Alaska Airlines Q400 Update: I flew the Bombardier

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While my trip to the Big Sky State last week was not under the most joyful of circumstances, I did have the opportunity to fly aboard an Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air Bombardier Q400, the very same type of aircraft scheduled for arrival on the Anchorage-Fairbanks run starting March, 2014. And that made me happy, dear AKontheGO’ers, because I could report back to you.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post with cooperation from Alaska/Horizon’s Bobbie Egan, who answered many questions regarding the aircraft, the flight, and the approaches to both Ted Stevens International and Fairbanks International airports. It had been a few years since my last Bombardier experience, so in the interest of non-scientific research, I took a few mental notes between Seattle and Missoula, Montana. Below are my observations and suggestions for parents flying the short distance (approximately one hour) between SEA-FAI (interestingly, the same distance between Seattle and Missoula).

1. Space is at a premium. While the Bombardier is one long, sleek aircraft that reminds me of a flying cigar, space is lessened due to the aerodynamic design and size. Overhead bins are plentiful, but narrow. My commuter backpack fit well, but it was filled with a laptop and flat books, nothing bulky. If you have tons of kid/baby gear, consider streamlining for the short trip. The same rules of carry-on do apply, but passengers with items that will not fit easily into an overhead bin or under the seat will be asked to stow these items at the “A’laCarte” staging area at boarding. No worries – your gear will meet you upon deplaning, but you won’t have access to items during the flight. Short answer: take only the necessities. You’ll make it.

2. Leg room was better than I expected. I am almost 5’8″, so I tend to care a lot about leg room. Mind you, I put my backpack in said overhead bin, but with an empty space for my feet, I could safely stretch out my legs in front of me. Do ask the person in front to not recline, however. It put my laptop in, well, my lap. But that happens on the big planes, too.

Yep. Those are my knees.

3. Plan your car seat shuffle. AK Dad and I had a strategy when it came to installing the car seat in any aircraft, large or small. He and the seat would take early boarding privileges; thus providing time to install the seat before a rush of passengers down the single aisle. I would stay behind with AK Kid and wait until general boarding. Win-win.

4. Boarding was fast. One fantastic aspect of the Q400 was its double-door entrance/exit policy. When safe to do so (i.e. not -40F outside), passengers can utilize both front and rear doors to enter/exit the aircraft. Alaska/Horizon do recognize that this may not be prudent during cold weather, especially with the updated news that the Fairbanks airport will allow a modification to Gate 1 for warm, indoor boarding and deplaning. Wahoo! (Ted Stevens Anchorage International passengers, we’re still waiting on a solution).

5. Service with a smile. I’ve always been impressed by Horizon Airlines and their cheerful, helpful, and darned smart flight crews. When we were landing at SeaTac in the middle of a fog bank, there was unruffled calm among the entire crew, and we appreciated their candor when it looked doubtful we’d make it in, thus diverting to Yakima (we didn’t, and arrived on time in SEA). Free snacks and a free glass of wine or beer helped make the trip pleasant, too.

Overview? The Bombardier is a fast, comfortable, and will do fine as a replacement aircraft. No, it’s not a jet. But it’ll get us there, safely and with the same great service known among Alaska Airlines passengers. Now, let’s plan our trips for 2014 with a minimum of fuss, shall we?


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