Updated on August 13, 2021
Flight Log of Alaska Airlines Flight 5 from Washington DC to Los Angeles
April 2021. Lured by surprisingly low air fares, I took a long weekend flying across the continent to Los Angeles visiting Joshua Tree National Park. This is the outbound flight segment where I flew Alaska from Washington Reagan to Los Angeles. The weather’s so great in the mountain states that it turned out to be the most scenic flight I’d ever taken.
Rocky Mountains, Colorado National Monument, Arches National Park, Canyonlands Naitonal Park, Goblin State Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Zion National Park, Hoover Dam, it’s hard to believe I saw them all on this flight.
Back in March 2021, when recovery from COVID was still uncertain and people hesitant to travel, the various airlines in United States had been offering great fares. For pretty much anytime before Memorial Day (traditionally off-season for airlines), one-way fare between Washington DC and Los Angeles had been as low as 57 dollars, and that’s with full-service carriers like American and Alaska.
Taking advantage of this lowest trans-con prices that I’d seen from Washington DC, I booked myself two sets of roundtrip flights on Alaska, one in April and one in May. In both cases, I planned to spend a long weekend in the Los Angeles area. Early April should be wildflower time for Joshua Tree National Park, so this time I would be heading east exploring its desert landscape.
So on the morning of April 9, I took a metro ride to Washington Reagan National Airport. It should be close to normal morning rush hour, but the train was pretty empty with fewer than 5 people per car, a stark contrast to a month later when everything seemed back as normal.
Once at the airport, I ordered some food from one of the few restaurants that remained open, then headed towards security. While American Airline’s terminal B/C seemed rather busy with long security lines, terminal B where I would depart from seemed pretty empty. As of 8:30am, AS6 was the only flight waiting for passengers.
While Alaska Airlines tended to send it’s few A321neo’s to Reagan National, today’s flight was on a A320. A quick search revealed that one of their A321neo’s had to be taken out of service a few days ago. A few immediate flights were cancelled and for today, Alaska scrambled an A320 for the job. This last minute equipment change meant it’s a pretty full flight, but somehow it must be my lucky day as I still got an empty seat next to me.
Alaska Airlines 5
Washington Reagan National, VA (DCA) – Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
Airbus A320 (N852VA)
Scheduled Departure – 9:05am
Actual Departure – 9:13am
Scheduled Arrival – 11:45am
Actual Arrival – 11:30am
5 hours and 17 minutes
Here’s GPS tracking:
But soon the clouds cleared out, and I saw sprinkles of towns below.
Apart from the usual snack and drink service, the cabin crew today distributed water bottles about halfway in flight. That’s a pretty thoughtful act as I remembered a thirsty Alaska red-eye flight from LA to Baltimore last January.
That’s about time we reached the mountain states where landscape below turned from monotone farmland to stunning nature. I said this was the most scenic flight I’d ever taken, because it flew across the few national parks that I visited the previous year, together with the few that had been on my bucket list. Weather had been cooperating as there was little cloud from here till California, that I’d got to enjoy this feast for my eyes unobstructed, beginning with the sights of distant downtown Denver.
After crossing Denver we were overflying magnificent Rocky Mountains.
Then we reached Western Colorado and skimmed by the town of Grand Junction. I would be visiting Moab from here (together with the Colorado National Monument just outside the city) last year had it not been disrupted by COVID.
My plan to reach Moab by flying into Grand Junction last year got disrupted by COVID, but much to my delight, GPS showed we were heading right for Moab after leaving Grand Junction. Since I’m sitting on the right side of the plane, I managed to snap a few photos of Arches National Park! That certainly brought back memories of my visit last June.
Heading west from Moab it should be Canyonlands National Park. We flew to the north of the park so I didn’t have any photos to share, except for the vast lands of Utah wearing vivid red like this.
During my Utah trip last year, I visited Goblin State Park and Capitol Reef National Park after leaving Moab. I couldn’t hold back my joy after I caught sight to them both later.
Technically, after these we also flew past Bruce Canyon National Park. But probably due to my unfamiliarity with it, or due to that I’d seen too much scenery in this flight so far, that it didn’t stand out among other landscapes, thus I didn’t have any photos to show.
But not long after that we flew past Zion National Park, and its distinctive sandstone hills and unique colors immediately captured my attention.
Soon after that, we were approaching Las Vegas. While downtown Las Vegas was hidden behind clouds, we did fly past Lake Mead and Hoover Dam.
After entering California, we were greeted by sights of Mojave Desert. That is, until we reached the outskirts of Los Angeles San Bernadino mountains started adding freshness to the monochrome desert.
We landed at 11:30am and reached gate quickly afterwards. Trying to avoid the atrocious airport rental surcharges, I booked rental car off site with Enterprise Inglewood South, which required a bus or uber ride. From Alaska’s terminal 6 it’s a 840m walk to the bus stop “Sepulveda / Century” (Stop ID: 514071). I could have take the LAXit shuttle to rideshare lot to save some walking distance. (I didn’t know there’s a shuttle to LAX bus transit center back in April.) But I just missed a shuttle so I opted to walk instead. That’s when I witnessed how unorganized the arrival level of LAX was, with multiple cars jamming the driveway. I sort of understand why the airport introduced a separate taxi and rideshare lot.
Due to COVID, Los Angeles’s city buses were free, and soon after that I reached the rental shop. Their lot seemed rather empty, but with horror stories of rental car shortage I was rather glad that they had a Toyota Corolla on site (I booked one grade up).
It’s not yet 1pm by the time I got my car. Despite it’s a Friday, I thought the drive to Palm Springs mustn’t be that bad since I beat most people to leave by hours. Unfortunately that’s not the case, as half the distance was colored red in Google Maps, meaning heavy traffic. Worse still, traffic jam was so unpredicted in Los Angeles suburbs, that I had to frequently and suddenly brake from 55 to 25 mph (I can understand why hybrids and ev’s with regen braking were popular in California). Driving like this required a ridiculous amount of attention.
To make matters worse, I shall say I was spoiled by asphalt on the east coast. So when I first drove on the highways near Los Angeles made mostly of concrete, with poorly executed diamond grinding making cars drifty, it just added to my miseries.
At the end, with a few errands and a dinner along the way, I reached my Airbnb in Desert Hot Springs only at 6:30pm, more than 5 hours after I got the rental but covering only 130 miles of distance. An end to a very long day.