Gliders flying in formation near Lake Tahoe – Photo: Soaring NV
If you’ve ever flown into Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) when the winds are howling out of the west, you know that the approach and landing can be…sporty. In fact, it sometimes gets so turbulent that the mainline jets head for Sacramento International Airport (SMF), leaving RNO to Alaska Airlines’ Bombardier Q400 turboprops, which can use RNO’s short crosswind runway. I’ll happily fly into RNO from SEA on the AS Q400s on those bouncy days.
The bumps can mean that conditions are great for soaring. Yes – I’m a glider pilot, and the region around Reno is world-famous for those who love to fly without an engine. It’s an amazing sensation, soaring in our ocean of air. Some flights are like a dream – I just have to think about moving the control stick, and off I go, hunting for lift, as if the glider’s wings are attached to my shoulders.
When you think of gliding, you might have an image of a pilot running towards the edge of a cliff, ready to leap into the air while hanging from a fabric-covered wing. Yes, there are those out there who enjoy hang-gliding, in aircraft that are at the light and slow end of the soaring spectrum. Other than a lack of an engine, they don’t have much in common with a modern high-performance glider.
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.
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.
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.
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.”