Our Experience Flying Alaska Airlines in August 2020
Our first time flying on a plane since January to Chamonix, France. Flying post quarantine came with the excitement of traveling and the anxiety of not just getting COVID but being an asymptomatic spreader. This post will focus on our experience flying with Alaska Airlines for this specific trip in August 2020.
We felt comfortable ahead of time with the precautions Alaska Airlines. These are the measures listed on the website at the time and what we expected when we flew:
- “No mask? No travel” – Face masks were required for everyone above the age of 2 at all times during the flight and only be removed eating or drinking briefly. “Masks with valves, mesh material or holes of any kind will not be allowed.” “Guests who repeatedly refuse to wear a mask or face covering will be given a final warning—in the form of a yellow card—and may be suspended from flying with us for a period of time.”
- “Individual hand-sanitizer wipes are available on board.” And occasionally, surgical masks were offered.
- Moved to virtual communication as much as possible – including check in, boarding passes, and luggage tags.
- “Through October 31, 2020, we’re limiting the number of guests on our flights and blocking seats.” Yes, middle seats were blocked!
- Limited food and beverage service in flight if more than 350 miles traveled.
- Listed the cleaning protocol as well as the airflow and cleanliness of the air in the cabin. “If you want more filtered air, simply open the vent above you. That air is filtered for your seat only.” Open those vents!
The biggest difference from Alaska from most of the other airlines was the automatic blocking of the middle seat. That means a third of the plane was empty and above all measures, less people = less chance of spread. I had also seen some articles citing Alaska actively enforcing the mask policy so I was hopeful.
We were so nervous about actually booking the trip that we waiting until what we felt was the last minute to pull the trigger on making this trip happen. We booked the flights nine days before our departure which for us is pretty crazy. Luckily, we were still able to snag a solid deal price wise even this close to flying – there are still deals out there to be had. From the east coast, there is no way to fly to Alaska without a layover. It was 5-6 hours to Seattle and then 3-3.5 hours to Anchorage so this was not a quick jaunt in the airplane. This was going to be interesting.
We got our COVID tests, filled out the online travel portal Alaska required for travel, checked into our flights via the Alaska Airlines app, and off to the airport we went. You can read more about our preparation for travel here!
It was hard to discern how much time before the flight we wanted to get to the airport. Normally, we would go, fly through TSA pre-check security, and go find an airport lounge to relax. I had read that TSA pre-check was not always available and that airport lounges were either closed or extremely limited capacity. I had also read that security can sometimes take longer than normal as personnel was limited to decrease interactions when possible.
Our first flight was at 4:50PM and we arrived at the airport around 2:30PM. The TSA pre-check line was open and we were through security at 2:34PM. So misjudged that one a bit. Larger containers of hand sanitizer did trigger a manual inspection at security (we were stopped both times) so keep that in mind – you can bring it (up to 12 oz in carry on) but it gets inspected.
We arrived to an empty gate and took notice of the precautions that the PHL airport put into place. There were overhead reminders about mask usage every few minutes and the seats were tapped off for social distancing.
The info board for Alaska indicated that the capacity of the plane was 162 people and there were 77 people booked – I really liked this feature! I know they said they would keep middle seats open but it was really nice to see on paper that the plane was going to be 48% full. Hidden bonus that we would not have any issues with overhead storage with the flight being half empty!
As it got closer to our boarding time, we found an empty part of the airport – ironically a food court since the vendors were mostly all closed – and ate the Wawa we grabbed on the way to the airport. We were not going to eat at all on the plane ride so we made sure to fill up as best as possible for the journey. We also did a final bathroom break before heading back to the gate.
Boarding the plane was the most civil we have seen it. People are still anxious to get on the plane first (really never understood that) but it was not the mad rush to the runway we typically observe. The boarding was by row from the back of the plane to the front. Almost everyone utilized the Alaska Airlines app for their boarding passes for hands free access.
Since we always book the cheapest fare ticket, we were always in the back half of the plane. This time, we were in the exit row and get this – no one was in the row next to us so we had the entire row to ourselves. I felt really good as we settled into our seats. After a full sanitation, we opened the air vent on full blast and prepared to fly.
I have an entire post on our personal protective equipment, cleaning, etc when we flew – read about all that fun stuff here!
Overall, we felt pretty good on the first flight. Flight attendants rounded frequently and everyone we could visualize in our vicinity was complaint with the face mask rule. It felt odd that they served a small snack and a personal sized beverage (no pouring of containers into cups) as everyone on the plane had their masks off at the same time. We did not take our masks off the entire flight. I would suggest that if you plan on eating or drinking, do so at a different time than when everyone has their mask off simultaneously. Another interesting note was how quiet the plane was – I really cannot remember a quieter plane ride! It was surprisingly relaxing and honestly, there should be a “quiet car” policy to decrease the particles expelled from people’s mouths on the plane.
