After a brief visit to the Alaska Lounge, I headed off to the second part of my Alaska journey. On this leg, I’d try Alaska Airlines B739 Premium Class for the first time. Alaska advertises Premium Class as “Premium Economy Lite”, you might say. In addition to extra legroom, Premium Class also includes priority boarding, light snacks, and adult beverages. I previously reviewed American Main Cabin Extra, Virgin America Main Cabin Select, and (what was then) Delta Economy Comfort. So how would Alaska’s premium offering measure up? I set out to find out on this mid-range flight to Los Angeles.
Alaska Airlines (AS) Flight 434
- Friday, September 8, 2017
- Depart: Portland International Airport (PDX), Gate C3, 16:59, 49m late
- Arrive: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Gate 65B, 19:23, 53m late
- Duration: 2 hours 24 minutes
- Equipment: Boeing 737-900
- Seat: 9A
Boarding was originally scheduled for 3:50 pm, but Alaska posted a 20-minute delay. We then began boarding promptly at the new time of 4:10 pm. However, that’s where things went off the rails just a bit. It took less than 20 minutes to finish boarding, but then we sat. The captain came on with a dreaded “we’re ready to go, but…” announcement. Turns out we had two problems. One involved Alaska having computer issues, requiring the captain to manually enter his flight plan. And the ground crew didn’t load enough fuel, so we had to wait for a top off. That delayed us an additional 30 minutes on the ramp.
While that’s normally not a big deal, this one had me sweating bullets. My originally scheduled layover at LAX was only an hour and 10 minutes. The first delay cut that to 50 – still fine with the tunnel connecting Terminals 6 and 4 airside. But now, it looked like I’d have maybe 20 minutes. I HATE stressing out about connections, but luckily Premium Class comes with free booze…
Alaska Airlines B739 Premium Class – Seating and Interior
Alaska configures its 739s with Premium Class with 16 First, 24 Premium, and 138 Main Cabin seats. Premium Class consists of four rows in a 3-3 configuration. The plane also shows off Boeing’s swanky Sky interior.
I liked the Native American designs on the bulkhead, as well.
On the other hand, for a relatively new plane, the seat upholstery seemed a little worn. I suspect this has to do with the color as much as anything else. Grey leather, while very nice when new, also gets that wrinkled look quite easily.
Although identical to Alaska’s Main Cabin seats, Premium Class adds 3 inches of pitch, for a total of 35. Legroom was more than adequate, though felt only slightly roomier than Main Cabin on the E-175.
The 739 also addresses my biggest complaint about the otherwise decent E-175. Each seat comes equipped with conveniently located power and USB ports.
The biggest enhancement with the 739 are the supersized overhead bins. The “Space Bins” swallow up to 5 roller bags wheels-first. They seem to work; despite a full flight, I never heard the dreaded request to start gate checking.
I found the seats much more comfortable than the E-175. Rock-hard seatbacks mar the experience on that plane, but the seats here seemed fine. No back or butt issues after 2 1/2 hours in the seats. Meanwhile, Alaska provides the same in-flight entertainment on both regional and mainline flights. I discussed the options in my Main Cabin review, so I won’t cover that again here. Suffice to say, you won’t get bored on a 2-hour flight.
Incidentally, while WiFi on the flight to Portland seemed better than average for Gogo, this flight featured the typical mostly unusable speeds I’m used to. I bought a day pass for work, but mostly used it to track the incoming plane for my flight to Dallas. I tried accessing my work software, but could barely get it to work, and eventually gave up.
Alaska Airlines B739 Premium Class – Meals and In-Flight Service
Premium Class includes snack boxes and alcoholic beverages free of charge. The snacks are decent quality, though not terribly substantial. Not an adequate substitute for a proper meal, in other words.
Drinks are on the house, including Alaska’s signature selection of craft brews and liquors, and PNW wines. It’s the same menu as my Main Cabin flight earlier, just without the charge.
I ordered a gin and tonic, which came with “Hedge Trimmer” gin, made by Seattle-based Sun Liquor distillery. Sun Liquor advertises Hedge Trimmer as an organic, non-GMO product, with watermelon rind added as a unique ingredient. I found it a nice gin for a G&T. It’s less astringent than many gins, and though I can’t say I detected the watermelon, it has a distinct citrus finish that makes for a nice cocktail.
If the snack box and booze doesn’t cut it, Alaska offers the same Main Cabin buy-on-board menu in Premium Class.
Though still stuffed from my encounter with The Reggie, I decided to order a cheese and fruit plate. Partially because I figured I’d have zero chance of picking up any food at LAX due to my connection. But also because I wanted to one-up Rohan in the grapes department. Foiled – I think I counted the same number as he got. But the fresh apple slices one upped his single dried apple and apricot. Sorry, buddy.
