Updated on January 28, 2021
Flight Log of Alaska Airlines Flight 1 and 121 from Washington DC to Anchorage via Seattle
A late summer trip to America’s last frontier. The outbound flights spanned an entire day, with me spending the few hours of layover at Space Needle in Seattle. In addition, this post will focus on the summits and glaciers along the way that kicked off my trip.
The wilderness of Alaska had long been on my travel bucket list. Even more so for some of my friends. This year, due to COVID, there had been plenty of award flight spaces to/from Alaska. So in early May, we booked American Airlines’ 10k per one-way web special award in late August between Washington DC and Anchorage, looking to spend about a week exploring the touristy-Alaska, which consisted of Seward and Denali.
After that, things had changed and COVID had become more prevalent in Alaska, leading some of my friends to cancel the trip. And about 2 weeks before our trip (The timing couldn’t be any better as the promotion required 14-day advance purchase.), Alaska Airlines started a buy-one-get-one-free promotion to boost load factors. Best part of the promotion was that it didn’t raise “original” prices before discount, and it applied to almost all routes within its network. At the time, one-way fare between Washington DC and Anchorage was already at an unbelievable 145 dollars. So, without much hesitation, we snatched this set of ticket. (American Airlines waived award redeposition fee during COVID.)
By the way, one would earn at least 3777 Alaska Airlines miles for such a one-way flight averaging 80 dollars per person. It would be a rather tempting mileage run route if not for COVID.
As of August 2020, the State of Alaska required out-of-state visitors to get a PCR COVID-19 test “within 72 hours of their departure to Alaska” and showed negative result upon arrival to avoid any kind of quarantine.
Our flight to Seattle departed at 8am EST, and the flight to Anchorage at 1:50pm EST. Out of abundance of caution, we took the test at about 3pm on August 19, past the second departure time. Our test result only had “sample taken date” of August 19, without a specific time, but the health screener at Anchorage Airport seemed okay with this and waived us okay without asking any additional questions.
AS1 to Seattle
So on the morning of August 19, we took an Uber to Washington Reagan National Airport. The check-in and security screening went smoothly. Without much sitting around, we were boarded.
The flight to Seattle was about half-full with a few empty rows. Alaska Airlines had been blocking middle seats in times of low load.
Soon after that we had a perfectly on-time takeoff.
Here’s GPS tracking:
There wasn’t much to talk about the flight, except that Alaska Airlines were offering a single round of drink service. I thought cabin services went extinct in times of COVID.
Sadly, throughout most of the flight I was battling against a non-cooperative stomach. Hot water seemed to help, but unfortunately, the onboard bathrooms seemed rather dirty from such a long flight. (Related to COVID or not, it seemed that bathroom cleaning were never the flight attendants’ duty.)
We took a southern route flying across the continent, and didn’t turn for Seattle until a-third of the way into Oregon. This meant during descent, we were given a tour of the various soaring mountains in the pacific northwest.
The climax of the descent was certainly Mount Rainier, Washington State’s tallest mountain. At times, we were only 30km from the peak.
It’s an exciting sight we wouldn’t be able to see again as scatter clouds covered some of Seattle’s skyline for the day.
Probably due to strong headwind, we didn’t arrive at Seattle much earlier than scheduled. Once we landed, we took the light rail downtown.
Seattle Space Needle
Unfortunately, to get such a low fare, we would have to have a long connection in Seattle as earlier departures to Anchorage were sold at a premium. We decided to use our 6.4 hour connection to visit downtown Seattle, have a lunch, and tour its iconic Space Needle.
It felt surreal as we stepped out of tram station in downtown Seattle connecting onto a bus. All the storefronts were boarded up, and if protestors hadn’t occupied those blocks, the homeless certainly creeped into the shadows cast by vacant skyscrapers. Yet just a few blocks down the road near Space Needle, it’s a different scene, of street performers and picnic blankets, of lush meadow under blue sky. It’s like the urban vibe could only survive in the light.
By the time we reached the foot of Space Needle, it was 3pm eastern time, long after our breakfast and we were both starving. We found this Thai restaurant open and empty(!), so we had a sit-down meal.
After lunch, we visited nearby Space Needle. Built to house a revolving restaurant for 1962’s World Fair, it’s now the icon of Seattle providing all-around views of the city.
When I was in Seattle in January 2020, the rainy weather didn’t make a trip there worthwhile. This day, it was mostly sunny and visibility splendid.
Timed-tickets were required to enter Space Needle, which could be purchased on site, and the slots were plentiful during our visit. The line before the elevator wrapped around some exhibition boards about 1962’s World Fair, with the theme “men in space age”. Probably that’s how Space Needle got its name.
Like most other similar attractions, the last step before elevator was the photo stand. But unlike others, Space Needle offered free digital photo download.
Despite their green screen / processing was of terrible quality, so I won’t post mine here.
The upper deck of Space Needle was open-air, with half of it as dedicated “paid bar area”. The lower-deck was indoor, featuring the original revolving structure and glass floors.
Here are the interesting individual sights.
This concluded our hour-long visit to Space Needle.
A friend of mine who lived nearby came by to Seattle Center and we had some good catching up.
AS121 to Anchorage
Unfortunately, we chatted too much. When we realized both bus and tram schedule had been greatly reduced due to COVID, we found our trip back to the airport would be tight.
It’s 3pm sharp that we reached University Street tram station, 3:23 as we boarded the metro, 3:59 when the metro reached airport station. (Thank God Seattle’s tram was pretty punctual despite reduced to 30-minute service interval.) After that, we race-walked towards security check and passed an almost-empty security checkpoint at 4:09. Our flight to Anchorage departed from gate D1, right after security, (We learned this as we waited for the bus to take us to tram station. Had it been a satellite gate, we would probably have taken an Uber instead.) and it’s already boarding (Alaska officially started boarding 40 minutes before departure, earlier than most others.) The gate agent announced that they were pushing for early departure, later I learned from tracking that headwind was strong for the day.
It’s a non-ER 737-900 serving today’s flight, sort of weird as the ER version outnumbered non-ER 79-12 in Alaska’s fleet. Signs of age was everywhere around the plane (N309AS), from its livery of previous generation to old-style windows.
As we tried to catch some breath from our rushing towards the airport, we blasted off the runway, taking a final look of downtown Seattle before banking left towards Puget Sound.
Here’s GPS tracking:
Before crossing into Canada we overflew Olympic National Park. While admiring occasional peaks that pierced through the cloud, I didn’t catch any glimpse of Hurricane Ridge, where I visited in January.
It was cloudy most of the way along Pacific Coast, so we spent the flight in between naps and video clips.
We started to descend just as we were approaching Prince William Sound, as we made an abrupt turn North towards Valdez. After that, our descent largely followed Knik Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in southcentral Alaska. Had it not been undercast most of the way down, it would be a spectacular aerial tour of mountains and glaciers that’s unique to the state of Alaska.
At 7:09pm local time we touched down in Anchorage, 160 minutes since our takeoff, exactly as scheduled (no leeway).
Just at the exit of security there’s a health screening area, where all passengers arriving from out-of-state must fill out a declaration form with COVID testing information. However, passing through health screening was voluntary as the airport gates were mixed among in-state and out-of-state arrivals (no one was asking those bypassing screening any questions).
After that, we took a Lyft to our overnight hotel on the city’s outskirts, bought some supplies from a nearby supermarket, and ended this very very long day.
Flight Log of Alaska Airlines Flight 1 and 121 from Washington DC to Anchorage via Seattle by Huang's Site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.