My First Q400 Ride (Trip Report)

A good friend of mine was running the Ironman Canada in little Penticton, Canada and I was asked if I’d come up to help her drive back down to the States. (It was her first Ironman and she finished with ease – I was amazed.) I Q400 Propfigured this would be a lot of fun, and I’m always happy to help a friend in need, so I did it.

Initially I had hoped to try WestJet and a 737-600 but the timing didn’t work out, so instead I ended up flying Alaska via Seattle and connecting into Kelowna. (It’s just an hour shuttle ride down from there to Penticton.) The cost was about $240. On the way back, I took Southwest from Portland using my friend’s award ticket. The most exciting part was my first ride on a Q400.


August 28, 2011
Alaska 517 Lv Orange County 8a Arr Seattle 1055a
Orange County (SNA): Gate 2, Runway 19R, Depart 15m Early
Seattle (SEA): Gate N7, Runway 16C, Arrive 29m Early
N618AS, Boeing 737-790, Standard Alaska Colors, ~99% Full
Seat 6a
Flight Time 2h10m

I got to the airport about an hour early, and the place was hopping. Despite that, it took only 10 minutes to get through security and I headed to my lonely gate 2 – all the way at the northern end of the terminal.

Alaska started boarding way early – about 45 minutes prior to departure. I had snagged a bulkhead when I checked in, so I boarded later in the First Class Divider on Alaska 737-700process, but it was still about a half hour before departure.

I love the bulkheads on Alaska’s 737-700 because they’re not really bulkheads. You can still stretch out underneath the First Class seats in front of you. Instead, there are just curtains that extend halfway down to provide privacy for the fancy fliers. It’s a much better way to fly than having a hard bulkhead.

I took my seat and the flight attendants were doing a great job of managing the bag situation. Two others in my row tried to put their personal items up, but the flight attendant asked them to put it below the seat. Neither of them thought they could since it was a First Class seat in front of them. Funny.

The early boarding led to a 15 minute early departure. We did the usual Orange County rocket launch so that we could glide quietly over the rich people below. Once over the ocean, we shot up to 40,000 feet and winged our way north.

This was the first flight I’ve been on over an hour that had wifi, so I was looking forward to trying it out. It took me a little while to get it to work, but once I did, it was actually very fast the wholeSkillet Breakfast on Alaska way. I was able to get a ton of work done, alternating with a view out the window. Nice work, gogo.

I had no plans to get breakfast, but the flight attendants came by with a skillet breakfast with eggs, potato, and sausage. It looked good, and for only $6, I thought I’d give it a shot. It WAS good, even if it did come with Hellman’s ketchup. (Who the heck knew Hellman’s made ketchup and why isn’t it Best Foods, like the mayo is on the west coast?)

We landed and I had to chance to meet up with frequent commenter Nicholas Barnard on my long layover. We had a great day of spotting from the central food court in Seattle, and then I went over to my next flight.


August 28, 2011
Alaska (Horizon) 2670 Lv Seattle 142p Arr Kelowna 246p
Seattle (SEA): Gate C2J, Runway 34R, Depart 6m Late
Kelowna (YLW): Gate 1, Runway 34, Arrive 1m Late
N425QX, Bombardier Dash-8-Q400, 25th Anniversary Colors, ~90% Full
Seat 3a
Flight Time 41m

Horizon’s setup in Seattle is a lot like Delta’s in Salt Lake but on a smaller scale. You check in a gate and then walk out on to bare concrete covered walkways to get to your airplane. Ours was the festive-looking 25th anniversary aircraft for Horizon Air.

I dropped my bag on the “a la cart” station and then boarded. This may be a prop, but it has good interior space. The flight attendants were a little gruff, but other than that, it was a great flight. I thought it would be better to show more details in this 1m50s video. (I’m speaking quietly to avoid bugging the person next to me.)

