Browsing Tag: SEA

Privium ClubLounge in Amsterdam

Privium ClubLounge in Amsterdam

For most people being stuck at the airport is a real drag. Even though I can easily be entertained for a few hours, if I am in one more than 4-5, I will start getting grumpy. Uncomfortable seats, expensive food and no one who seems to give a darn. Unless of course, you have access to an airline’s board room.

I have flown a lot in my life, yet I have had very little experience with airline board rooms. Either not racking up enough miles with one airline or constantly flying airlines that don’t even have a board room. I have always felt they were elite and out of reach for a middle class traveler. I wanted to check out the board room experience inside and out and luckily Alaska Airlines was more than happy to have me.

I learned that although being in the board room feels like an elite experience, you don’t need to be wealthy to experience it. I visited Alaska Airline’s Board Room at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport twice in one week: The first to see what it is like as a passenger and the second, to roll up my sleeves and go behind the scenes to see what it is like to work as a concierge.

reLAX, enjoy some snacks and the view

reLAX, enjoy some snacks and the view

This experience will be in a three part series with this first introduction looking at boardrooms in general, the second part showing what it is like as a passenger, and concluding with the experience as an employee.

Airport lounges allow passengers to have a first class experience at the airport. Most are airline-owned or shared through an alliance. Many larger and legacy airlines will have lounges all over the world, but most low cost carriers will not provide any.

For the most part the lounges provide a quieter environment for passengers to relax or work, free food and drinks and direct access to top notch customer service. Most airport lounges are restricted to people with yearly or lifetime memberships, elite frequent flyer members or those flying in first class. Some airlines will allow passengers to purchase one-day passes to enjoy all the amenities, but not with a long-term contract.

Alaska Airlines Board Room in Seattle, WA

Alaska Airlines Board Room in Seattle, WA

Now, you don’t need to go through an airline necessarily to access first-class airport service. A while back I took a look at reLAX at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which gives you board-room-like service, but it is not attached to any airline. You don’t need VIP mileage status or big bucks to be treated like a rockstar. You just need a few bucks and some extra time at LAX. I checked back in with them and things have been going well. They have seen 50,000 visitors since they opened in December 2008 and are planning to expand to other cities in the near future.

So what is it like to be a VIP and go to the exclusive airport lounge? You are going to have to wait until tomorrow to find out, when I blog about the passenger experience at Alaska Airline’s Board Room!

A Day In The Life Of…A Board Room Concierge
PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | ALLPHOTOS

Images:
Privium by WytzeNL
ReLax by ReLax
Alaska by AirlineReporter.com
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.”

Seattle's Link Light Rail waiting at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Seattle's Link Light Rail waiting at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

For those of you in many other parts of the world, talking about public transportation options from the airport is not news. For us in Seattle, finally getting a public transportation option, other than the bus, is huge. In many regards Seattle (my home town) is a very progressive city, except when it comes to public transportation. We have tried many different times, but seem to get blocked at every turn.

A monorail was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and it has run almost the same 1.2 mile route with two stations since then. In 2002 Seattle voters approved expanding the monorail 14 miles in the first of five new lines running through the Seattle area. This was a real attempt to give Seattle another public transportation option other than buses. Unfortunately in 2005, voters wanted the project terminated. The monorail still runs on its same 1.2 mile path, but definitely does not provide the public transportation that Seattle needs.

Seattle’s light rail has  had a difficult history as well, but luckily they were able to work out the problems.  Link Light Rail started in 1996 when voters approved an increase in taxes for a 25 mile light rail system. Dogged by environmental and financial issues as well as people from the communities affected complaining, the first part of the system was not opened until July 2009 and even then, it didn’t connect to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

Seeing the planes while leaving the airport is always fun.

Seeing the planes while leaving the airport is always fun.

In December 2009, Link Light Rail finally connected SEA to downtown Seattle and provided a new, environmentally friendly and cheap option for passengers. During my recently flight with Virgin America I decided to check out getting from the airport to my house in north Seattle using only public transportation (ok, I didn’t really decide, but no one could pick me up, so I “decided” to take the light rail). I have never done this before and was excited to see how it works.

When doing research on my trip, I noticed was how cheap it was. Only $2.50 to get from SEA to downtown Seattle. To compare, it would cost $32.00 to ride in a shared airport shuttle and over $50 to take a taxi (and of course returning the favor if a friend gets you). Not bad. The whole ride from SEA to downtown only took me 36 minutes, which it takes about 20 minutes in a car (saying there is no traffic, which is very rare). Even to get all the way to my house on the light rail and bus it cost $6, where it would be $45 with shuttle van and $80 for a cab, what a deal!

Finding the train at the airport was easy with the signs, but it was quite the walk to get there. Paying was a little complex at first, but there are machines you can use cash or credit card, choose what stop you want to go to  and pay the proper amount. There is no one to check your ticket to enter the train, but about half way to downtown, three fare enforcement officers came on board to confirm we were all paid up.

The outside of the Link Light Rail.

The outside of the Link Light Rail.

The trains are new and comfortable to ride in. I was surprised not to see any ads in side the car I was in and asked Bruce Gray,  a spokes person for Sound Transit (who runs the Link Light Rail), about the ads. He told me via email that many trains do have ads inside and they will have their, “first wrapped train with advertising on the outside should be rolling this week.”

One thing I was hoping for was a park and ride lot for airport use, where I could park my car, maybe pay a cheap fee and take the train to the airport. They have one station with 600 parking spots, but a maximum of parking for 24 hours. Gray told me that in May the light rail saw 21,700 boardings per day and has been steadily growing since the start of its operation.