Deplaning seems to be be the worst part of the plane experience and I have to agree – just as before, the bell “dings” and everyone rises, crowds the walk way, and waits for the door to open. I don’t get it! The flight attendants communicated to stay seated until it is your row to leave but unless there is something monitoring it – like a pew guard – that isn’t going to happen. We sat in our seats until it was our time to leave the plane and then ran.
For some reason, our flight was running late and our comfy connection window turned into a tight one. Thankfully we landed in the same terminal that our next flight was in – SEA airport is a bit, well, disjointed – quite literally. I did not have time to capture the capacity for this flight because we were ushered into the plane immediately when we arrived at the gate.
Boarding the second flight was a bit different that the first. We walked by everyone already seated and notice a few more noses than I would have liked, a few more neck gaiters and valve masks than I would have liked, and even more deviation from the flight attendants than I would have liked (masks not over the nose and taking off masks to take to people – we can hear you through the mask, thanks!). Overall it was really not that bad but it becomes so obvious when people are not following the rules. The one saving grace was that everyone on that plane should have negative COVID tests per Alaska’s travel regulation. We were seated in the last row and our neighbor was the bathroom so at least in the very back of the plane there are less people. Unlike the first flight, we had some chatterboxes nearby – I missed the quiet already.
Landing in Anchorage had a similar deplaning process – everyone in the walk way. We watched from the back of the plane as people crowded to get off the plane and sat in our seats until everyone else was out. I do not know why deplaning is such a challenge people!
There is a faux customs station that everyone needs to go through for their COVID compliance check. The set up had about a dozen of stations set up with workers and tablets. Travelers were separated into those that completed the online application and those that had not. We completed the online portal ahead of time so we did not wait long to be assigned to a station for review. The staff member pulled up our application and reviewed the components before sending us on their way. It is vital no matter where you are traveling to frequently check the state you are traveling to and the state you are traveling from state specific COVID website. The information is constantly changing!
We survived our first flying experience during COVID – whoop! Overall, I think this was better than we expected. Let’s fast forward to the return trip.
Our flight was at 4PM and we arrived at the airport at 1:30PM. Once again, the TSA pre-check line was open and empty so we cleared security in under five minutes, which included an additional screening of our hand sanitizer. Then we waited.
As people started to arrive by the gate, knots in my stomach began to form. Many people were not wearing the mask or had a “unapproved” mask. The Alaska staff member at the gate continued to repeat the overhead message that face masks are required in the airport but people do not give a sh*t. People sat with their backs to the staff so they would not see them. I was sooo fed up with people not following very simple rules. I spoke up and told the Alaska staff member that many people were still not complying with the face mask rule and she did do a walk around of the gate to tell people individually. But I still had to get on a plane with these people. Ugh.
It was unfortunate that Alaska did not do more face mask checking since there were so many neck gaiters (which some studies have shown make spreading aersolized particles worse so when they did not wear them it was almost better?) and valve masks which the website indicated those were not permitted. On all the flights, I did not take not of anymore being asked to change masks as their had ample surgical masks available for people at not charge.
We boarded the plane, once again in the back, and watched as we saw way more noses and mouths of passengers. This flight out of all the flights we flew, the attendants repeated their message about wearing the face masks the most. On the three hour flight, I think we heard them “friendly remind” about a dozen times which was way more than the other flights. People would put them on for the flight attendants then take them off once our of eye sight. Really pathetic honestly. The flight attendants can only do so much but there was a point I was going to get up and tell them to patrol the plane because I continued to see maskless people. Just so aggravating! The flight attendants really need to babysit the passengers on flights like this one. Am I the only one that cares about this? Thank god this was a shorter flight. It was probably a 90/10 compliance rule so really a majority of the people were good but it sticks out so much when people don’t wear the mask.
Seattle’s airport was mobbed when we navigated to our layover flight. I guess this is what a Saturday night looks like but it was really crowded. We found a vacant corner, ate our dinner, and prepped for the next flight. Thankfully this was a red eye so at least I would not have to see the maskless people – only in my dreams.
Because I slept pretty much the entire plane ride, I can’t say how “good” the people were – maybe that is a good thing. Only when we started deplaning the noses started to creep in. Again, there were people on this plane with neck gaiters and even just a regular bandanna and it would be good for Alaska to catch and correct these.
So. That was our experience flying. It was not perfect, but it was ok. Depending on others to do the right thing is impossible so do things that make you feel comfortable. Or be “that person” and speak up for your safety. Flying was worth incredible trip we had and our 14 day quarantine plus two negative COVID tests post travel indicated we “survived”. Overall, a majority of travelers are doing the right thing and want to do the right thing. For me personally, it is hard to ignore the small percent of people that can’t figure out that the mask goes over the nose or chose to not wear it at all. I would totally be the COVID police if allowed. Will we fly again? Yes but it would have to be under the right conditions. Having the middle seats open was really a huge win and unfortunately unless you buy the middle seat, most airlines are filling the planes up to capacity. Thank you the Alaska Airlines for putting safety ahead of profits one this one.
I hope this helps your future travel. Who knows, at the rate things are changing this may already be old news or outdated!
Here are a few more posts regarding travel during COVID: