Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines shows off first retrofitted Virgin America aircraft

Courtesy Alaska Airlines

Just about two years after acquiring Virgin America, Alaska Airlines is showing off the first retrofitted version of the fleet of Airbus aircraft the Seattle-based carrier inherited in the deal.

The makeover was revealed this week on an Airbus A3121neo (new engine option) airplane during a short demo flight out of San Francisco International Airport. These retrofitted interiors will eventually show up on all of Alaska’s Airbus fleet of A319, A320 and A321aircraft and on its Boeing 737-700s and three new Boeing MAX 9 planes.

Alaska Airlines

The new cabin features include upgraded seats, Alaska blue (not Virgin pink) mood lighting for boarding, a refreshed cabin color palette and space-saving tablet holders at each seat.

Device holders are on the seatbacks of premium and economy seats. Photo Alaska Airlines

Additional upgrades range from more conveniently positioned power outlets (USB and 110V) at every seat (no more sharing) and the elimination of those space-hogging electrical boxes on the floor under the middle seats.

There are also ingenious pull-out cup holders in the tray tables of the premium class seats and, for everyone , Gogo’s faster high-speed satellite Wi-Fi.

And, in a nod to the hip Virgin America brand many customers still miss, the makeover includes an board and de-planing music playlist that Alaska has programmed to have a “cool West Coast vibe thatcomplements the relaxing and modern ambiance.”

Here are some more snaps of the plane’s new features:

photo: Harriet Baskas

Aircraft seat manufacturer Recaro has created first class seats that include memory foam, a 40″ pitch, tray tables with tablet holders and bonus footrests.

Photo – Harriet Baskas
Mesh pouches on seat backs have an extra elastic to make them easier to use. Photo Harriet Baskas
Seatback screens are gone – replaced by device holders and easier to access USB power ports. Photo Harriet Baskas

Joshua Rappaport, Executive Cheft at LSG SkyChefs was on site – and on the plane – sharing details of a new, refreshed menu that leans heavily to healthy, seasonal, West Coast-sourced and fresh.

Seattle-based fashion designer Luly Yang was on site as well, showing off the line of uniforms passengers will soon see on the Alaska Airlines team.

Seattle’s 2nd airport – Paine Field – opens March 4

Courtesy Propeller Airports

The first commercial flights from what’s been dubbed “Seattle’s second airport” are set to take on March 4, 2019 from the brand new passenger terminal at Paine Field (PAE) in Everett, WA.

The 2-gate, 30,000 square-foot terminal is a private-partnership between Propeller Airports and Snohomish County and feels more like a swank airport lounge than a small regional airport.

Paine Field passenger terminal waiting area. Photo_Harriet Baskas

Here is my “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY about the Paine Field project:

To the delight of many travelers in the Seattle-metro area who must battle some of the country’s worst traffic to reach Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Paine Field is 30 miles north of downtown Seattle about 40 miles north of SEA.

As avgeeks and avid plane spotters will quickly tell you, the new Paine Field passenger terminal sits on the same airfield that houses Boeing’s sprawling wide-body assembly plant.

No telling what you’ll see while waiing for your fligh at Paine Field. We saw this unmarked “Janet Airlines” plane – thought to ferry goverment workers between Las Vegas and locations such as Area 51. – Photo Harriet Baskas

Where will you be able to fly to from Paine Field?

After a brief setback due to the partial government shutdown, Alaska Airlines is scheduled to launch service from Paine Field on March 4 with flights to Portland, Las Vegas and Phoenix after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the airport.

By March 12, the full schedule of 18 daily roundtrip nonstop flights to 8 west coast cities – Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose – should be operating on their regular schedules.

“I think we’ll have a good mix of leisure and business travelers,” said Mario Doiron, who will serve as Alaska Airlines’ station supervisor at Paine Field, “The morning flights will likely be filled with business travelers, as is the pattern now for us at SEA airport. But there’s been more interest from leisure travelers than we thought.”

United Airlines, the only other carrier scheduled to operate out of the Paine Field passenger terminal, will begin flying six daily flights from PAE on March 31: two daily roundtrips to Denver and four daily roundtrips to San Francisco.

