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My Review: Horizon Air from Seattle to Reno in a Q400

Me about to board the Q400 in Seattle. I should have waved, presidential-style.

Me about to board the Q400 in Seattle. I should have waved, presidential-style.

I have flown the route from Seattle to Reno many times in my life. From Reno Air back in the day, to Southwest, to America West to Alaska Airlines. The flight is easy, only about 1.5hrs, enough time to take off, get a drink and snacks and start the descent. In April 2008 Horizon Air took over the route for Alaska and since then, they have been the cheapest to fly. I actually prefer the flight on Horizon’s Q400′s versus Alaska’s Boeing 737 (or MD-80′s back in the day).

The main reason is, I love flying in smaller planes. It really lets the passenger connect with the flying experience. I think a lot of people do not like flying on smaller planes just for this reason. Unlike the larger planes, you get to board on the tarmac, which allows you to see the entire plane, not just a few inches around the door when you board in a jetway. The inside of the Q400 is set up in a 2-2 layout, so you always get a window or aisle. Of course I always go for the window, but I am happy to know if I don’t get one, I won’t be stuck in the middle.

Mount Rainier, just outside of Seattle, was one of many mountains you can see on the Seattle to Reno flight.

Mount Rainier, just outside of Seattle, was one of many mountains you can see on the Seattle to Reno flight.

On this trip I was in a group of four people, which allowed me to get a few photos of me with the plane and even better photos from both sides of the plane while flying. The flight from Seattle to Reno is beautiful. From Mount Rainier to Crater Lake, if it isn’t cloudy, you are in for a real treat. The Q400′s fly quite a bit lower at about 25,000 feet versus 30,000 to 40,000 with larger aircraft and their wings are high, which means everyone has an awesome view.

We all checked in the day before online and only had carry-ons, so we didn’t have to wait in any Horizon lines, just put up with the security ones. Horizon has a semi-hybrid option between carry-on and checking your bags, called Ala Cart. Since the overhead bins are smaller than you would find on larger aircraft, not all carry-ons can fit in them. If yours cannot fit or you don’t want to lug it on the plane you can put your carry-on on a cart while boarding. They will put it on another cart when you arrive at your destination. It’s way quicker than having to wait in baggage claim not to mention, the Ala Cart option is free. If you do need to check your bag, it will cost you $20 per bag, up to 3 bags. Like their sister carrier, Alaska Airlines, Horizon also provides the 20 minute checked baggage guarantee.

Beautiful downtown Reno, just about to land.

Beautiful downtown Reno, just about to land.

Talking about Alaska Airlines, Horizon’s relationship with them is quite unique. Some people think of Horizon as Alaska’s regional carrier, but they are set up very differently. Both airlines have a parent company, Alaska Air Group which owns and manages both airlines.  Most regionals fly for a larger airlines for fees and Horizon will sometimes fly for Alaska, but they mostly fly under their own brand. Horizon has their own marketing department, their own ads and unique brand of service. You will see the two airlines share a website together, but both logos are prominently displayed.

One thing that does make Horizon unique is offering free, regional wines and micro-brews, ah yea…can’t miss out on this. Our flight left at 7:40am, but that didn’t stop us from trying out some of that free local wine and beer. I mean, come-on it was the blog right?! Horizon is also offering free snack-packs on their Seattle to Portland flight, but I have yet been able to experience that first hand.

Passengers were able to de-board from the front and back of the Q400, making it super quick. Employees are getting the Ala Cart bags out.

Passengers were able to de-board from the front and back of the Q400, making it super quick. Employees are getting the Ala Cart bags out.

A passenger in our group (we shall call her “Rita”) was a little apprehensive about flying on a smaller aircraft. I know many others out there have that same fear. However, I quickly pointed out that Horizon Air is extremely safe and has never had a fatality since they started flying in 1981 and haven’t had any sort of incident since 1990. That made Rita feel much more comfortable and after the flight she very much loved her Horizon experience (maybe the glass of wine she had at 8am helped too).

The Horizon Q400′s might be a bit slower than jet airliners, but they are much more cost effective and friendly for the environment. Horizon has green stickers on each of their planes touting how green they are and even painted one of their Q400′s entirely green (can you see “Shrek” as they call it here or here?)

I definitely get excited to fly on Horizon and flying on the Q400′s and hope that some of you can feel a bit more at ease flying in smaller planes in the future.

