I recently had the opportunity to welcome some VIP fish from Alaska to the lower 48. Did I enjoy the experience because of the Copper River salmon? Yes, it was quite entertaining seeing all the people wanting to kiss a 34 pounder at 8am in the morning (I typically don’t kiss fish before noon). For me it was more about having an excuse to get back on the tarmac at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and hang out with Alaska Cargo up close and personal.
When I fly for personal reasons, I will often think of a possible story angle before my flight. Sometimes I find one, sometimes I do not. During a recent trip from Seattle (SEA) to Houston (IAH), I flew on an Alaska Airlines 737. I thought what possible story angle could I come up with that could be unique when I am flying another Alaska 737 out of Seattle? I figured that this would just be a flight that I would enjoy and no story to be told (which is not always a bad thing).
As I sat at the gate, waiting to board, I looked at my flight details. Yes, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I did not take a closer look at what aircraft I was flying on earlier, but that allowed me to have a nice little surprise. I wasn’t just flying on any Boeing 737, but a 737 MAX 9. That was important to me, because this was my first MAX flight… game on.
I quickly changed from “civilian mode” (a name I use when flying as a passenger, not doing a story) to “blogger mode.” I started to think about what photos I wanted to take and how. Make sure I took good notes (I often forget in the giddiness), and not look too much like a total nerd in front of other passengers.
As I boarded the plane, I wondered how different the MAX would be. It was still using the same fuselage as the 737-100 that launched service in 1968, so would a typical passenger even notice? Would I notice? I was excited (actually more giddy) to find out.
I might as well get this out of the way right at the start: I am a Trekkie. I have tried to love Star Wars and I can appreciate it for what it is. But I have just never been able to get into it and I know not too much about the franchise (spoiler alert: I think Darth Vader is Luke’s father and Luke is Princess Layla’s sister which caused some family awkwardness all around).
However… when you put a nice looking Star Wars livery on a 737, I can sway my sci fi space nerd alliances for one morning. This week (on what was appropriately May 4th), Alaska Airlines unveiled their newest special Disney livery.
It has an eye catching black background with many Star Wars-themed designs and a beautiful green Millennium Falcon “emblazoned” onto the tail. And this isn’t your rattle can paint job. It took 228 gallons of paint, 540 work hours, and over 27 days to complete.
This is the seventh Disney-themed aircraft for the airline; this one celebrates Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The aircraft’s official name is “Star Wars Transport to the Disneyland Resort,” but you can just call her “SWTttDR” for short.
N913AK on its takeoff roll from SEA on its inaugural revenue flight for Alaska Airlines on March 1, 2021 – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer Lindgren
On March 1 at 6:30 a.m., Alaska Airlines’ first Boeing 737 MAX 9 took to the skies from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on a flight to San Diego. That flight made Alaska the third U.S. carrier to place the MAX into service since the plane’s grounding was lifted at the end of 2020, and it was the first airline to place the plane into service that didn’t receive any of its orders prior to the grounding in March 2019.
What was it like? Alaska did invite the local news media and AvGeek outlets to cover the departure, but the event was tastefully subdued overall. The worst part? Getting up at 2:30 a.m. to get to the airport on time. The best part? The flight itself, of course. As we reviewed back in 2019 before the grounding, the MAX offers a fine passenger experience, even more so now that the tragic issues with the aircraft’s avionics have been sorted and certified.
The flight crew consisted of Alaska’s fleet captain and chief training pilot
During the standard preflight passenger briefing, the pilots commented on how much they liked flying the new aircraft, saying that Alaska did 50 hours of proving flights over 19,000 miles with that plane prior to putting it into line service, including several flights for employees. They also noted the MAX’s greater efficiency, saving 15% in fuel costs over the prior model.
As I experienced on Icelandair’s Max 8, the plane is noticeably quieter in the cabin than the NG-series planes the MAX replaces, even when seated near the engines
I flew in coach, seated in row 13 both ways, in the aisle southbound and at the window back to SEA. If you’re familiar with Alaska’s current 737 NG cabin configurations, the overall layout is the same, save for some nice detail improvements, including additional USB ports that are much more accessible, and a clever device holder in the seatbacks. All in all, the MAX 9 provides a very comfortable and surprisingly quiet passenger experience.
This was my first commercial flight in nearly 12 months, and the biggest change I noticed was how often the flight attendants came through the cabin to pick up trash. Well, that, and there were no hot meals, alcoholic beverages, or poured soft drinks offered – water and soda were dispensed in single-serving cans or bottles.
A nicely-designed adjustable device holder features prominently on the new coach seatbacks
Coach-class service during the times of COVID doesn’t look that much different than in times past
The additional USB port (seen on the right side of the seatback) is far more accessible than the older style, which remain in their original location below the folding tray
Alaska has orders to take delivery of 68 MAX 9s, with options for an additional 52, so the MAX plays a primary role in the airline’s plan to modernize its fleet. Alaska plans to eventually divest itself of most of the Airbus A319/320ceos it acquired as part of its acquisition of Virgin America, coming closer to being an all-Boeing airline once again, although it does look like they’ll hang onto the 10 A321neos in their fleet for now.
The outbound flight to San Diego was quite full, with plenty of AvGeeks and Alaska Air crew in evidence. The return flight was considerably less full, more in line with what I’m told are more normal passenger loads given current COVID concerns.
At the gate at SEA for an early-morning departure
Local Seattle news media provided live coverage of the inaugural
Gotta love those huge overhead Space Bins
Alaska is currently using N913AK on two daily roundtrip routes from Seattle; flights 482 and 539 to and from San Diego in the morning and early afternoon, and flights 398 and 705 to and from Las Angeles in the late afternoon and evening.
Here we are on the base turn over Elliott Bay in Seattle on the way back to SEA. The MAX’s engines are considerably larger than the NG.
I made up a binder to plan our trip and this was on the cover… it is how I roll!
The movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is one of my favorite classics. It never gets old watching how a simple trip falls apart into complete chaos. It might have been a bit odd for me to be excited taking a trip using those exact forms for transportation (in the same order, none-the-less), but I was optimistic that our trip would turn out much better. Brittany (my lovely wife) and I were planning to take a plane from Seattle (SEA) to New York (via EWR); a train from New York (NYP) to Jacksonville, FL (JAX); and then a nice little drive down the Florida coast to Vero Beach, FL.
Brittany had never been to New York City and we wanted to visit my dad in Vero Beach. You probably can tell that I love flying, but I was at a place in my life where the idea of flying back and forth across the country twice in a few 737s was not appealing, so I started to get creative.
The outside of an Amtrak car with Viewliner Roomettes – Photo: Amtrak
I realized that for about the same cost to fly from New York down to Florida, we could purchase a Viewliner Roomette on the Amtrak Silver Service. Of course the travel time would be a bit more’¦ but the experience would be very different. Neither of us had traveled overnight on a train and I was stoked about the idea!
Although the train continued farther south, I wanted to round out the experience by de-training (that a thing?) in JAX and renting a car to drive the rest of the way. The drive is only about three hours to our final destination, but we decided to make it a two-day adventure. We wanted to smell the roses and also stay at a hotel right on the water. We had our quest locked in!
Buckle up’¦ it is time to first start the PLANE portion of our journey!