pre-order in economy with ccard on file. Wine has only been in can and on my flight tonight – now actually – tried for first and likely last time. Coffee is offered in am and available elsewise. Entertainment is only streamed to your personal device – easy to use and intuitive. FAs are friendly and mostly attentive. Agree that hard and soft product better than UA. Will experience AA in a couple of weeks and not sure when on DL as when given a choice I go with AS due to better mileage program. Did have a couple of AA flights this week on my $58 ticket from PHL to FLL – reminded me quickly why I have stuck with AS for economy flights.

  43. You say that Alaska joined OneWorld on March 31st and yet AS is still charging a “partner booking fee” when using Alaska miles to fly on AA metal. What gives?

  44. I dunno, I think I’m cool with paying $12.50 extra to book CX F on AS instead of 40,000 extra miles to book on AA.

  45. Flew 4 Alaska transcons this week (2 in F and 2 in Premium) and generally agree with Ben. The new F seats are not as well padded though. Flight attendants and gate agents are consistently great. Free fast Gogo wifi with T-Mobile is great too, unlike American which is ditching it as they switch providers.

    Alaska need to up its food game in (packed) coach now. If you didn’t pre-order the meatless fruit & cheese plate a day ahead, it is nothing but chips on the transcon for you.

    Also easy pandemic upgrades are over for lower tiers on transcons. Got 2 and missed 2 as a 75K.

  46. I am going to be the odd man out here and disagree. I have flown AS transcon in F about 10 times this year, mostly SFO-EWR and back. I’ve found the FAs mostly and consistently childish and umprofessional, gathering, giggling and gossiping in the galley while ignoring passengers. They act like high school girls without adult supervision. Then the fact that no hot entree is served on a 5+ hour flight in First class is imo unforgivable. That fruit plate and stale cold sandwich just does not cut it. The food served in first class on UA has been mentioned here. I have had it. At least it is a hot food.

  47. I’ve got minimum status (MVP) on Alaska, but since September have managed to get an upgrade to First on four of six flights. I’m sure that will change as more flyers with status get back in the air.

    My experience was very similar to Lucky’s. Excellent service at check in, at the gate, and on board. Choice of fruit/cheese plate or turkey sandwich. I’m a beer guy, so definitely appreciate the AS tie in with Seattle’s Fremont Brewing, which offers a choice between the pilsner and an IPA. I don’t think they were serving any mixed drinks. The hot cookie and the snacks were also served.

    With minimum status I can book an exit row at time of booking (not valid for saver fares). I’m flying with a non-status friend to Anchorage in early May, so not eligible for an upgrade. Flying with my wife from ATL to Bozeman later in May, so hopefully we’ll have a shot at an upgrade since she is also MVP.

    One point about first, which may be true for most airlines – the bulkhead seats have much less leg room, so I can’t completely stretch/straighten my legs.

  48. Hi Ben, I happen to be flying Alaska soon internationally and I have sensitivity to scents/smells… It would help greatly if you would comment on any strong smells… Did the place smell of coffee fumes, I am flying after breakfast to avoid a coffee cart down the aisle because of my sensitivity…anyone seen sick from insecticides or Disinfectants?…I also read their marketing on an Alaska scent branding… No scents or Fragrances circulating? Thanks for your feedback

  49. IMO, Alaska Airlines’ First Class domestic is good: lots of legroom, reasonably priced when bought far enough ahead, mileage plan more generous than most. First Class International: not so good. It’s essentially the same as domestic. And on a long international flight, having a seat that hardly declines is problematic.

