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Airlines a trois!


April 16, 2019
Tuesday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
Whenever I fly off island, something interesting usually happens.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

In fact, a decade ago, I had so many "interesting" trips that I was contacted by Alaska Airlines and asked to "contact" them in the future if anything "interesting" happened. I assume so they could either "make it right" or "explain" before I wrote about it! Natch, that didn't stop me.

But, as usual, I digress.

I just got back from a couple of weeks away and - shock and awe - nothing went appreciably wrong. The flights were on time, the cabin crews were professional and pleasant and - at no time - did an air marshal threaten to take me out!

But what was unusual - at least for me - was the fact that I flew three different airlines on my excursion. Once upon a time, I used to fly a whole bunch of different airlines,  but in the age of "miles" and AK Air's expanded routes, it is unusual for me to partake in airlines not part of the Alaskan empire.

So, this time I had the pleasure of flying Alaska, American and Southwest. The American was actually because of miles. It seems that Ak Air palmed me off on them for a couple of legs. Maybe they were hoping I would have an "adventure" on American worth reporting. Sorry, AK, it was a pleasant non descript flight. Except for the WIFI (more on that in a bit).

But it was interesting comparing the different steerage class options. Yes, I know these days it is more interesting to note how horrible it is to fly coach, but sometimes you can find positives.

Let's start by comparing food.

Alaska was the typical snack packs. Not bad, buy you could probably do better BYOBing.

The Southwest flights (barely any hour) were too short to offer anything beyond stale (seriously) pretzels.

The food on American is either really good, or really bland, depending on whether you are going east or west.

Going east, there was a chicken sandwich that was way, way better than anything Alaska serves in steerage. Nice flavor, pleasant mayo based spread, bread soft but not too chewy. But going west it wasn't so good. First of all, three of the four options involved hummus. I'm sure it was good hummus (which is not entirely an oxymoron, but it's close), but hummus just doesn't float my trireme (look it up!).

So I picked the one non-hummus platter, a turkey sandwich. Unfortunately, it tasted like all turkey tastes. Like nothing. Like nothing between two slices of bland bread.  Like nothing you would chose to eat if you weren't strapped inside a cigar shaped hunk of metal hurtling through the sky. 

Meanwhile the breakfast options (not available on that flight) looked beyond mouthwatering! Serious kudos to the professional food photographer (yes, that is a thing). Man, I wanted to start eating the pictures.

WIFI is another area that is interesting to compare. Alaska insists upon sticking with nogo Gogo inflight. Maybe it's just me, but it always seems to take about a half an hour before it works in any given flight. And it cuts out. And it is really slow. And I am not trying to stream big things. They mention all the movie and TV "freebies" but if you can't get them, it doesn't matter how free they are.

Southwest, on the other hand, has just about the perfect system. The minute you get into your seat you can log on (yes, there is a charge, but that is an industry given for this particular profit center). And you can continue to use the internet until you deplane. I have heard that Alaska is considering a similar system. Make. It. So!!!!

I don't know how good American's WIFI system is. Because you can only access it if you have downloaded the American WIFI App BEFORE you got on the plane. Of course they tell you!!!!! I guess I would know this if I had flown American any time in the past decade. But, geeze Louise, what kind of moron came up with that system???

The third area of comparison is the seats.

In this case, American is the clear winner! Maybe it's an Airbus 320 issue. Since I grew up here, I remain oddly attached to Boeing products (well, maybe not the 737 MAX). All my Seattle cousins worked for Boeing at one time or another. I love Boeing products, just not impressed with their seats.

Anyway, the American seats were both wider and softer than the 737 ones on Alaska and Southwest.  Alaska's, of course, are just a hair narrower and harder than they need to be. Kind of like the difference between a Subaru seat (uh uh) and Toyota (mostly just right).

Meanwhile, Southwest continued to offer seats that discourage anyone from actually sitting in them. The worst in the industry, they remind of a military plane jump seat that has been stuffed with decade old chunks of pilot bread for padding. I think they are made out of reclycled particle board.

Of course, none of this reflects what it is like to fly either business or first class on these airlines. 

Well, it does reflect Southwest which proudly has no other class than steerage. Of course it gouges for "premium" which on a Southwest flight is an oxymoron. Natch, both American and Alaska also gouge for that "service" as well. And American does gouge you for your luggage, and gives you really dirty looks when you try to carry on anything larger than a cell phone.

Of course, when push comes to shove, I still favor Alaska Airlines. But it really needs to steal Southwest's WIFI and American's seats. As to the food, well you can always do take out at the airports.



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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.

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