I really enjoyed the ride – it’s pretty quiet, the vibration is minimal, and the views were spectacular. Combine that with the free microbrews onboard, and it’s hard to think of a more fun way to spend the afternoon.

After arrival in Kelowna, it was an easy entry into the country and my shuttle was there to take me down to Penticton. It’s beautiful up there, but the trip was shortlived. Soon we were driving down to Portland and I had to fly back home.


August 31, 2011
Southwest 2637 Lv Portland 720a Arr Oakland 910a, Lv Oakland 935a Arr LAX 1050a
Portland (PDX): Gate C14, Runway 28R, Depart On Time
Oakland (OAK): Gate 22, Runway 29, Arrive ~10m Early, Depart On Time
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 14, Runway 24R, Arrive 3m Late
N908WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue Colors, ~66% Full (1st) and ~33% Full (2nd)
Seat 3a
Flight Times 1h12m (1st), 56m (2nd)

We stayed in an airport hotel the night before, so I took the shuttle over in the morning. I arrived to find the security line stretching halfway down to the other concourse. Despite this, it moved quickly and I got through in only Mt Hood in the Distanceabout 15 minutes. Then I went to the gate to sit and wait.

I wistfully passed the JetBlue flight heading nonstop to Long Beach, but my friend had Southwest points to use, so that wasn’t an option. We boarded on time and both flights were completely uneventful. There was a low marine layer at each stop but we got above it quickly and cruised high. The only thing notable onboard was how empty it was. I thought the first flight was light, but the second leg was maybe a third full.

Sounds like summer is just about over.

[See More Pictures]

36 Responses to My First Q400 Ride (Trip Report)

  1. CP says:

    I love the Alaska skillet! As buy-on-board goes for breakfast, it’s the best option I’ve seen.

  2. You didn’t miss much on the 737-600. I prefer the Q400 to it anyhow!

  3. KCS says:

    Something I’ve been wondering for awhile: how do you find out the registration numbers of the planes you fly on? Ask the crew? Out the window of the airport?

    • Hunter says:

      You can grab them off aircraft if you can get a view. You can ask the crew. And, usually there’s a tag just inside the boarding door that shows it as well.

    • If you miss that you can also look at flightaware in the extended details. Sometimes you can find the number there.

      I’ve also had good luck once emailing JetBlue customer service, who promptly provided the number. Once I commented on Today in the Sky and had Scott O’Leary from Continental go above and beyond and reach out to me for the tail number.

      The final time was when I was beta testing Cranky Concierge, where I asked CF for the tail number, he couldn’t find it, then racked his brain and contacts for the next two months to actually find the number!

      • David says:

        Where do you look on flightaware?

        • My mistake. Its FlightStats that has the info. If you look in the extended details one of the airline time updates will have “TAIL Changed To” if its got multiple tail changed to updates, you’ll want the most recent one. Not every airline puts this in the record. I know Horizon is pretty consistent with it (I knew CF was on the 25th Anniversary plane for this flight before he posted this blog entry), but I don’t know about other airlines.

    • CF says:

      I usually just look on the side of the aircraft. If that doesn’t work, I’ll look up at the registration certificate that’s usually above the entry door. (Some airlines put a little plaque to make it easy, Southwest for example.) Worst case, I’ll ask the crew.

      • Heh that too. Strangely though I asked the flight attendants on a flight and they had no clue. They valiantly went looking through all of their paperwork to see if it was on it..

  4. Jason H says:

    I really like the Q400 as well and the Horizon “amenities” of free micro-brew just make it even better.

    I was shocked at those load factors for WN. I would have thought they would have been higher. Even given the end of the summer travel season those seem extremely low. I know Alaska flies the Q400 on the PDX-OAK route so they are benefiting from the lower ASM, but 66% and then 33% is just… wow.

    • SEAN says:

      Don’t forget about the number of flights between all of the airports.