Making sure United offered flights from Paine Field to Denver and San Francisco “Is kind of a no-brainer,” in terms of giving more passengers a way to get to the airline’s hub airports, said Ankit Gupta, United’s VP of Domestic Network Planning. “As the airport expands, we’ll look at either flying bigger jets or flying to more cities.”

Both airlines will operate their flights from Paine Field on Embraer 175 jets.

What’s inside the new Paine Field passenger terminal?

Photo Harriet Baskas

Propeller Airport CEO, Brett Smith gave me a tour of the new Paine Field passenger terminal at the end of February, less than two weeks before the facility was set to welcome its first guests.

Construction was complete, but Smith was busy answering calls and questions about last-minute touch-ups and finish-work and making adjustments to the lighting and the sound system. In one of the two gate hold areas, employees from Alaska Airlines, the Transportation Security Administration, the local sheriff’s office and other groups were doing operational run-throughs for opening day.

The lobby

Solari flight display board will emit retor ‘flapping’ sounds. Photo Harriet Baskas

With valet parking and a concierge desk at the terminal door, Smith says the $40 million terminal designed by Denver-based Fentress Architects will make passengers feel as if they’re entering an upscale hotel lobby. Once through security, “They’ll feel as if they’re in an upscale private airport lounge,” said Smith, “But this lounge is for everybody.”

The lobby has a polished concrete floor, a Swiss-made wood acoustical treatment on the ceiling, a Bose sound system, check-in stands with Italian-marble countertops, and a limestone-covered wall complete with easy-to-spot fossil imprints. Behind a bank of check-in kiosks is a Solari flight display board programmed to emit the retro flip-board “flapping.”

Smith says the concierge desk staff will offer all passengers the same sort of service hotel concierge staff might offer, including direction and recommendations for restaurants and places to stay, as well as help with bookings. The concierge team will also escort Alaska’s 75 gold and UA 1K and above flyers to the front of the TSA line.

Smith hopes to introduce concierge subscription plans that might include everything from a fast track through the TSA line to unlimited valet parking and pickup and drop-off services within a 10 mile radius of the airport.

“We might also offer services like fulfilling grocery orders and taking care of dry cleaning or laundry which can be arraigned in advance so that when travelers return home they will find their requests fulfilled and waiting in their vehicles,” said Smith.

A short ramp leads to the TSA security checkpoint area, which will have three lanes, including one devoted to TSA pre-check.

The main terminal

Once past the security checkpoint, passengers enter the main terminal waiting area between the two gate areas. This center area has a plush, living room-like feel to it, complete with two fireplaces, plenty of armchairs and other comfortable seating, and a set of display cases filled with Paine Field-related memorabilia.

The view outside the large glass windows is unique: because Paine Field is home to the Boeing assembly plant and many other aviation-related activities, passengers are likely to spot anything from Boeing’s Dreamlifter and airplanes fresh out of the factory to military aircraft, private jets and planes in for maintenance.  (The day we toured, a “Janet” airlines plane, said to ferry government employees between Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and top-secret locations, such as Area 51, was pulling out of a hangar.)

To insure passengers don’t miss anything out on the airfield, there are glass-walled jet-bridges leading to and from the airplanes that will park at each gate

There’s robust Wi-Fi throughout the Paine Field passenger terminal, multiple options for power each of the 300 seats, and food and beverage provided by Seattle’s well-loved Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, including a Café Vita coffee shop pre-security. Post-security there will be a Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Café, serving soups, sandwiches and mac ‘n cheese, plus the Upper Case Bar, with Pacific Northwest wines, cocktails and food from the café.

Arrivals

The one-carousel baggage claim is about a minute’s walk from either gate and passenger pickup is just outside the bag claim area. A pet-relief area and a small building where passengers will wait for taxis, ride-hailed drivers and car rental shuttles is just outside the bag claim area.

A bit of Paine Field history

Paine Field – Snohomish Country Airport (PAE) was originally built in 1936 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project with the goal of being one of ten “super airports” around the country.

WWII and the Korean War changed those plans and, in 1966, after Snohomish County took over the airport, Boeing set up its production facility for the B-747 airplanes at Paine Field.

Commercial passenger service from Paine Field has been proposed, and hotly debated, for years.

In addition to the new Paine Field passenger terminal, today Paine Field is home to the Boeing Company’s wide-body assembly plant and the popular Boeing Factory Tour, as well as several other aviation-related businesses and facilities, museums and attractions, including the Flight Heritage & Combat Armor Museum built around a collection established by the late Paul G. Allen.