I looked forward most to the Beecher’s cheese, but came away disappointed. Just too dry for my tastes. Usually, I concur with Rohan that brie is hard to pull off on an airplane, but this one was pretty good. Soft and spreadable, with a good nutty flavor, and a good complement to an otherwise cardboardy cracker. The chocolate truffle looked divine – but I took it home, and my wife helped herself before I could try it. Boo. Anyway, if you’re in the mood for a quick bite, it’s not bad for $7.50.
As far as service goes, I actually preferred SkyWest’s E-175 service. Sure, the flight attendants were friendly and engaging. But it took them FOREVER to service the coach cabin. They finally finished about 10 minutes before we began our descent, and so they didn’t offer refills or anything. Granted, they have to serve 162 coach passengers versus 64 in the E-175. But still, it felt rather inefficient.
With PDX serving as an Alaska hub, Alaska aircraft dominated the view out the window as we waited for pushback. A Horizon E-175 waited next to us, presumably a victim of the same system issue.
After takeoff, we enjoyed nice views of I-205 crossing the Columbia River into Washington.
I choose a seat on the left-hand side specifically because I figured I’d get a chance at snapping Mount Hood. Initially, I thought I lucked out and did indeed get a photo. But after conferring with a map, I think this might actually be Mount Washington instead, farther south. Perhaps an Oregon native can chime in. Either way, the mountain jutting into the clear blue sky made for some fine viewing.
Later, as we made our way into California, we roughly paralleled the 5 freeway along the west side of the Central Valley.
Thanks to the delay, the approach into LAX was simply incredible. We began our final approach over the Ventura County mountains, just as sunset began.
We then passed just to the west of Simi Valley, providing a fine view of both the valley and surrounding mountains.
Then, we continued southeast towards the San Fernando Valley.
Shortly thereafter, we briefly crossed the coastline, providing a fantastic view of the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu.
We then hooked a sharp left, passing just south of Sepulveda Pass on the 405. I hoped to spot the Hollywood sign, but no such luck.
And finally, a spectacular low fly-by of Downtown LA. I’ve gotten some great shots of downtown over the years, flying in from the east from Dallas, but never anything quite like this.
Finally, after landing, I spied some fine planeporn as we taxied to the gate, with just enough light to get a good photo. Behold a China Southern A380.
About That Tight Connection…
We arrived at the gate at 7:23, leaving just 17 minutes to hike to Terminal 4 for my connection. I tracked my inbound plane all fight long, and I noticed it arrived about 15 minutes late. Maybe, just maybe, I might make it! The plane flew in from Phoenix, and thanks to a stroke of luck, I happened to be flying on a day PHX experienced weather delays. I got off the plane at 7:27, and began an all-out sprint through the terminal connectors to T4. I get to gate 46B, and much to my relief, they’re just calling my name for final call. Then, I head to the back of the bus – only to find that someone’s stolen my window seat. (If anyone’s curious – I discovered you can theoretically make it from T6 to T4 in 4 minutes.)
And thus begins a highly comical exchange. Two gentlemen are sitting in my seat and the middle, and both pretend like they don’t know English but are sitting in the correct seats. The guy in the aisle is supposed to be in the opposite aisle. He tries to make it sound like AA messed up by assigning 7 people to the same row. The lady in his seat also pretends not to have any idea what’s going on. I finally figure out she’s supposed to be in the middle seat one row back. Normally, I don’t put up with seat theft. I call the FA and let everyone explain why they can’t sit in their correct seats. But after running through two terminals, I was just grateful to be headed home. So I took the offending lady’s middle seat and proceeded to veg out to my Awesome 80s iTunes playlist.
Alaska Airlines B739 Premium Class – Final Thoughts
The real question here revolves around the value proposition of Premium Class. I paid $29 for the upgrade. At that price point, I say Premium Class represents a good value. Early boarding, extra legroom, and free booze adds up to $29 of value in my book. But on my DAL-PDX flight, Alaska wanted $64 for the upgrade. That seems like a stretch. Especially on the E-175, which features pretty generous legroom to begin with. You’d need to drink a LOT of booze to justify that price.
In general, though, I think I’m a victim of old expectations. As a Dallas-based flyer, I grew fond of Virgin America, but had little exposure to Alaska. And I can’t help but feel that Premium Class is a downgrade from VX Main Cabin Select. MCS includes free food, not just snack boxes, and in general just feels like a more premium product. In fairness, VX also charges a higher premium, between $60 and $130 to LAX as an example. So is Premium Class worth it? I agree with Rocky in this regard – it depends on what you value. I wouldn’t upgrade on the E-175, where Main Cabin seats provide generous legroom to begin with. On the 737, maybe, though I’d probably set my cut-off at $30-50 depending on flight length. Perhaps increase that if you’re a big drinker.
In comparison to other airlines, Premium Class is certainly better than AA’s Main Cabin Extra or United’s Economy Plus, both of which provide extra legroom but nothing else. I haven’t tried Delta’s revamped Comfort+, though I’ll be flying that for the first time next month.
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about my recent day trip to Portland. Click here for the trip report index and introductory post.