Alaska Airlines is one of the most convenient ways for San Diego and other West Coast residents to fly direct to Hawaii. In fact, we’ve taken two round-trips to Maui and two round-trips on Alaska Airlines to Kauai in the last two years.

I like Alaska Airlines because they tend to provide a relatively low-stress experience, the flight attendants are fantastic, first class tickets can usually be purchased at what we consider a reasonable price and (knock on wood) we haven’t had any issues to complain about.

Here’s a run-down on how our most recent set of flights from San Diego to Maui and back went.

San Diego International Airport

Alaska Airlines now departs from Terminal 2 East at San Diego International Airport, a huge improvement from Terminal 1 where the airline was previously based.

While waiting for your flight, there is plenty to do and eat in Terminal 2. Restaurants include local favorites like Elegant Desserts, Ballast Point, and Phil’s BBQ. You can pick up last-minute souvenirs at Warwick’s, Kids Love San Diego, and other spots.

There is no Alaska Airlines lounge at SAN. Instead, you’d use the Airspace Lounge which is in between Terminal 2 East and West, but closer to Terminal 2 West. Depending on where your plane departs from this could be a somewhat long walk.

Access to the Airspace Lounge is free for American Express Platinum or Centurion cardholders, American Airlines Admirals Club members, passengers flying business or first class on certain international flights like British Airways and Japan Airlines. Otherwise, anyone can pay $35 to enter. Kids ages 2 and older pay the same rate as adults.

Kahului Airport

Arriving to Kahului Airport is a breeze. “Follow the other people,” was the advice given by our flight attendant on board in regard to the location of baggage claim and then the rental car shuttles.

There aren’t lounges at Kahului Airport to enjoy at departure unless you’re flying Hawaiian Airlines. If hungry, grab something in the big rotunda after clearing security from Starbucks or other outlets retailing food and drinks.

Agricultural screening (a requirement for mainland flights) happens just before entering the gate area and there isn’t access to food for purchase after that. However, right before the agricultural screening, a small bar provides last-minute libations. 

Passengers wait at the gate in a common area that only has access to paid WiFi. I used my iPhone as a hotspot so do not know how much it costs.

On Board the Plane

If you’re flying Alaska Airlines from San Diego, you’re typically on a 737-800 or 737-900. This means that first class has 16 relatively-comfortable seats, two seats on each side of the aisle. Economy class has three seats on each side of the aisle.

First class seats do not fully recline but rather have a 40″ pitch. In fact, most passengers don’t recline them at all because sitting upright is fine for a 5–6-hour flight. The passenger in front of me reclined fully during our outbound flight and it didn’t affect me at all.

Storage includes the pocket on the seat in front of you and enough to slide a handbag under the seat. Wheeled carry-ons fit nicely into overhead bins.

Tablets pre-loaded with a selection of movies and a handful of TV shows serve as in-flight entertainment. A separate kids’ section shows movies and a few Disney Channel TV shows (though I’m sure offerings vary). Headphones are provided but it’s best to bring your own.

First class passengers use the tablets at no extra cost. If you’re on a Wi-Fi-enabled aircraft (unavailable over the Pacific Ocean), entertainment can also be purchased through the Gogo Entertainment app. Alaska Airlines is in the process of upgrading aircraft to satellite Wi-Fi. You can check these offerings here.

The refreshed 737s have electrical outlets in every seat on the plane, a recent improvement in the past few years.

Inflight Dining

Upon take-off in San Diego, passengers are usually offered a passionfruit mimosa, passionfruit juice, or water.

I suspect Hawaiian regulations are a bit different as I have never been offered the same beverage service before take-off when departing Hawaii.

Alaska Airlines first class passionfruit mimosa served at San Diego International Airport before departure to Maui.
The Bloody Mary on Alaska Airlines in first class from San Diego to Maui.

Small bottles of Dasani water are also placed at seats upon boarding. Be sure to place them elsewhere at take-off, otherwise, they’ll launch into the laps of the passengers behind you.

As someone who is intrigued by airline food, I do like it on Alaska Airlines. I find that whoever is providing the catering for departing Hawaii tends to be better than the provider flights departing San Diego.

However, on our recent set of flights, both offerings were truly excellent (despite the salmon Benedict above looking a little dodgy, it was actually delish). Speaking of drinks, I always order their Bloody Mary on morning flights.

My daughter absolutely adores the Kids’ Choice snack boxes on Alaska Airlines that come with the likes of a Gogo squeeze, Wikki Stix, Pirate’s Booty, turkey jerky, gummy fruit snacks, and a granola bar.

Sometimes, even though we’re in first class, I’m charged for these boxes and sometimes I’m not. I’m not sure what the protocol is and I really don’t mind paying for them because they saved me from meltdowns when she was younger. The fruit and cheese box is also a winner.

About an hour or so before landing snacks like popcorn, bananas, trail mix, dried fruit are handed out as well as much-appreciated hot towels.

Great Service

The Alaska Airlines flight attendants placed flowers in the ears of children on board before take-off.

But what excelled on both flights, in particular, is the service. One of the flight attendants from our last fight to Maui was onboard, which was cool. Our first class attendant, Raul, on the way home was awesome about promptly refilling drinks. Flight attendants always seem so upbeat and cheery on Alaska Airlines.

I’m trying to do a better job of remembering flight crew names in order to recognize them on surveys and social media. It’s a tough job. We had some already-sauced men in our cabin who were demanding cocktails as soon as we boarded and behaving completely inappropriately after take-off. I felt badly for our flight attendant and am now an even bigger advocate of kid-safe, noise-cancelling headphones because the entire situation was so appalling.

Good to Know

If flying to Hawaii with kids, keep in mind that flights are long enough to overlap two mealtimes (in our case, both breakfast and lunch). In first class, you’ll receive one meal and a snack. Be prepared to ask the flight attendants for an extra snack box if you know your kids will get hungry or pack extra food for them.

If seats are available 24 hours in advance, and often they aren’t, it costs (at the time of this writing) $150 each way to upgrade to first class from San Diego to Maui. If you must have first class tickets, it’s better to buy them outright because we don’t have many direct flights to Hawaii from San Diego.

See what it's like to fly Alaska Airlines in first class from San Diego to Maui from seats to food to on board service.

We have also flown Alaska Airlines first class to Kauai and I have lots of tips for flying with kids.

Have you flown Alaska Airlines to Maui?
*Top photo of Alaska Airlines Hawaii-themed plane is courtesy of Alaska Airlines. Yes, that’s Waikiki but I wanted to showcase the cool tail.


Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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