Alaska Airlines will build a new lounge at SFO Airport.

Courtesy Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines plans to build a new 8,500-square-foot top floor lounge in Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) .

The lounge will offer guests great views of the airport runway activities and of San Francisco Bay. It is expected to open in 2020.

To celebrate the announcement, Alaska Airlines is offering flyers traveling through SFO’s Terminal 2 today (February 20, 2019) a chance to win a free Alaska Lounge membership for the entire year.

To enter, stop by Gate 54B.

Alaska will be offering a demo of the upgraded lounge experience and handing out giveaways. There will also be special appearances by San Francisco Giants mascot Lou Seal and San Jose Sharks mascot S.J. Sharkie.

Travelers who take a picture of themselves enjoying the lounge experience (maybe with one of those mascots) and who then post the picture to Twitter and Instagram will be entered in the contest. (Use the tags @AlaskaAir and the hashtag #MostWestCoast.)

“SFO is our second largest hub with an average of 150,000 passengers flying on a daily basis, and we want to ensure airport visitors can rest, relax and enjoy our wide array of lounge offerings.”  said Annabel Chang, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of the Bay Area.

In addition to a great view, the new lounge will offer guests complimentary fresh food options, including salads, soups and tapas.

The lounge will also offer made-to-order meals available for purchase, including Asparagus and Goat Cheese Omelet with roasted potatoes or a Korean Rice Bowl with steamed vegetables and gochujang sauce.

Alaska Airlines is on a mission to upgrade and expand its lounges.

The Seattle-based carrier opened its first East Coast lounge in April 2018 at JFK International Airport. A new flagship 15,000-square-foot lounge at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is expected to open in June.

Alaska Airlines’ Captain Marvel plane – flying now

Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel opens on March 8, (International Women’s Day) and, in anticipation of the big day, Alaska Airlines unveiled a special-edition plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport today featuring Marvel Studios’ first female Super Hero lead.

The Captain Marvel-themed plane took off from SEA to Orange County, California.

The livery shows Captain Marvel taking flight and commanding the attention she deserves as a female pilot who has the necessary special powers to fight for the greater good.

Passengers boarding this plane will see a film logo when they board and an image of Goose the cat (a character in the story) over the wings.

The Captain Marvel-themed 737-800, tail number N531AS, begins flying throughout Alaska’s route network today.

Alaska Airlines is running several film-related promotions on Twitter and on Facebook. 

First up: From Feb. 6-9, Alaska Airlines social fans and followers can enter for a chance to win one pair of tickets to the premiere of Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel, including roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations for two in Los Angeles. Terms and conditions are available online.

What’s the big deal with this Captain Marvel film?

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Set in the 1990s, Marvel Studios’ “Captain Marvel” follows the journey of Carol Danvers as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes. While a galactic war between two alien races reaches Earth, Danvers finds herself and a small cadre of allies at the center of the action.

(All photos courtesy Alaska Airlines)

Travel Tidbits from Alaska Airlines and Virgin Atlantic

Here is are some travel tidibts from Alaska Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus

VR on Alaska Airlines

First Class passengers flying Alaska Airlines on two routes – Seattle-Boston and Boston-San Diego – will be able to test out virtual reality headsets for inflight entertaiment.

The Seattle-based carrier will be piloting SkyLights’ new Allosky Cinematic VR with a selection of 2D and 3D movie titles such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Spielberg’s Ready Play One in 3D and the kids title, Ferdinand.

360° films subjects will showcase freediving, classical music and acrobatics.

Virgin Atlantic and Aviation Gin

Virgin Atlantic announces today its that it will begin serving Aviation American Gin in its clubhouses and on its planes.  The gin is owned by actor and producer, Ryan Reynolds and batch-made by House Spirtis Distllery in Portland, OR.

To kick off the partnership, on September 30 some passengers on board Virgin Atlantic flights will be served cocktails mixed up by bartenders from some of the world’s super “in” bars, such as The Dead Rabbit in New York and Smugglers Cove in San Francisco.

Here’s a video Sir Richard Branson and Ryan Reynolds made to promote the partnership.

Not flying Virgin Atlantic? House Spirits Distillery  has a tasting room at Portland International Airport.