Alaska to Hawai’i (Trip Report)

Alaska Airlines, Trip Reports

I had been looking forward to this vacation for a long time. My family headed out to Maui to celebrate my dad’s 65th birthday and we decided to fly Alaska over there. The airline was fantastic, and the crews were both stellar. Unfortunately, the Cranky Baby was, um, pretty Cranky on the flight home but it all worked out.


So how did we fly Alaska to Hawai’i when we live in the LA area? We drove to San Diego. My parents were coming out of San Diego and we decided to fly with them. So we took the later of the two Maui flights operating that day and planned to just drive down that morning. Flights cost $590.40 per ticket.

We were on the road by 430a with a sleepy baby in the back. Roads were empty until we got to San Diego and after parking, we were at the terminal by 645a. This was my first chance to use self bag-tagging for our two checked bags, and I was underwhelmed. Checking in at the kiosk was easy, as was putting the tag on the bag. We turned around and went to the counter to drop the bags, but she needed to check all our IDs, our bag tag stubs, and our boarding passes. It took just as long if not longer to get those all scanned and into the system. For those who use this system, check as many bags under 1 name as you can so you only need to pull out one ID.

Self Bag Tag

Once it was done, we headed through security to an old rotunda-style terminal that is barely able to hold up with the heavy passenger loads on Alaska and United. The one Starbucks in there had a line around the block and seats were scarce. The bathrooms had long lines (even the mens room) and were definitely undersized. With Alaska adding a lot of flights in San Diego, I imagine something is going to have to give.

Soon enough, it was time to board.

September 14, 2012
Alaska 819 Lv San Diego 815a Arr Kahului 1057a
San Diego (SAN): Gate 17, Runway 27, Depart 4m Early
Kahului (OGG): Gate 6, Runway 2, Arrive 7m Early
N534AS, Boeing 737-890, Lei Tail, 91% Full
Seat 19B
Flight Time 5h24m

My wife and I preboarded so that we could get our son’s car seat secured in the seat. We had to put it in the window because it was big enough that it would have blocked egress for the window seat if it were in the middle. Once we got it set up, flight attendant Karin came up with some bad news. We were in the row behind the exit and Karin said car seats couldn’t be in that row because the seats in front need to come down in an emergency. So Karin quickly had us move to the row behind and stood there to ask those in that row to move forward once they got onboard. It wasn’t a problem for anyone – a very smooth operation.

In our seat, there was a thick paper outline of what we could expect on the flight. It told us about the services and when they would occur. That along with the Hawaiian boarding music and the hibiscus flower in each flight attendant’s hair made the flight seem just a little more Hawaiian right off the bat.

We took off on time and headed northwest. Once over Catalina Island, we hung a left and went straight toward Maui. The seats on this year-old aircraft were very comfortable and the legroom actually seemed to be better than I usually expect to find in coach these days. We got a DigEPlayer for $10 to pass the time and my mom promptly took the little guy to play with him.

The flight attendants earned their wage on this flight – they were constantly up and down the aisles doing three full services and multiple smaller passes. On the first, I had the Hawaiian breakfast skillet which was Portuguese sausage, egg, rice, pineapple, and coconut. It was really, really good.

Portuguese Sausage Skillet on Alaska

I was really glad we bought a seat for the little guy this time instead of doing the lap child thing. When the seat belt sign came on, we strapped in him and I didn’t have to worry about hitting turbulence that could hurt him. We won’t be traveling with him as a lap child again.

The flight was very baby friendly. One of the lavs had a changing table and that made life much easier. Also, when my wife was feeding, Karin came by and gave her extra bottles of water to make sure she stayed hydrated. She kept a running conversation with us throughout the flight. I noticed all the flight attendants doing similar things with passengers throughout the cabin. The service was certainly appreciated by those all around us.

Mai Tais on Alaska

I knew we were getting close when Alaska broke out the free mai tais – a standard service for flights to Hawai’i. They were really, really sweet, but it was still a nice gesture. After 5 hours, I could see the Big Island in the distance and that meant it was time to start descending. We made our way into a windy Kahului (as usual) and parked at the gate a few minutes early. By the time we got down, our bags were already on the carousel and we were off for a week of island fun. (With a baby, that meant early mornings and bed by 9p.)

On the way back, we checked in at an empty ticket counter, gave them our bags, and headed toward security. Security was a complete mess, and my experience with the TSA was so awful that I’ll be writing this up in a separate post. This downright stupid implementation of “security theater” meant that by the time I got to the gate over 30 minutes later, boarding was starting.

September 21, 2012
Alaska 854 Lv Kahului 140p Arr San Diego 1010p
Kahului (OGG): Gate 5, Runway 2, Depart 7m Early
San Diego (SAN): Gate 18, Runway 9, Arrive 25m Early
N516AS, Boeing 737-890, Lei Tail, ~95% Full
Seat 19B
Flight Time 4h45m

There really wasn’t a ton to say about the flight home. The flight attendants were again excellent on this flight. One of them even took the Cranky Baby for a walk into the First Class cabin because he had been fussing so much. They all wanted to help out despite doing constant services up and down the aisle.

