You’ve heard about the flight up to Seattle before our Alaska cruise; now it’s time to talk about the trip home. A couple days into the cruise, I was greeted by a very welcome note. The Port of Seattle — the entity that operates both the cruise port and the airport — has a fantastic free program where you can submit your confirmation number to the cruise line. They will print your boarding passes and bag tags onboard and deliver them to you in your cabin. The program allows you to pay for bag fees, but if you don’t have them (we didn’t thanks to the Alaska Visa), you can state the reason why and they confirm with the airline. Sure enough, Thursday night, we had in our stateroom four boarding passes and two bag tags with no charge. We just had to affix them to the bags and leave them outside our cabin Friday night by 11, and they would be magically transported to baggage claim in LA. I have no idea if other ports do this since I haven’t cruised much, but I can’t say enough good things about the program.
On Saturday, the rule was that to take advantage of this program, you had to walk off the ship by 8:30am. So we did, and then we took a Lyft straight to the airport. The place was pure chaos, as is apparently always the case since Delta and Alaska continue their arms race. After waiting in a long line at the curb, we got off and found the Pre Check line on the D gate side surprisingly short. Our boarding passes from the ship worked fine (how did they get those to us more than 24 hours before departure?) and then we realized we had a long time to kill.
The kids were bouncing off the walls pretty much the entire trip, so we quickly sought out the play area over near the B gate entrance. We let them run around and go insane while we just sat there reading. My wife grabbed some quesadillas from Qdoba right next door and we wandered over to our gate, back on the other side at D3.
I have no idea why Alaska is doing this, but as on our way north, the airplane boarded absurdly early. In fact, we arrived at the gate at 11:10am, 35 minutes before departure, and the gate area was completely empty. Boarding had been completed.
The agent took our boarding passes and then sheepishly looked at my wife’s bag. Alaska recently settled on a single carry-on bag size requirement post-merger, and it has decided to aggressively* enforce that rule. (*Aggressively in Seattle, I guess, because nobody cared in LA). My wife was told to put her bag in the sizer and it didn’t quite fit. We were told that she’d let us gate check the bag for free this time, but next month Alaska was going to start charging.
Down the jet bridge, there were maybe a dozen bags lined up waiting to be taken down. Once onboard, we saw nothing but largely empty overhead bins… and undoubtedly at least a dozen angry people.
June 30, 2018
Alaska 1784 Lv Seattle 1145a Arr Los Angeles 235p
Seattle/Tacoma (SEA): Gate D3, Runway 16C, Depart 3m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 62, Runway 24R, Arrive 33m Early
N528VA, Airbus A319-112, Virgin America colors, ~95% Full
Seat 9B, Coach
Flight Time 1h58m
On the bright side, I had no problem finding a spot for my bag. I put mine up along with our coats, and then sat down. This airplane, like the last one, looked to be a little worse for wear on the inside, but it was better than the aircraft we took on the way up. We were just focused on trying to keep the kids occupied while we waited to finally leave. Just a couple minutes before departure, this was the scene.
But then, a giant among men ambled down the aisle and took the open aisle seat next to me, dashing my hopes of extra space.
Departures were heading south, and I had hoped that the clouds were low so that my wife and kids could finally see Rainier in all its glory. (It was obscured the whole time we were in Seattle.) We took off and went into the clouds quickly. Then we came out and there was another layer above us. We came out of that and there was one more. Damnit. We didn’t get out of it until about 20,000 feet, and so there was no view of the mountain for us. Even worse, the clouds parted completely just to the south. By the time we passed Mt St Helens, this was our stunning view:
It was a quick sub-2 hour flight down. I again used the onboard ordering, and this time the flight attendants brought it to us without asking what we wanted. I opted against using the remains of Virgin’s entertainment system on this one since I wanted to finish Cloud Atlas, a book a good friend of mine had suggested and one that had me captivated.
My daughter passed out almost immediately, so I had a nice, uninterrupted stretch to read. Descent into LAX was bumpier than usual. We landed early and I was shocked to find out that we had a gate waiting for us. The gate agent came on to tell us bags were at claim 3, so we headed down there.
Upon arriving, claim 2 showed as the location for bags from our flight, but nothing came out. At one point, it must have shifted back to 3, but there was a lot of confusion. The guy next to me asked if the New York bags were coming on this carousel. We all just shrugged.
More than 20 minutes after landing, my wife’s gate-checked bag showed up. A few minutes later the other two made it as well. Thank you to the Port of Seattle for that seamless baggage experience. But there was one last thing that bugged me.
Alaska used to have that guarantee that your bags would show up within 20 minutes or you’d get a discount coupon or miles. I saw no trace of it anywhere in the baggage claim area, so I googled it. Sure enough, it still exists, but you have to go talk to an agent to make a claim. I went into the baggage service office, and the agent there took my boarding pass and wrote up a couple of business card-sized papers for us to redeem online to get the bonus miles or a coupon.
I don’t know why this program still exists if the airline isn’t going to talk about it. And I’m also not sure why the process has to be so clunky.
Our bag-checking experience with the Port of Seattle was excellent, but this wasn’t the best experience on Alaska. This seems to be the point in the merger where the airline is just struggling to unify the product, and that appears to have created some unfriendly policies and choppy experiences along the way. I hope this phase of the merger is over quickly.