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.
At San Diego International Airport
Alaska Airlines departs from Terminal 1 at San Diego International Airport. This is unfortunate for American Airlines Admirals Club members, like me, as the new Airspace lounge is in Terminal 2. Logistics totally prohibit visiting a lounge in another terminal because in addition to a long walk outside, you’ll need to clear security upon entering each terminal. I’ve attempted it once and it’s just not worth the effort, even with TSA PreCheck.
There is no lounge in Terminal 1 so get ready to enjoy the chairs at the gate and log into the complimentary WiFi. Sure, there’s a bar and a bunch of snack vendors but I find Terminal 1 at SAN completely unremarkable if you’re used to flying with the perks of elite status and lounge access.
At 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.
Like Terminal 1 at SAN, 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. 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 WiFi-enabled aircraft (unavailable over the Pacific Ocean), entertainment can also be purchased through the Gogo Entertainment app.
The refreshed 737s have electrical outlets in every seat on the plane, a recent improvement in the past few years.
A new touch since our last flight included small bottles of Dasani water at our 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 a Gogo squeeze, Wikki Stix, Pirate’s Booty, turkey jerky, gummy fruit snacks and a granola bar. Unlike recent flights in first class, I appreciate that I wasn’t charged for grabbing her two during our flight. I’m not sure what the protocol is because I’m occasionally asked to pay for them —which I really don’t mind because they save me from meltdowns. 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.
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 meal times (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 $150 each way to upgrade to first class from San Diego to Maui. In our experience, it’s better to buy the first class tickets outright because the pricing is usually only slightly higher than economy plus upgrade costs.
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Anything else you want to know? Just ask. We’ll likely be back on board this summer and have also flown Alaska Airlines first class to Kauai.
*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.