Check out my (ok our, thanks Ben, Rita and Amy) additional pictures of the trip.

UPDATE: I have been informed there are two green Q400′s, nicknamed “Shrek” and “Fiona.”

23 comments to My Review: Horizon Air from Seattle to Reno in a Q400

  • Joe J.

    Well that is certainly a positive review, and yes, there are good things to day about Horizon’s Q400 service. As mentioned, the adult beverage service is outstanding, al la cart is very convenient, and I’m told the plane allows Horizon to fly routes that might not work out economically with a larger plane. I’ve also found the staff to be very friendly and it is kinda cool being able to board from the tarmac All good things, for sure.

    But it isn’t all rainbow and sunshine, and I’m surprised some of the negatives didn’t make it into the review. I fly the Q400 pretty much monthly around the northwest, mainly because it services the smaller cities more frequently than Southwest or others.

    1) As a turboprop, the plane is significantly louder than a jet, especially toward the front of the aircraft where the engines are.

    2) The size of the plane makes it more vulnerable to feeling turbulence. Small bumps in a 737 turn into more of a harrowing experience in the Q400. It gets tossed around more up there. You’re pretty much guaranteed to have a bumpy ride if you fly over the Cascades in it.

    3) If you are a person of height (>6′), as I am, this plane isn’t going to be comfortable for you. For starters, the leg room is less than Southwest’s 737. I can just barely fit my legs in without having them touching the seat in front of me. I cannot stand up in the cabin without bending my neck down. And the lavatory? Forget it. I also can’t stand up in there fully. The windows are at the hight of my chest, so I get a nice view of the wall without scrunching down in my seat or craning my neck to see out. I feel like I am in some sort of midget-world in the Q400.

    4) Also, the seats don’t recline. At all. This is a major drawback, obviously. The seats also seem to be a little thin on padding, not as comfortable, or as wide as a typical 737 seat.

    The bottom line is whenever I have a chance to fly on a jet over the Q400, I take it. No question about it. But the Q400 services routes that I need and frequently has more daily flights to places like PDX and SEA than Southwest does. So in those instances, I am thankful for for Q400.

    • Hey Joe!

      Thanks for your comments. You are right. Horizon does offer a bit less leg room. According to SeatGuru Horizon’s Q400 has 20-30″ seat pitch and 17″ seat width. Southwest does have a bit more with 32-33″ pitch but the same width. I am 6’1″ tall and I could feel it is a bit tighter. However with having amble room for my carry-ons and there is no divider on the floor between the seats, I was able to spread out quite nicely. Thanks for pointing out the seats not reclining, that is something I normally never use. Horizon mostly has short hops, so the lack of reclining is probably less important than having more seats and lower fares. Another thing I did notice that I forgot to mention was the lack of sunshades.

      I know I am probably in the minority, but I don’t mind the louder engine noise and feeling the turbulence more. It connects you a bit more to the flying experience. All four of us were actually sitting in row 7 which was right next to the engine and none of us had trouble talking even from window to window seat.

      But the beauty of the airline business is there are a lot of choices. I don’t know if you have check out SeaPort Airlines too, but I plane to take a look at them shortly!

      David

    • Hey Joe!

      I spoke with Horizon and they told me that their seats do recline.

      David

  • Thanks for this great review. How was the leg room?

    • It felt good. I was surprised to see on SeatGuru that they only have 30″ seat pitch. However there is no bar in the middle of the seats in front of you and you have quite a bit of carry-on options, so it felt like there were more.

      David

  • I love flying the little planes. I’ve ridden on Shorts 220s, but they had the feel of a bigger plane. My most memorable flight on a little plane was when I flew a Metroliner III between Austin, TX and San Antonio, TX. It seemed like we were flying “just above the cows” we were so low. Anyway, I’d love to fly a Q400 sometime.

    Cheers,

    Rafael

  • Joe J.

    David- Either I’m missing something on those Q400 seats, or that Horizon person is incorrect. I have flown on a Horizon Q400 dozens of times in the past few years and I’ve never once had a seat that reclined, nor have I seen someone else recline their seat. Can you double check that?

    Sandy- The legroom isn’t great, several inches less than on a 737.

    • You are right Joe! Sorry about that, the Horizon rep and I had some mis-communication going on. The Horizon CRJ’s do have reclining seats, but the Q400′s do not. Thanks for following up!

      Being selfish, I prefer that since I do not recline my seat myself and don’t like people reclining them on me. However, I know that most people do prefer a reclining seat.

