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.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hosted a “reveal reception” March 3 in preparation for opening its new $986 million International Arrivals Facility, which has been under construction for nearly four years.
The project’s most visible addition to the airport is a 780-foot-long pedestrian bridge over the taxiway that separates Concourses S and A. It’s the longest bridge of its type in the world, and its 85 feet of clearance allows for even the tallest of contemporary aircraft to safely pass beneath, even the behemoth 777x and its 64-foot, 7-inch tail. An airport spokesman said that the design even includes a calculated safety factor in the event a plane’s front landing gear were to collapse while beneath the bridge, which would raise the tail height even further.
The skybridge is wide, with expansive views and a moving walkway. It’s essentially a cable-stayed bridge, and the cables were left visible. It’s this reporter’s guess that there will be much dawdling on the way to customs and immigration on sunny days, when Mount Rainier will be clearly visible from the bridge
Ryan Calkins, president of the Port of Seattle Commission, lauded the facility’s grand views and much-improved service areas as Seattle’s “front porch to the world.” Washington State Governor Jay Inslee talked about how the Seattle area had hosted refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s and from Afghanistan in the 2000s, and the new facility should open in time to greet refugees from the current war in Ukraine.
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.
A Qatar 777-300ER receives a water-cannon salute as it taxis to its gate at Sea-Tac Airport
Qatar Airways (QR) launched service from Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, to Seattle, Washington, on Jan. 29, 2021, two months ahead of schedule. It also marked the first new service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Inaugural flights are always a joy to cover – you get to see other media colleagues and friends, there’s always a bit of a festival atmosphere, and, best of all, you get to go out onto the ramp at a busy international airport to take photos and enjoy the experience of being airside.
The 777 is an imposingly large aircraft
Qatar now serves the three largest cities on the U.S. West Coast: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Seattle service will be served by Boeing 777s with 42 seats in Qsuite business class and 312 seats in economy. The Qsuite seat layout is a 1-2-1 configuration, and economy is 3-4-3. Seattle service begins at four times weekly (Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), and is scheduled to switch to daily service on July 1.
A Qsuite was set up for the occasion – they are quite spacious
The food service was impeccable
Details included custom amenity kits
The new Seattle service will offer connections from the U.S. to global destinations in Africa, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, among others. The national carrier of the State of Qatar continues to rebuild its network, which currently stands at over 120 destinations with plans to increase to more than 130 by the end of March.
Before the inaugural event, I had the opportunity to chat on the phone with Mark Drusch, SVP of Revenue Management, Alliances and Strategy at Qatar Airways, who’s based in Doha.
“We understand that there are Somalis in Seattle who want to go home we know where our customers need to fly. We have flown a robust schedule even in the depths of covid, so we’ve had our finger on the pulse of the market and have been able to accurately gauge the movements that are required,” he said, citing strong pent-up demand for travel to East Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.
Further, covid has opened up a wave of interest in travel to exotic/under-visited destinations. “We have got a massive developing market between the U.S. and more exotic beach destinations like the Seychelles,” Drusch said. ‘People want to go someplace a little more isolated, and that market has developed quite nicely.”
He also cited the attractiveness for the airline of the strong business environment in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. “This area has not had a problem during the pandemic,” he said, adding that “the Pacific Northwest will rebound faster because of the kinds of businesses we have up here.”
The 77W’s cargo hold was filled with containers. Qatar flies the large jets, in part, to maximize its cargo-handling opportunities.
Cargo is the one aviation sector that has seen growth since the emergence of COVID-19. “Our cargo market has just boomed during the pandemic. We are the largest passenger/freighter operation in the world, we were experts already in carrying cargo on freighters and passenger planes, and we’re flying the 773, which has lots of cargo capacity.”
Asked if Qatar sees itself as being in competition with Emirates for connecting passenger traffic, Drush said, “Lets be honest – the airline industry is very competitive, but we’ve been different than Emirates – they’ve pulled back from the U.S. and Europe. We’ve continued to be in the market for our customers; in the middle of covid we repatriated almost 2 million people.”
The 777-300 cockpit is also quite spacious
Qatar Airways Privilege Club and Alaska Mileage Plan members can now earn frequent flyer miles on both carriers. Beginning March 31, 2021, members can also redeem frequent flyer miles on both carriers’ full networks and elite oneworld Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald status perks, including lounge access.
The departing flight also got a water-cannon salute
Headed back out on the nearly 14-hour flight from SEA-DOH
Of interest to those in the Pacific Northwest who are Alaska Airlines frequent fliers, Qatar is part of the oneworld alliance, which Alaska recently joined. Alaska Airlines will connect customers from the U.S. West Coast to Doha and beyond via its other hubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, complementing existing strategic partnerships with JetBlue and oneworld carrier American Airlines.
The main-terminal side of the forthcoming pedestrian bridge from SEA’s south satellite terminal will feature epic views of Mount Rainier, at least when it’s not raining. This photo is from Nov. 21, 2019.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA aka Sea-Tac) is going through some large-scale renovations that will make it a much more competitive transit hub beginning later this year – if construction plans stay on track.
The main focus of the renovation is Sea-Tac’s international arrivals facility, which is woefully undersized for the airport’s growing passenger traffic. The new elements include a 450,000-square-foot grand hall for baggage claims and customs processing, a picturesque aerial walkway connecting the south satellite terminal to the grand hall (which is being installed Jan. 23-25), and a corridor connecting arriving international passengers on Concourse A.
We recently walked through the construction site with Port of Seattle staff to see what’s coming. Bottom line: Sea-Tac is going to be able to better handle the mid-day crush that often happens when flights from Asia arrive en masse.
The under-construction great hall where international passengers will retrieve their bags before heading to customs and immigration
’œThe grand hall is sized for 2,600 passengers per peak hour, and we know that the peak is mid-day,’ says Janet Sheerer, IAF project manager, landside, at the Port of Seattle. ’œThere were very few overall design parameters for this project, and that was the biggest one.’
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), the architect of the renovation project, and Clark Construction Group, the contractor, ran models to make sure the new facility could handle peak passenger traffic. ’œThey ran robust models based on the type of aircraft, when the flight is arriving…to figure out where things need to be located and how many bag claim devices are needed,’ says Sheerer. ’œThe output from those models is what drove the design.