The flight home was quick thanks to a nice tailwind and the fact that we landed to the east, a San Diego rarity. After we got off, I made a beeline to the shuttle to get the car, and ran into the crew. I asked the captain how it was we were able to land to the east when we saw airplanes departing to the west as usual after we landed. He said air traffic control was feeling friendly and let us land straight in.

We got the car and then hit the road for the long drive north. It was even longer since the 405 was closed just south of Long Beach for construction. I finally hit the sack after 1a, never wanting to do that drive again. That being said, it was great to fly Alaska.

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37 comments on “Alaska to Hawai’i (Trip Report)

  1. Can’t wait to her your TSA saga, especially since even you were outraged by it. My favorite is when you are obviously escorting a child and get pulled aside for the swipe test and are told you can’t walk away or touch anything, despite your 2 year old child running off.

  2. Landed to the east at SAN?? Cool. I always presume this was a no-no as a go-around would potentially mean flying straight through the highway at the end of the runway. Any more info as to how frequently/under what circumstances they let flights land this way, Cranky?

    1. +1 Landing to the east at SAN is something I’ve never done.
      Alaska service looks solid, wish I could fly them but I’m an east-coaster.

      Hope you enjoyed your vacation, Brett!

    2. Bobber – Sounds like they may allow it at night when things get quieter. I figured maybe there was an east wind, but when we landed we saw Southwest and JetBlue lined up to depart to the west. Maybe it happens more often on Hawai’i flights, but it definitely surprised me.

    3. Landing from the east at SAN is common in poor weather, as the runway only has an ILS on runway 9, not 27. So if it’s foggy, expect runway 9 landings. I’ve been on flights that have done them; on flights from the north and Hawaii, it definitely is a time saver as the approach for them from 27 involves flying past the airport and then circling around to land. I don’t recall having done it special just because I’m coming in from Hawaii; having flown Hawaii-SAN on Hawaiian (DC-10 and 767) and Aloha.

  3. Sounds like a pleasant flight. If you must travel with a baby, bring the grandparents along. They make great baby sitters and give you a chance to rest and have some alone time with the other woman that went along, you know your wife….lol :-)

  4. Sounds like you were really impressed with the service on Alaska. I understand they do more for the Hawaii flights but on mainland flights would you say they are similar? A step above other domestic airlines? I’ve noticed the flight attendants are downright surly on shorter domestic routes but more often than not friendly and helpful on long haul flights. Is the quick WN style of turn & burn the reason for the difference?

    1. I’ve found Alaska to be quite pleasant, and generally a step above the other domestic majors. That being said they’re now my hometown airline, and I do have friends that work for them..

    2. A – I think there’s just a lot more opportunity to impress people on a long flight because you have more time available to personalize the service. On short flights, there’s just so much to do in such a short amount of time.

  5. Thanks for the heads-up on the SAN T-1 experience. I’m taking my Mom out to SD for her birthday in two weeks, on WN. I’ve heard a few stories about how crowded T-1 is so I’ve allowed extra time on the way home to deal with it. Glad you had a good trip Brett!

    1. There are two rotundas in T-1, the east rotunda is exclusively Southwest (TWA had their gate there before they merged with AA), while the west is shared by Alaska and United. Each rotunda has a separate security checkpoint. There are also a few Southwest gates at the far east end of the terminal that have their own separate checkpoint as well.

  6. I’m gonna have to turn in my avgeek license. You caught me unaware that Alaska has a “Lei Tail.’ Guess I haven’t been observent, or away from the West Coast for too long.

  7. I have to agree with you. The Alaska experience out of SAN is SOOO much better than the cattlecars on Southwest. It is an airline vs a city bus.

  8. We too just got back from Maui also on Alaska, but from OAK and in First. We enjoyed the service it was a vast improvement on my last trip to Hawaii on United in First. AS seems to be much more friendly and the food was pretty good as well. We will definitely keep them in mind for future trips to Hawaii.

  9. Hi, I’m going to echo Britt here. My wife and I also flew Alaska first class to Maui. We had a fabulous flight both ways. Part of it was the first class experience, but I feel that Alaska flight crews seem to be much better than the ones I’ve experienced on UAL and Virgin America. We fly Alaska a lot, mostly in coach, and strongly prefer them to other airlines. Jet Blue and (sometimes) Southwest are close, but Alaska seems to have the best crews in my opinion.

  10. I trust the stay in Maui, other than “a windy Kahului (as usual)” went well. It’s the getting there and returning that we love, of course.

    Sort of like watching the FedEx/Special Olympics plane pull at Dulles this past Saturday. Interesting, but alternatively, being able to stand on the air cargo apron along and a few hundred yards from runway 19C and watch the airlines of the world’s “heavies” come and go…wow! Never get’s old! While Air France’s A380 was nice, even if running a bit late, there’s still something about watching a big ‘ol 747 land!