      L. A. has 5 airports & the bay area has 3. A 33% load factor is amazingly low considering the route.

    • Why be surprised? Because it’s the ‘magical’ Southwest? SW is having more problems with load in more airports than they’re willing to admit right now, regardless of what their legion of internet cheerleaders would have you believe. Their product has always been weak, but people accepted it in return for awesome pricing and well-chosen routes. But especially since SW has gotten downright expensive, why would you choose the CattleCall over a sensible flying experience on a mainline, or a more experience-focused discount airline like JetBlue or Virgin?

      Do I think they can solve this problem? Of course — they didn’t get to where they are by not solving difficult problems. Their team is second to none. But swallowing AirTran is going to absorb most of their focus for the next couple years at least, and I think you’ll see some uncharacteristic problems like this start to crop up and gnaw at that “Southwest Luster.”

      • Jason H says:

        Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a WN fan. To assume I am merely because I’m surprised at a load factor is really telling to me and not in a good way.

        All that being said, WN has not historically been predisposed to keeping money losing routes. That they have a 66/33 load factor on PDX-OAK/OAK-LAX respectively makes me wonder if they are starting to take a page from the larger carrier’s playbook and subsidize some routes heavily in order to keep up the appearance of a robust network.

        • MichaelAtMDW says:

          Interesting theory. If I have some free time I might explore how WN is pricing that route, as well, compared to other airlines flying PDX to OAK/SFO and onward.

          • Steve says:

            Also, SW flies 42 flights a day between OAK and the LA basin. OAK-LAX alone has 14 daily rt’s. If you include all 3 Bay Area airports (OAK, SFO, SJC) to all 4 LA area airports (LAX, BUR, SNA, ONT), you have a combined 90 rt’s (180 flights) each day… Of course they aren’t all going to be full but the prime business traveler times will usually be full… That’d be up to 12,330 seats each way, each day.

    • CF says:

      It was a Weds morning post-summer. (Domestically, “summer” travel really ends around mid-August.) Surprisingly low loads but that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t just a random one-off.

  5. My first thought was out of SNA and return to LAX, public transportation or rides to/from you home?

    The curtain between first and coach is smart since its light weight compared to a wall so saves fuel, put it’s easier for them to adjust the size of the cabin if they want more first class rows, like they do in Europe.

    You should have hung out more in SEA and PDX and take as many logo jet photos as you could. Some can be really nice.

    • We did a good amount of hanging out and caught a bunch of logo jets. One of Alaska’s Disneyland planes, the team work plane, Horizon’s green plane, new, and old painting, and albino plane that they picked up from Lynx..

      I don’t go and spot much, but it was really fun to sit and spend the late morning and afternoon with CF and watch the planes from SeaTac’s food court..

      • BW says:

        I hope you got an Ivar’s fix. The Mac n Jack’s brewpub at the end of the concourse is good too but the views aren’t. My dad and my brother work right above it.

    • CF says:

      I got a ride both ways, so it was easy for me.

      As Nick said, we had some good plane watching. In addition to the ones he noted, we saw the Oregon Ducks Q400, and when I arrived, I was parked right next to the Portland Timbers 737 from Alaska. That’s a nice looking airplane. A couple of those pics are up in the link at the end of the post.

      We also some a lot of pretty awful looking airplanes. There was a United A320 in the old gray colors that looked embarrassingly faded and chipped. The Air France A340 was, as always, horribly dirty.

      • Oh boy, I forgot about that United A320! The thing that really stuck out to me was the different shades of blue from part interchanging. Looks like they’d patched together that bird from a bunch of different planes. I think it would’ve actually looked better if it had a cowling or nosecone from another airline. At least this way you knew the parts were newly replaced..

  6. Andrew says:

    I totally agree that the Alaska breakfast skillet is about as good as it gets out there in terms of buy-on-board meals (and a great price at only $6).

  7. JayB says:

    One of life’s great pleasures…being able to look out the window and see the beauty below. Of course, Canadian mountains make it even more pleasurable.

