Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kauai/Kalalau Trail May 2013 - Alaska Airlines 321/873 Economy Class (SJC-SEA-LIH)

***This post is part 2 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

I've written extensively about Alaska Airlines on my previous trip report covering Fairbanks, so I will dispense with some of the minor details here. As I mentioned in the introduction, my direct flight from SJC-LIH was canceled a few months prior to departure. In fact, the daily non-stops have been trimmed down to four times weekly since the first of May. My itinerary was then rerouted through SEA, which added a couple of hours to the journey, but it wasn't a huge deal in the end.

Terminal B at SJC has become like a second home to me these past few months, and I still think it has a very cool and modern vibe to it. Unfortunately, I had an issue with checking in online, so I arrived at the airport before 5:15 am, hoping to get my large backpack checked in and print out my boarding pass. At $20 for the first checked bag, Alaska is still slightly cheaper than the other legacy carriers.

As luck would have it, a huge tour group literally swarmed the queue just as I was entering the terminal. What would have probably been a five minute wait turned into more than half an hour. Luckily, I got through with just enough time to spare and made my up to security, where it took no more than ten minutes to arrive airside. I walked over to Gate 27, and within a few minutes, boarding began.

Alaska Airlines 321
Boeing 737-800
San Jose (SJC) - Seattle (SEA)
Wednesday May 1, 2013
Departure: 6:30 AM (scheduled) / 6:21 AM (actual)
Arrival: 8:26 AM (scheduled) / 8:28 AM (actual)
Duration: 1h 56m (scheduled) / 2h 7m (actual)
Seat: 11D (Economy)

It was a light load on our short flight up to Seattle. There were plenty of open seats, and the spot next to me remained empty. Learning from my experience last time, I avoided row 15 because of the non-reclining seats. With a quick and efficient boarding process completed, we departed the gate almost ten minutes ahead of schedule.

It was smooth sailing the whole way up, with hardly any turbulence. A beverage service began soon after reaching cruising altitude, and snacks were handed out along with coffee, sodas, and juices. Alaska Airlines' service always seems to be exemplary, and this crew was no exception. Friendly flight attendants made chit-chat with passengers and wore smiles all throughout the duration of the flight. It was a great way to start the morning.

After a short nap, we began our descent into Seattle, which was surprisingly sunny and cloudless. We landed without incident and soon filed into Concourse C. Almost all Alaska Airlines flights depart from here, so it was nice not having to walk a mile or take a shuttle to connect to the next flight. I strolled over to the Central Concourse to grab a quick breakfast and take in the beautiful views of the tarmac. When I arrived back at Gate C20, boarding had already begun.

Alaska Airlines 873
Boeing 737-800
Seattle (SEA) - Lihue (LIH)
Wednesday May 1, 2013
Departure: 9:50 AM (scheduled) / 10:40 AM (actual)
Arrival: 1:00 PM (scheduled) / 1:31 PM (actual)
Duration: 6h 10m (scheduled) / 5h 51m (actual)
Seat: 10C (Economy)

Even with a completely full flight, boarding was rather painless. It's funny how pleasant passengers typically are on a flight to Hawaii. Everyone seems extra courteous and friendly. With the cabin ready and doors closed, we waited to pull back from the gate. We waited... and waited... and then waited some more. The scheduled departure time of 9:50 am came and went, and eventually the captain announced that there was a mechanical issue with the plane that needed to be fixed before we could leave.

A ten minute delay soon turned into half an hour, which then turned into 45 minutes. Finally, 50 minutes after the scheduled departure time, we pulled back from the gate and taxied to the runway. I have to give Alaska some credit though since the captain kept up with regular announcements to keep us informed, and apologized all throughout the flight for the delay. In the end, we made up quite a bit of time in the air and only arrived about half an hour late.

Alaska Airlines has a unique in-flight service on their routes to Hawaii, and even prints out a special "flight plan" menu of sorts to distinguish them from the typical domestic fare. For the flight attendants though, that means completing three full rounds of drink and snack service, in addition to renting out digEplayers, selling premium meals, collecting waste, and taking care of other requests. I felt like they had to work harder on these Hawaii flights than any other domestic route, in fact!

I especially loved the hospitality service just before arrival, where complimentary mai tais and POG were provided to passengers. The flight attendants were great as usual, but there was an especially chatty lady who was cracking jokes and having a ball with just about everyone on the plane. It definitely made for a very fun journey across the Pacific.

This was one of the smoothest rides I've ever had, with barely even a hint of turbulence throughout the six-hour trip. Descending into Lihue is always visually spectacular, especially if you sit at a window seat on the port side of the plane. Unfortunately, I was sitting on the aisle, but I could still see the beautiful cliffs and mountains of Kauai through my seatmate's window.

It was a gorgeous day in Lihue, and very hot and humid as well. Upon exiting the arrivals hall, I located the outdoor luggage carousel and waited for my backpack. Luckily, it was one of the first to show up. Right across the road were the rental car booths. However, only some of them were actually manned by attendants. Thrifty, unfortunately, had a sign up that directed customers to the shuttle stop behind the building.

The rental office was only a two-minute drive from the airport, and with no line inside, my paperwork was quickly processed. I had used my Citi ThankYou points to redeem for this rental, and everything went off without a hitch. All the charges were taken care of as long as you decline the insurance and other options. Soon, I was in my Mazda 3 and on the road to Princeville.

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