Flying What’s Left of Virgin America on Alaska Airlines to Seattle (Trip Report)

Last year, I turned 40. This year, it was my wife’s turn. And for her 40th, she wanted to go on an Alaska cruise with me and the kids. After looking at all the options, she picked a trip on the new Norwegian Bliss, and that meant we’d go roundtrip from Seattle. Though we thought about flying on JetBlue out of Long Beach, Alaska had a better fare by far (could use my annual companion ticket that comes with the Visa card) and better times out of LAX. We were originally booked on an Alaska 737 one way and a Virgin Airbus the other, but after a schedule change, we found ourselves on the remains of Virgin America both ways. I can’t say I enjoyed the flights as much as I usually do when flying Alaska. I’m just writing up the flight north today, but I’ll have the return soon.

Unfortunately, when you buy the companion fare, you can’t put any other person on that reservation, so I had to book two separate itineraries. That was frustrating, because I realized at check-in that my free bag allowance only applies to people on the same reservation, so we were only allowed two free bags for the four of us. We did get to print those bag tags at home, which was a first for me, and we found a way to optimize carry-ons so we didn’t need a third bag.

Our Lyft driver dropped us off at Terminal 6 just a little over an hour before departure. We walked right up to the bag drop and asked for a self-printed bag tag holder so we could insert the tags. Then we walked past the below ever-so-pleasant affirmation and headed to security. There was no line.

We were at one of the old Continental gates that passed on to United through the merger and then went to American before going to Alaska. The last time I flew from this gate was on a United flight to Maui. At least the terminal is much nicer now.

Boarding began far too early, as Alaska likes to do for some strange reason (40 minutes before departure for an A319). The announcements weren’t very clear, and the screen didn’t accurately show which rows were boarding. So it was somewhat confusing. But we got on and found our seats.

It sure felt like a Virgin America flight when we were onboard, but as has often been the case, the airplane looked dirty and worse for wear on the inside. You can see some grime here.

The seatback pocket was hanging off. It looked like it would snap back on, but it didn’t.

There was no Alaska branding to speak of, including the safety video, safety card, etc. They really need to expedite the refit of these interiors, because they clearly haven’t received the attention they need.

One of the pilots came on a little before scheduled departure time and started speaking in airline jargon. I have no idea how many people understood what he was saying, but it couldn’t have been that many. He mentioned a ground delay program, wheels up times, and vectors, among other things. Ultimately, the story was that the clouds were low in Seattle, and we should expect a long taxi before we could get in the air, but he never said anything about pushing back late. Then, we sat. There were a lot of chimes going off, but there wasn’t a peep from the cockpit or the flight attendants for the next half hour as we crept past departure time. The flight attendants flipped on the safety video at the gate, but that was pretty much it.

The Red entertainment system is still intact on this airplane, sort of. The Live TV is long gone, and I think there was music before that’s pulled off as well. The movie selection is good, but the TV shows are pretty limited. All that Virgin made/sponsored content is gone. I turned on a movie (CHiPs, and I know, I regret it as well) long before departure, and it was half over before we even took off.

When we did push back we taxied all the way over to the north runways before finally getting airborne. The flight itself was quick. Once we were up above the low marine layer, it was a beautiful day and it was smooth sailing as we stayed fairly far east (passed over Reno).

I had gone back into Red and ordered a hot tea for me and an orange juice for my son. The flight attendants mentioned ordering through Red in an announcement, so that should have still worked, but it apparently wasn’t being used on this flight. When they got to our row, they asked what we wanted. I mentioned what I had ordered on the system and she starting working on it as if it were a new request.

The cups and napkins had Virgin America branding. Presumably they’re just using up what’s left in the warehouse.

Once my movie was over, I didn’t have enough time to watch another. My wife and daughter were separated from us by a few rows (thanks to being on different reservations during the schedule change), so this was the perfect opportunity to use the seat chat function. It worked, sort of, but the keyboards are all in bad shape. It was easier to just not try to communicate.

I flipped on the moving map and pulled out my phone. Thank you, T-Mobile, for the free hour of wifi. It was moving surprisingly fast on this flight, so I just had my tea and read the newspaper on my phone. How civilized.

Once over Oregon, a low cloud layer set in as well as a higher one. It was strategically placed to prevent any good mountain viewing on this flight. We started descending over Washington, and the high clouds were gone. All that remained was a low layer under 4,000 feet. We were on the left side, but I held out hope that we’d make the turn and get to see Rainier. (My wife had never been to Seattle, so this would have been a first.) Sadly, that didn’t happen. We made the turn earlier than I thought, and just as we were about to come around, we plunged into the low cloud layer and lost visibility. Drat.

We popped out underneath and had a nice view of Lake Washington and Boeing Field below us. Then we put down before having a somewhat long taxi to find our D gate. That concourse was jammed, and I was just happy to get out of there. My wife commented on how the airport seemed pretty bad from a first impression. D gates will do that to you.

We headed into Seattle for a whirlwind 2-day visit. Then it was time to cruise.

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Muscat,  Oman
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