  8. Coincidentally, I just took my ,first Q400 flight last week, too (CO/Colgan). I was actually underwhelmed, even though I seemed to have some sort of FC/Economy+ seating (viewfromthewing says they’re modifying them). I just think the plane is noiser/less comfortable than an RJ. I think the vast majority of pax would prefer an RJ. That said, from what I remember about the launch, the operating costs on a short haul route are supposed to be materially lower for the Q400, so I’m guessing they’ll have a place in the commuter world fleet. BTW, I didn’t realize that the Q400 is really just a modernized Dash-8 — but that’s what the Colgan pre-departure announcement referred to it as “Q400-Dash 8.”

    • Fred says:

      For onboard comfort and amenities, the airline chooses them to some extent. I personally find the Horizon Q400s quite good, but the Colgan ones aren’t bad either. Still better than any RJ (except the E170 if you count that) in my experience.

    • CF says:

      An RJ is quieter but definitely not more comfortable in my eyes. This cabin seemed to have more room than a regular 50 seat RJ and I found it much more comfortable. Of course, everyone will have a different opinion.

      And yes, the Q400 is just a Dash 8-400. They went back and made quieter versions of the smaller aircraft as well. That’s why the Q designator is used.

    • David says:

      Chalk me up in the “I’ll take a Q400 over a 50 seat RJ anyday” column.

  9. Oh, the one thing I thought was really cool in the videos is that the camera’s refresh rate is perfectly synced so that you actually see the props moving cleanly forward.

    Often you’ll get weird images out of it, or even bendy looking blades.

  10. I fly the Qantaslink Q400 HVB (Hervey Bay) to BNE (Brisbane) once a month and love the Dash, however you have watch the seating, anything around rows 11-15 is restricted viewing because of the engines and landing gear, noise is not to bad for a prop and neither is space, however baggage space is restricted and regulated for weight, The Qantas flights usually have cheese platters and an Australian White Wine which is usually held out for more than 3 refills, which means very tipsy passengers leaving down the inbuilt stairs, most miss the bottom wooden step and head down to the tarmac….fun,

    If you want to fly the Dash try the X-Plane version FlyJSim, it is brilliant but hard to fly…

  11. Michael says:

    Though the Q400 is mostly OK, I’d rather fly on an ERJ any day. The one unpleasant thing about that plane is that Alaska/Horizon does not have potable water on board. Ick. I realize it costs money to haul that water, but if they did that on a regular jet, there would be an outcry. I asked the flight attendants on a flight SJCLAX and they don’t like it. I don’t blame them. It’s not sanitary. American Eagle boards potable water for the lavs on the ERJs. I believe United Express does the same. The sinks in the lavs are covered with this gross formica patch and there are those moist towelette things there. This lack of water is surprising given the sheer number of seats and the stage length some of these aircraft are scheduled for. Kind of a rude reminder of the fact that this is at its heart just a stretched commuter propeller plane.

    • David says:

      Can’t tell you how many US CRJs and ERJs that don’t have potable water. In the bathroom, you just get some hand sanitizer.

  12. I think Bombardier did a nice job with the Q400. I was involved with them when I had been te Director of Product for CO before we started flying them through Pinnacle. I was very pressed with the interior layout and the vibration reduction technology.

  13. janstephan says:

    Flew Horizon Q400′s several times to Eugene, OR. Once nonstop from LAX. Found them rather noisy and vibration prone compared to CRJ’s. Once got a seat nearest the engine. Vibration and noise. Tried the rearmost seat. Better and still more noisy than a CRJ. Longer flight times than CRJ so noise vibration becomes more of a problem. Prefer CRJ overall but its costs probably high. If the Q allows lower fares, good. However prices and flight choices to Eugene have gotten worse significantly over 4 yrs. Changed to Allegiant when it suits my schedule.

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