Alaska Airlines travelers will soon have a new seating option. The airline said that the Premium Class (premium economy) section it announced late last year will finally be available on select flights starting January 6 – and Mileage Plan elites will be eligible for free upgrades.
Effective this week, paying customers can book seats in Premium Class on flights where it is available for a surcharge of $15 to $79 over the base fare, depending on distance flown. Mileage Plan members with MVP, Gold and Gold 75 status can request a free upgrade when they book, or up to 24 hours before departure, depending on their elite level and the fare they purchase.
The new section, in the front of the main cabin, will give customers an extra four inches of legroom, with a 35-inch pitch vs. 31 or 32 in regular economy seating. As it refits its aircraft with Premium Class, Alaska is also overhauling its first class cabins, increasing legroom from 36 to 41 or 42 inches.
The airline said it expects to finish installing Premium Class by early January on half of the planes that are getting it – including 737-800s and E175s operated by SkyWest. Next year, it will add the seating on its 737-900s and -900ERs and eventually on Horizon Air planes. Sometime next year, Alaska said, it will decide whether to extend the refit to its 737-700s; it plans to eliminate its 737-400s in 2017.
The new seating category replaces Alaska’s Preferred Plus option, which only included exit row and bulkhead seats. Alaska said that persons seated in the new category will get priority boarding and free in-flight snack boxes and alcoholic drinks, and will have power outlets at each seat.
Here’s a chart of specific fleet plans:
Although Alaska said it will reduce the total number of seats on some aircraft, its chart indicates that its 737-800s will go from the current 163 total seats to 159 — only four fewer seats. As for its 737-900s and -900ERs, the total seat count will only drop from 181 to 178 — three fewer seats. It just seems like all that extra legroom going into the two front cabins might require a little more than that — unless economy seats will be pushed closer together. And the E175s will keep the same number of total seats despite the addition of 12 Premium Economy extra-legroom seats. That space has to come from somewhere.
Meanwhile, Alaska also said that starting December 5, Mileage Plan elite-level members will be eligible for free first class upgrades when they book award tickets in coach. The upgrades will be instant for full-fare coach awards (fare class Z) when space is available. In addition, a member’s fare class will now be used along with elite status level to determine first class upgrade priorities.
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