For Labor Day weekend, I headed out to Oregon and used the occasion to check out Alaska’s new nonstop flight from Washington Reagan National (DCA) to Portland (PDX). I frequently travel to Portland either on United from DCA via plane changes in Chicago, Houston, or San Francisco or United nonstop from Washington-Dulles (IAD) (the less convenient, larger airport).
Alaska was granted the exclusive right to fly from slot-controlled DCA to PDX by the Department of Transportation earlier this year and it began service on August 28. The westbound flight departs DCA at 5:10 p.m. and arrives PDX at 7:55 p.m. The eastbound flight leaves PDX at 9:30 a.m. and arrives DCA at 5:40 p.m. Alaska Mileage Plan members earn 2,343 miles for the flight each way. The aircraft on the route is a 737-800.
Because I normally fly United, I was interested to see how Alaska’s service compares. This was my first time flying the airline since 2004. Alaska was recently recognized by JD Power and Associates with the highest customer satisfaction among traditional network carriers for the fifth year in a row. The booking and check-in process with Alaska’s website and mobile app were straightforward and I had no problems using the mobile boarding pass. I paid $378 for the roundtrip ticket. Here is a quick overview of how TripBadger thinks Alaska stacks up:
- Pre-Flight: Great website, mobile app, and the availability of mobile boarding passes to expedite the airport process.
- Cabin: Unlike United, American, Delta, and US Airways, Alaska allows non-elite level flyers to grab seats in the first row of coach with more legroom at no additional cost. I flew both directions in the coach bulkhead row and it was great with plenty of space. Alaska’s seat pitch in coach is 32 inches. The outbound plane was an older 737-800, which was not very clean after a day of flying. However, the aircraft from PDX to DCA was a clean, new 737-800 with the Boeing Sky interior. Interestingly, the first row of coach seats had seatbelt airbags. I read airlines were installing airbags in bulkhead rows, but this was the first time I have ever seen them in person.
- Onboard Service: The Alaska flight attendants were very attentive and came through the aisle three times with full beverage service. They also distributed free pretzels during the first service and a cookie during the third, which is a nice touch when you are used to skimpy beverage service on United, America, and US Airways on coast-to-coast flights.
- Mileage Accrual: In addition to earning miles in Alaska’s Mileage Plan program, you can earn miles when flying Alaska in the American AAdvantage program and the Delta SkyMiles program thanks to Alaska’s numerous airline partnerships.
Room for Improvement
- Meals for Purchase Options: Alaska could do better with its Northern Bites branded fresh food options for purchase. In addition to the standard industry snack boxes with chips, cookies, and cheese, the options were a questionable cheeseburger and chicken macaroni and cheese, neither of which looked appetizing. I would rather see simple fresh, light sandwich options or salads like United offers on its flights.
- Inflight Entertainment: Alaska does not offer complimentary inflight entertainment, but does provide portable entertainment devices for rent at a cost of $8-$10 depending on the length of the flight.
Alaska’s new nonstop from DCA to PDX is very convenient and the airline’s service is better than the competition. The fares for the nonstop are roughly equal to connecting flights on competitor airlines at this point. We will see how long this lasts as the route becomes more popular. Unfortunately for me, I will probably stick with United even if it means connecting through Chicago, Houston, or San Francisco or trekking out to IAD for the nonstop. A West coast flight from Washington, DC earns too many valuable frequent flyer miles to not remain loyal to the airline I work hard to maintain status on every year.