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.
Condor inaugural San Diego arrival – Photo: San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
Recently, I had the opportunity to take my first ever inaugural flight. Condor inaugurated twice-weekly service nonstop from Frankfurt to San Diego and they were kind enough to allow me to tag along. This was a special trip for me, as I rarely get the opportunity to fly internationally in anything but economy class, as more opulent flying is typically not in my budget.
- Condor inaugural San Diego arrival
- Inaugural celebration – Photos: San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
- Condor inaugural San Diego arrival
Not only was this a big deal for me, but this new connection to Europe is a big deal for the city of San Diego and the 3 million plus people in the metropolitan area. With the new flight, Condor becomes just the second nonstop connection to Europe, and first by a leisure airline.
Edelweiss Air A340 Melchsee-Frutt – Photo: Edelweiss
Recently, I received a press release email from my local airport, San Diego International. The title read: “Edelweiss to begin nonstop seasonal service between Zurich and San Diego.” You’ve got to love it when your local airport adds new service, but this time was a little different than usual. Normally, KSAN “new service” press releases involve Southwest or Alaska, and to places like Newark, Tampa, or Cabo San Lucas. Did this one really say Zurich? And who exactly is Edelweiss? For an airport that receives very little wide-body international service (JL to Narita and BA to Heathrow), this KSAN press release was big news.
Being a card-carrying #AvGeek, I’ve heard of Edelweiss but I can’t say I know much else about them or what they do. In fact, my first thoughts when hearing the name weren’t even related to the airline.
JAL Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner arrives to a water cannon salute in San Diego. Photo: Brandon Farris / AirlineReporter.com.
On Sunday December 2nd, Japan Airlines (JAL) began its all new service to San Diego from Tokyo-Narita becoming the first 787 operator into the airport and first airline to offer non-stop service to Asia from the city.
“Flying directly into San Diego International Airport, which is conveniently located in the heart of the city, offers transpacific travelers a long-anticipated, efficient and time-saving option,” said JAL President Yoshiharu Ueki. “JAL is delighted to also be a new member of the San Diego community and to be the first to provide residents with a bridge to Tokyo-Narita and one stop connection to more than 15 destinations throughout Asia-a region of economical growth and development.”
The celebratory ribbon inside the terminal. Photo: Brandon Farris / AirlineReporter.com.
JAL 66 came in for a smooth landing on-time at 09:50AM and was greeted with a water canon salute. This is the second US destination following the airline’s launch of Boston earlier this year. The service will begin with four times per week, connecting the two cities eventually going daily on March 1st 2013.
“We are very excited to bring the world’s newest airplane to the San Diego Region. The 787 is the reason that this route is happening today,” JAL President Yoshiharu also went on to say,
JAL will operate the flight with the all new Boeing 787 Dreamliner; they have it configured in a two class configuration of 42 Executive Class seats set up in a 2-2-2 layout, and 144 Economy Class seats in a 2-4-2 layout for an overall total of 186 seats onboard its aircraft.
JAL’s 787 (JA827J) sits at SAN. Photo: Brandon Farris / AirlineReporter.com.
“Over the past few years, our bureau has worked closely in partnership with San Diego County Regional Airport Authority and other to expand international service into our destination,” stated Joe Terzi, President & CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Key international markets like Japan represent an incredible opportunity for the continued growth of our region’s tourism industry, and this new Japan Airlines flight allows San Diego to become a stronger player in global tourism and business travel,” Terzi added.
This presents major growth for the San Diego region between Alaska Airlines new offerings and British Airways daily 777 service to London Heathrow Airport. Japan Airlines flight marks the eighth international destination to be offered to residents and the San Diego community are excited by the continued expansion of flights being offered.
ADDITIONAL JAL 787 DREAMLINER PHOTOS AT SAN DIEGO:
|This story written by…Brandon Farris, Correspondent. Brandon is an avid aviation geek based in Seattle. He got started in Photography and Reporting back in 2010. He loves to travel where ever he has to to cover the story and try to get the best darn shot possible.|
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