I’ve been flying Alaska from California to the Pacific Northwest since I was about 14. A mid-sized carrier, Alaska Airlines flies mostly in Western North America, with a specialty in flights to and from Alaska. Alaska’s commuter affiliate Horizon* flies into a number of smaller airports, especially those in California, Washington, and Alaska.
Making Reservations & Web Services
Alaska’s got a usable website, so long as users see well enough to read the pages. There’s no site-specific audio option available for low-vision passengers. Oops.
They do provide an accessibility services page, which includes some basic information about traveling with service animals, low vision and hearing passengers, passengers who require oxygen, and available seating accommodations.
For more than basic information, prospective Alaska passengers can call 1-800-252-7522 from 5am-12am Pacific Time. I don’t know what passengers who need help in the middle of the night get to do.
Alaska Airlines tickets can be bought on most of the major travel sites–Orbitz, Priceline, and so on.
Alaska offers all the now-standard day-of-the-flight services, including web check-in (kinda pointless for me, since I need to check bags and get a chair to the gate). I have found the Flight Updates via cell phone useful from time to time. There’s also an Oxygen and Other Special Services page that provides a smidgen of additional information.
Grade for Pre-Airport Service: B-
At the Airport
I’ve found the service at the various Alaska Airlines counters I’ve worked with to be above average. Counter agents and gate agents tend to be pleasant and helpful, even in difficult situations. No, it’s not what it was 30 years ago, but what airline is?
A deep dive into the Alaska web site taught me something I didn’t know. That Alaska permits any passenger who needs assistance at the airport to request that up to two family members accompany her to the gate. The passenger’s assistant must get a Security Pass from the counter agent–preferably at least two hours in advance of take-off. Of course, the TSA can revoke such a pass at any time.
Another pro-Alaska feature: If there’s one available, you can upgrade to a first-class seat for $50-$200 (or with miles) on the day of your flight at the counter or online.
Grade for pre-flight airport service: A-
In-Flight Service and Comfort
Once on the plane, the service remains above average. Flight attendants tend to be friendly and willing to help me with my bags.
Most of the Alaska fleet is comprised of Boeing 737s in 3-3 configurations. Others may disagree, but I prefer planes without the middle rows of seats. It makes for less chaos during boarding, less crowding in-flight, and a cleaner shot at the restrooms.
In coach, those seats are average in terms of size, shape, and reclineability. First class means a bigger, softer seat and all the liquor a traveler with pain probably shouldn’t drink. Don’t expect to be able to recline to full horizontal, or to be pampered in a plush cocoon–those things are pretty much reserved for wide-body jets (like 747s) flying internationally. Still and all, it’s generally worth the $50 to me to be able to sit back a bit further and enjoy a more comfortable flight.
Don’t expect pillows or blankets–Alaska doesn’t carry any at all, claiming concerns about H1N1 flu. Interesting that they haven’t reintroduced service despite the worry over the flu being over for a couple of years now. I have to bring my own pillow & blanket on Alaska flights to maintain comfort.
In the last year, Alaska Airlines’ food has improved dramatically, even in coach. Options include fruit and cheese platters as meal options, and a heart-healthy “picnic basket” filled with nuts and applesauce and multigrain crackers. Color me shocked–food I can actually eat! I didn’t have to crack open my sack lunch from home on my last Alaska flight.
WiFi access costs $5-$10 per flight, depending on the length of the flight. Meh. On longer flights, you can rent a “digEplayer” for $6-$12 to watch the movie, a few TV shows, or listen to music. Better than trying to see a screen 20 rows in front of you while listening through rented headphones. Not as good as a laptop with a DVD player and earbuds.
Grade for in-flight service: B
Getting Off and Post-Flight
I can’t remember a time when the wheelchair wasn’t waiting for me on the jetway or at the bottom of the stairs. That’s not true for some other airlines I’ve flown.
I’ve never had Alaska lose, temporarily misplace, or mutilate my luggage, so I’ve never personally dealt with their luggage service desk. Alaska Airlines ranked #5 for US airlines in 2010 for baggage handling (out of 9). That’s not great, so take my personal positive experience for what it’s worth.
Grade for post-flight service: A-
The Bottom Line
The Wall Street Journal rated Alaska #1 for US carriers for overall customers last year. I rate Alaska Airlines a B+ for travelers with pain. They do a decent job of making flying with pain less painful, though they’ve still got some room to improve.