Since I haven’t had too much experience riding the new train system, I talked to a Seattle native, Shannon (@SEAsundodger) who has ridden the train about once per month since it opened and she loves it. “I love everything about the light rail, I live in Seattle proper (Interbay/Magnolia to be exact) and I don’t own a car. So public transportation is near and dear to my heart,” she told me. She hasn’t had any issues with riding the light rail and is very much looking forward to the expansion. When I asked how it feels flying by people stuck in Seattle traffic while going to the airport, she said, “It is sweet when it’s rush hour while you’re headed to the airport, and there you are, zipping along on the train.” I could easily see it being quicker taking the train when traffic really gets backed up.

I love Seattle and the majority of people in Seattle, but there have always been people complaining anytime we have tried to move forward with public transportation and the light rail is no exception. But this time, I think the positives are outweighing the negatives and the light rail will continue to grow to the north and to the east. Hopefully some day it will reach where I live and I can easily hop on the light rail to the airport. Until then I have a feeling I might be taking the bus and train more often!

Virgin America Airbus A320 "Air Colbert" the aircraft I felt from SEA to SFO and back, sitting at SEA

Virgin America Airbus A320 "Air Colbert," the aircraft I flew from SEA to SFO and back, sitting at SEA.

Spending most of a Saturday just flying to one airport then flying right back is not most people’s definition of “fun.” But for airline nerds like myself, it can be!

I fly a lot for personal and business reasons; however I have never been able to fly on Virgin America. Others in the aviation world, my friends, and my family have all given this airline and their in-flight entertainment system (called RED) positive reviews.

I decided I needed to experience RED first-hand. I talked with the fine folks at Virgin America and I was invited to take a flight from Seattle (SEA) to San Francisco (SFO) and back! Game on!

The lights really create a unique and pleasing atmosphere in the main cabin.

The lights really create a unique and pleasing atmosphere in the main cabin.

I would be flying on an Airbus A320 named “Air Colbert,” after the comedian “Stephen Colbert.” I was hoping this was a sign that it would be a fun ride.

The first thing you notice when getting onto a Virgin America plane is the awesome pink and purple lighting. My flight left around 1:45pm, when it was still light out, and the cabin lights were streaming pink and purple. On my flight back in the evening, the cabin was lit a lighter purple. I learned that they change the lighting as the day goes on to have less pink. I overheard the people in front of me say, “feels like we just got onto the party bus,” and I think that sums it up nicely. Virgin America doesn’t seem to install any special new lighting, they just replace the normal white bulbs with purple and pink. Why don’t more airlines do this?

Taken when landing at SFO. I love landing at this airport, it is nothing but water until the last second before landing.

Taken when landing at SFO. I love landing at this airport, it is nothing but water until the last second before landing.

You are also welcomed by black leather seats, all with headrests and of course RED. On my flight to SFO, I purposely decided to sit in Row 13 (since I just wrote a blog on it the day before). Row 13 was lucky for me, since no one sat in the middle seat, even though the flight was quite full.

During the whole flight down to SFO, I played with RED. I have to say this is the most sophisticated in-flight entertainment system I have tried and should be something other airlines aspire to. There was free satellite TV, games (including Doom), chat, music (with 3000 mp3’s), and some internet movies. These alone would keep someone entertained for hours. However, there was also some premium content, like recently released movies, and recorded TV shows that one can purchase.

Virgin America has a standard drink cart service, however there are no free snacks. They make it easy to buy a snack, meal, or premium drink (a.k.a. one with alcohol) right on your RED screen. You can go through the menus, adding food and drinks to your cart (even free drinks), and then check-out. You can pay with your credit card via seat-back credit card swipe or the swipe in the RED remote. Then your order is sent back to a screen for the flight attendants to view, so they can fill and deliver your order. Ah yes, of course I had to test it out, and it worked wonderfully! Before I got my iPhone I would have considered the touch screen interface very high-tech, but I kept finding myself sliding my finger sideways to go to the next menu (like on an iPhone).

Ordering a drink or food is easy. Just push what you want on your screen, pay via your credit card at your seat, and someone will bring it to you.

Ordering a drink or food is easy. Just push what you want on your screen, pay via your credit card at your seat, and someone will bring it to you.

Passengers have another option besides touching the screen. Every seat has a mini-remote, where one side lets you change channels, volume, go to the food menu, and on the other side you have a full QWERTY keyboard and video game remote control. You have the ability to chat one-on-one with someone in another seat (which is good if you are traveling with people you are not sitting next to) and you also have an overall chat room for the whole plane. I was very sad that no one came into the main chat room. Jaquelyn, the In-Flight Team Leader (who had an awesome accent) informed me that the chat function is very popular on flights to Vegas and when kids are flying in big groups. Luckily I was able to chat with a passenger one-on-one, who turned out to work for the airlines. I had a hard time working the mini-QWERTY keyboard with it being dark, but I think she got the jist of what I was saying.

If RED doesn’t entertain you enough, all their planes also have Wi-Fi and luckily for me, it was free and will be until January 15th. During the flight to SFO, the middle seat was empty and a laptop was easy to use, but on the flight back to SEA I had someone next to me, and being 6’1″ it isn’t easy to use a full sized laptop in my own little space. Under each seat there are USB and electrical plugs, so no need to worry about your device going dead mid-flight.

I am impressed with Virgin America’s level of service, the seat quality, and of course their in-flight system. Both my flights were about two hours, but they felt more like 30 minutes and I still don’t feel like I was even close to be bored with RED.

SEE MORE PICTURES OF MY ADVENTURE >>>

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