  50. Your review is nice although, I flew FLL-SEA 2 days ago. Last minute. Cheated on my airline I LOVE. But my experience was far from yours. I paid 1490 one way and it was the most uncomfortable flight ( even in first I’ve been on in years ) and attendant rude and out right mean when I’d ask for a water. Got cheese plate, which was good but tossed at all passengers. I don’t like too use call button, but after three hours I want water. Biggest overrated airline. Delta simply best. Or fly private. I got home safe on quick note and Alaska is typically great, but many bad apples. They lost luster. And 6:45-7 hours in air. Add a good seat for paying customers. Blah. I’d take a connection before having too fly that again. ( And Alaska….. as u read this….. upgrade ur premium cabin on your longest routes. ). God forbid economy on that flight as first was awful.

  51. And that’s after a 3 million miler on Delta at young age and not in the points game with Alaska status matching me last 8 years 75k when I don’t fly them.

  52. Fll Sea flight worst ever. Two days ago. Shitty workers, service and mean too all first cabin. After I paid 1490 one way. Go Delta

  53. I think this was a very big 1 off. But had awesome flight back on Delta. Flat seats. And they constantly knew my name. And never wavered. I’ll take the limited covid service vs ignored. And Yoshi even loved flight in blanket. Cuddling. Go delta. All others are awful. FA even gave Yoshi water. Delta best.

  54. I primarily fly first class with Alaska throughout the year for the last 10 years. My one and only gripe is that the head rests on all their first class seats don’t stay positioned up when you adjust them higher, they just fall back down. Being 6’6” it makes for a bit of discomfort having my shoulders hunched forward for hours at time. Aside from that, always happy with the flights and service provided.

    ***One night they had a service representative run through the door as soon as it opened on arrival, (I had a connecting flight and the one I was on was delayed) asking for me to come with her. “Sir your bag is being tracked down in storage right now and will be loaded onto your next flight.” We crossed a couple gates outside and she boarded me to my connecting flight. (Last flight of the night). so many thanks to them. If that isn’t the most incredible service. ***

  55. Liquor is back as of Tuesday. I flew BNA-SEA and had missed the news until after being handed a second can of the red blend. Unfortunately no Sun Liquor. Tito’s, Tanqueray, Woodford Reserve, Jack, Bailey’s, and the two Fremont Brewing beers (Lush IPA and a Pilsner). The canned red and Chardonnay are actually okay, but I’m sick of the breakfast or turkey sandwich at this point. Upgrades are getting tougher, and I’ve missed a few on cheap fares flying with my 75K SO. 263% EQM (now 225%) on abundant, cheap I fares didn’t help. I will renew MVPG and he 75K on our next trip. I’ve also seen abundant recent examples where booking 5-10 days out, F is available on transons for only $60-180 more than the cheapest main cabin fare.

  56. By-the-way, the trick with the cookies is to order them unheated before the FA starts heating them up. Pairs great with a fresh coffee with Baileys. That way they aren’t such a mess, and they still get a little warmed by the others in the basket. Heated, those cookies are so comically messy they should have been replaced with something else by now.

  57. I tell you about AA. Guy gets sick as we’re boarding on Fargo. Arrive late in MSP and will miss only flight into Mexico from LAX by AA. Have to stay overnight in LA reschedule. AA sticks for another 300. This was absolutely chickens—.

  58. *Erling – but AA does not operate between Fargo and MSP so I am not sure why AA would be responsible for the delay on …. DL

  59. As an Alaska elite (mid-tier) I have to say that some experiences are good and others not so much. I easily get upgrades on short flights like SAN-FAT. But what i have noticed is that it is nearly impossible to use your status (i.e. book ahead of time, not wait and hope there is space) to get an upgrade on ANY flight that is longer than 2 hours. I have looked at availability from SEA-DTW or SEA-MSP (and various other longer flights) and there is literally NO first class upgrade seat availability. I really think that ahead of the Oneworld partnership, they went in and quietly removed it on longer flights. Also – as to the comment about the food – one thing Alaska really needs to work out is the ability to pre-order food. You literally cannot get food in the main cabin unless you pre-order and their system has been a nightmare. Even calling customer service ahead of the flight will not help. The food itself is decent, but not being able to pre-order it on flights that are 6-7 hours long is just inexcusable.

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