      David

  • Hey David,
    I tend to like regional airlines better in general for short range flights. I feel that you get a more intimate service with the airline, as there are less people on the aircraft for flight attendants to take care of. I flew an Air Canada Jazz flight (Air Canada’s regional airline similar to Horizon) to Vancouver a while back and was really impressed with how much better service I received than I did on larger aircraft. The flight crew seem less stressed when they’re serving on a smaller aircraft. Sure, the seating could be better, but companies generally don’t use these aircraft for long trips, so it’s not much of a disadvantage.

    This all brings up a very interesting question though. Would you prefer good seating or better costumer service?

    Great post,
    Brad

    • Hey Bradley!

      Very interesting question…better seating or service. When I first read the question I thought it might be difficult. Then I thought about my airline experiences and I prefer the better service. Being treated well can make me forget about the smaller space I have. Of course I would love both, but that’s called First Class :).

      David

  • I don’t mind the noise, but on one trip to Montana I recall being in row seven, and the vibrations from the engine made my butt numb.

    I actually prefer the Q400 than the 737 or a CRJ. Generally since they’re shorter hops, I can take the discomfort (6’2″ but elite on AS/QX so I can usually get the good seat for that). What I don’t get with the Q400 that I do with the 737 is the longer boarding/deplaning process. More often than not, Horizon has been willing to use both doors to unload, which makes getting to your final destination a bit quicker.

  • Flyin' Bob

    Tink this article writer was on Horizon’s payroll. -Or maybe upper management on a SBM (Secret Boost Mission). No amount of free beer & wine can numb the amount of turbulence you will endure on a 2 hour flight @ 25000 feet on a west coast winter day. (24000 feet for the return)… Not to mention that you CAN’T see Crater Lake from within a cloud.
    Seats do NOT recline, and when you pop out of the cloud, the morning sun will hit you in the face, because there ain’t no window shades. That’s where the safety card comes in handy! Rattle & Hum, baby! Bring your Bose, or your earplugs! (not handed out unless you ask for a pair!)

  • Hey Bob!

    Your name might be “Fly’n Bob” but I am guessing you don’t like the process of flying too much?! The noise, the turbulence, those are all things I have no problem with, they are just part of the flying experience. The non-reclining seats and no sunshades, that is what you get for having the cheaper fares. Every time I have flown Horizon, there has always been someone else flying at a higher cost. Even on this trip I paid about $100 one way with less than two weeks notice, where the next closest was $130, the most was over $200. With four of us travelling that is $120 (or $400) more and totally not worth it.

    Even if the fares were equal, I would prefer flying Horizon, because like I said in the blog, I enjoy that closer connection with flying I get on smaller planes, but I do know most don’t feel the same way. I know a lot of people see flying as an unwanted chore, but I try to keep reminding folks it is still a wonderful and magical experience!

    David

  • Joan Graham

    Okay all your guys that do not mind the turbulence……It really scares me and I am planning on taking Horizon on Aug 3rd from Seattle to Reno.
    How can you make me feel more comfortable about all this??
    Thank you!

    • Hey Joan!

      I am not going to lie but I experience turbulence almost every time I have flown to/from Reno. You just have to think of it as part of the fun. Like a being in a car and hitting a bump. Just remember the fine folks flying the plane are trained professionals and they do this day in and day out. I am sure they would be nervous trying out your job too :). Have a wonderful flight and let me know how it goes!

      David

    • jennywa

      I used to hate turbulance too, but then a wise old pilot told me that the plane can take more than you can! That really helped. I hope it helps you!

  • Jim

    I love turbulance and prop noise. I love the sun on my arms and face while flying and trying to catch a nap. I love that those flight crew have to work as much as 15 hours flying those fatiguing noisy planes. For that, I always try to get a good look at the pilots before I sit down in my seat. Usually they appear awake, but I’ve seen some pretty tired looking pilots and attendants. I’m very concerned about the turbo props fatiguing noise and its effects on those who have to work long grueling hours. What I do like most about the plane is its fast speed for its old school and out dated look. I’m glad there are a few people that like these airplanes, but I really think that an e190 or crj 700 or 900 are the successful and trusted planes for the regional airlines. I think Horizon Airlines is going to end up like Lynx from Frontier and fail if they fly only these unreliable airplnes. I wish them the best, but if I worked there, I would get my resume current.

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