George Nicon Andritsakis
Root Strengthening: Alaska Airlines from Everett-Paine Field, WA to Anchorage, AK.
I have to admit, I love inaugural flights. I'm a sucker for them, especially on city-pairs that really get me salivating to fly. Usually, there's parties at the gate, or upon arrival. This year alone I've been on several inaugural flights (or resumption of service flights) such as Salt Lake City - Paris with Delta, Salt Lake City - London/Heathrow with Delta, Paris - Athens with a new aircraft type (Air France's Airbus A220-300), Boston-Athens with Delta, Grand Cayman - Los Angeles on Cayman Airways, and now finally, Everett/Paine Field, WA - Anchorage, AK on Alaska Airlines.
Why Everett? Why not just take one of the multiple flights a day out of Seattle?
Paine Field lies about 36 miles north of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is South of the City of Seattle. Which means you have to drive through to get to the airport. And the way the Interstate gets backed up folks from cities to the North try to avoid it if they can by either flying out of Everett or Bellingham. Granted, most of the time you cant due to the sheer amount of destinations served out of Seattle, but it's nice to have options, and as of late, Everett has seen a few additions of service, but nothing like the addition of nonstop service to Alaska Airlines original hub in Anchorage.
To begin with, Alaska is offering the route daily on the Embraer 175, operated by Horizon Air. Most of the flights in and out of Everett are on the E-Jet, except recently I've noticed Las Vegas flights going with mainline Alaska Airlines Boeing 737's, which I hope is permanent for Las Vegas, and hopefully a viable upgauge for the Anchorage flight.
Here's one of the biggest selling points to flying out of Everett. TSA screening is so efficient here. Even without Precheck, you're at the gate in under 5 minutes. I timed myself with precheck, and I was past screening in 94 seconds. Efficiency, man.
Once out of screening you are in the main airside lobby in between both gate areas (there's only two gates, both jetbridge equipped), which is decked out like a very cozy mountainside lodge. Fireplaces, exposed wood, fresh flowers and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Olympic Mountains (when not cloaked in cloud cover). Electrical outlets, USB and USB C ports at every seat, and every seat seriously comfy. I really enjoy going in and out of Paine Field, even though it's a pain for me to get to from my home airport (Dear Alaska Airlines, how about PAE-SLC service?). In the main airside lobby you have the Upper Case Bar which has some seriously fantastic wine offerings from the throughout the Pacific Northwest, and Beecher's right by Gate 1.
Service started November 30, 2022.
Despite my own issues just getting to Everett the day before (getting from Salt Lake City to Everett is a double connection no matter how you look at it, and I went from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles and then to Las Vegas to catch an Everett-bound flight, just to have THAT flight diverted to Seattle due to snow accumulating at Paine Field faster than the plows could clear it off the runways), inaugural day was overcast but decent. By the time I got to the airport the small ticket counter and gate area were festooned with balloons, banners and party favors heralding the new flight.
Like I said earlier, TSA screening was a cinch and not even 2 minutes later I was at Gate 1, finding myself a seat to stash my carryon as I went about taking photos of the proceedings. As the passengers streamed in and the Horizon folks did their thing, Beecher's set out complimentary Peppermint Hot Chocolate and pastries for anyone on the inaugural. It was all very nicely done, and kind of a down-home feel you certainly wouldn't get at the gargantuan SeaTac. Another reason why I love these quaint satellite airports.
Before it got too late to do anything I started chatting with a couple of the Horizon folks and avgeek that I am, got myself into a few photos with the crew before boarding. It was also said that this route was very highly demanded amongst a huge percentage of Alaska's highest flyers from the Northern WA area and Alaska, mainly folks who work in the fishing, oil, and aerospace fields (no surprise considering Boeings massive widebody plant is right next to the diminutive little terminal. You can see Boeing widebodies in various levels of completion all over the airfield).
On The Way
Just before boarding, a few remarks were made by folks from Horizon and from Propeller, the owner and managing entity of Paine Field. That out of the way, boarding began and we were all handed gift bags and a commemorative coin of the first flight before entering the jetway. I happened to be one of the first aboard due to my status and being seated in First Class (thanks again to the Alaska agent fixing my reservation AGAIN after the system automatically rebooked me when we diverted to Seattle, albeit in Coach. UGH, automation is for the birds! At least I got the upgrade when I checked my bag in). Snugly ensconced in 4D, the Flight Attendant came by and offered me a celebratory champagne in a can, which after the night I had, was not going to turn down.
Departure was on time, and we were out of Everett in a flash. I love the Embraer 175, she's comfy (at least in the variants I've flown on) in both classes, and she has tons of power. Even with the diversion the night before, that wasn't the 175's fault, and I can honestly say out of the 44 flights I've had on them since 2008, I've enjoyed every single flight.
Out of Everett we went, hung a left and out over Olympic National Park to get out of Seattle's airspace, then a right turn to the North and over Victoria Island, a good chunk of the Outside Passage before curving northwest to Anchorage. Meal service is up to the usual Alaska standards, even on longer flights operated by Horizon. Since my original pre-ordered option wasnt available thanks to the automatic rebooking last night, I was left with the fruit and cheese plate, which I gotta admit isn't bad. At least the conversations with my seatmate were entertaining, and the ginger ale never stopped flowing.
Arrived into Anchorage about 16 minutes early and headed straight for the gate with no delay (unlike other airports, ANC has their flow control procedures down pat). Once off the plane I stopped by the gate with the return Inaugural flight, turns out one of my friends was working the gate and she compared ANC's inaugural goodies to the ones we got in Everett. It was good to see her again but I was in a hurry to get to the Alaska Lounge and do a little prime location plane spotting before the sun completely set just before 3PM.
The Travel Genius Opinion:
I have high hopes for this new route. It adds another choice to the mainland from Anchorage yes, but it also adds to Alaska's growing cachet of destinations out of Everett, and one that was very sorely needed. I expect to see 737's on this route once it matures. As for me, even with multiple stops to get to Everett, I'd still pick this flight if my time permits. Can't wait to see how easy or difficult it will be to score the complimentary upgrades as an MVP Gold 75k.