Who's sitting next to you on the plane?
On the red-eye flights, I don't really care. But last week I was on six flights through four airports during daylight hours. Whether it's complaining about the TSA or helping someone squeeze a bag into the overhead bin, there are many opportunities to chat it up with your fellow travelers.
Between Anchorage and Fairbanks, I sat next to Wayne, a concrete salesman who was spending just three hours on the ground before heading back home to Seattle. "I've found that a face-to-face connection makes all the difference," he said.
On the return flight, I was grateful for an exit row seat. So was my seat mate —who was about 6-foot-7. He was a federal building inspector from the New Orleans area. He told me his name, but his Louisiana accent was so strong that I couldn't understand it.
Many of my longer trips from Anchorage start in the Alaska Airlines lounge. A couple of years ago, I dropped my regular membership, which costs around $300 per year. Now I get a Priority Pass membership with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Priority Pass provides entry into all of Alaska's lounges (except Seattle).
While getting a cup of coffee, I overheard one of the lounge hosts talking with two guests from Homer about traveling to Seattle. When I got on the plane, the same couple sat down next to me. We started chatting. Her name was Leah. But we were interrupted by Robyn, an attendant on Flight 136. She handed Leah her purse. Leah was shocked and amazed, since she had not even realized it was missing. The lounge host ran down to the gate after discovering the purse draped over a chair.
It was getting late when I boarded my flight to Spokane — but I was thrilled because I got upgraded! Next to me was Mark Robinson, an Alaska Air pilot who's been flying for 22 years. He was headed over to Spokane to fly the early-morning flight back to Seattle, departing at 5 a.m. We talked about things-with-wings for about 40 minutes until the plane pulled up to the gate in Spokane.
If you haven't been to Spokane, it is a great city. A river runs through the center of town. There's good coffee served all over town (Indaba is my favorite). There are also a handful of brewpubs. My favorite is No-Li Brewing, which features a restaurant on the banks of the Spokane River.
At the last minute, I changed my flight to get a better connection back home to Anchorage. The only seat on the flight, thankfully, was on the aisle: 25C. On my left was a gentleman from China, a pilot with China Eastern Airlines. He was on his way to Anchorage to ferry a private jet to Teterboro Airport, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The man seated across the aisle was scrolling through photos of colorful Hawaiian sunsets — and I finally blurted out, "Princeville!"
Startled, he turned to me and confirmed that yes, indeed, the photos were from the north coast of Kauai. He and his wife had just returned after a weeklong visit. But on this trip he was headed to the Kenai River for late-season trout fishing with friends.
Sometimes, nobody wants to talk. That's OK with me — and it's one reason I travel with headphones. But often, it's fun to chat with your neighbors on the plane.
Do you want to make sure you get a meal on board your next Alaska Airlines flight? If you're like me, you zero in on the fruit-and-cheese platter. So do lots of other folks, so Alaska Air gives you the opportunity to reserve your meal choice through their mobile app. We found out about this when they moved through the aisle and the cart was loaded with the platters. But they all were reserved.
Are you still shopping for a good fare to the West Coast from Anchorage? Delta is offering the lowest fare from Anchorage to Seattle: $111 each way in "basic economy." You can "upgrade" to regular economy and reserve your seat for an extra $15. Compare that with Alaska's lowest rate of $146 each way. From Anchorage to San Francisco, Delta's rate is $164 each way in basic economy. It's $30 extra to get an advance seat assignment. Compare that total ($194) with Alaska's rate of $203 one-way. From Anchorage to Los Angeles/LAX, the least expensive fare is on United (via Denver) for $156 one-way. United has even more onerous basic economy restrictions, including a prohibition on a regular-size suitcase that fits in the overhead bin. To use the bins and get a pre-assigned seat, pay an extra $30. Compare that total ($184 one-way) with Alaska's nonstop flight for $175 one way.
Speaking of United, the Chicago-based carrier will launch nonstop daily flights from Anchorage to Newark on June 20. Using a Boeing 757, the nonstop will run each day through Sept. 8. United also announced it will offer nonstop service next summer between Fairbanks and Denver.
From Anchorage, United flies to Denver year-round. During the summer, the airline also offers nonstop flights from Anchorage to Chicago, San Francisco and Houston.