    1. JayB – The “windy Kahului” wasn’t a problem at all. It’s those nice tradewinds that make the heat so pleasant. Without that, it’s just downright hot!

      It was a good trip, but not nearly as relaxing as a Maui trip should be now that we have the little guy.

  11. At first I thought my experiences might just be anecdotal, but I’ve taken enough Alaska flights this year (about 10) to become convinced that their flight attendarts ARE nicer than on other USA airlines. Airlines can have a culture, and Alaska is perhaps still small enough to have a service-oriented culture. The only USA airline remotely like it is Southwest. If I were running in-flight ops at one of the big boys, I’d study how Alaska hires and motivates its staff to go “above and beyond” what most flight attendants do these days.

    Brett is also correct in noting that Alaska’s coach food — particularly its food to Hawaii — is better than what is served on other airlines. It’s also cheaper, and therefore a good value. It’s probably the only in-flight meals I actually look forward to buying.

    What I don’t look forward to on Alaska is the in-flight entertainment — or lack thereof. It just seems wrong to have to rent the digi-player for $10. So pay up or come prepared with your own entertainment. I wonder if Alaska knew they would become a big player to Hawaii they would have invested in some IFE.

    1. Wayne – Great point on the food being cheaper, because it’s only $6 for a hot meal. That is a great deal.

      I thought the IFE was fine. The problem is that you can’t get wifi over the water. Alaska needs to get cached content via Gogo on the aircraft so people can stream over the water.

  12. It’s good to see you finally got the “bad” TSA experience that the rest of America is complaining about. ;) See we weren’t just making it up… You’ve been far too friendly on the topic in the past, so I look forward to reading your “updated” views after your experience in OGG.

  13. OGG normally is never that bad yes the lines get long for the red-eyes back to the main land, but other then that I have never had any issues cant wait to see what happened in the TSA line at OGG that made you get well Cranky

      1. Jeremy – It wasn’t an issue with long lines. It was how they handled the infant formula when they couldn’t get their machine to work. It was just stupid security theater that left gaping holes if someone actually was trying to get something through security. I’ll have it in the next week or so.

  14. I have had consistently excellent experiences on Alaska, flying both short-haul domestic up & down the West Coast and long-haul DCA-SEA. I’m in complete agreement about the food; I actually like the coach meals! I also thought having a service card for coach was a classy touch (and one that holds FAs accountable to actually doing all of the services…), as was the complimentary cocktail (sweet or not).

    I recently flew AS SEA-LAX-SJD in first class on an American award. First class service was excellent. Food was tasty, but I was a bit surprised that portions weren’t bigger and that, on both flights, there was only one option. Small complaints, though — still had two great flights with tasty food and good service.

    Hope you had a nice vacation!

  15. So glad you had a great trip on my airline, Brett! The service to/from Hawaii is definitely our best…it’s nice to be proud of what we offer and maybe that shows a little on these flights. We know we’ll have to step up our game should WN or VX start service to the Islands so we’re out to give everyone a good first impression if they’ve never flown AS to Hawaii.

  16. I have heard nothing but good things about the stewards aboard Alaska but I have no experience myself, think I will try Alaska on my next trip to Hawaii

  17. Just thrilled to read this report. I have been flying Alaska Airlines to the islands ever since they started service out of Seattle back in 08. I fly to Hawaii frequently for business. Alaska Airlines cares so much about their service and their commitment to customers. They are constantly wanting to try new things and be innovative; they treat their employees well… and that is why you had stellar service. I love the airline and they have such a great culture.

  18. Do AS FA’s fly Hawaii as a turn or do they lay over? And I’m curious how they staff those spoke trips (SAN, OAK, etc.) — are they 4 day W trips that start in SEA/LAX/ANC where they have FA domiciles?

    1. Geoff – I’m not actually sure if the FA’s can do a turn or not here. I know the pilots don’t, but of course, they have different rules. Maybe somebody with Alaska who is reading this can answer.

      I do know that on the way out, at least one of the FAs was LA-based. Sounds like she just commuted down but I’m not sure if AS put her up in a hotel the night before or not for the early morning departure.

  19. As a 29 yr. flight attendant for Alaska Airlines, I’d like to thank all of you for your positive comments about my company. We are proud of our service to all destinations, including trips that are only 2 hrs long. I am an LAX based flight attendant, and since we don’t do the Hawaii trips, nonstop out of that LAX, they are usually a part of a 4 day trip configuration, that includes a 23 or 24 hr. layover in one of the 4 Hawaiian islands that we fly to. We fly out of many different cities along the west coast to Hawaii, including Bellingham, WA, which allows us pickup of the west coast Canadian market. Hawaii trips are never done as a turn, as it would defy our duty day regs. Other Hawaii trips out of Seattle, are done as two day trips with a nice layover. We love our company and hope to be able to show you how much we value your business, the next time you fly to Hawaii. Enjoy your day!

    1. Cat, thank you for the details.. I’m presuming the day in Hawaii means that the flight crews for these flights are quite senior? Or have they gotten tired of the sun?

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