As the saying goes, there’s a first time for everything. Every time you step on a plane go to somewhere, there’s a date in the past that airline started flying the route you’re flying on. It is typically a special occasion when an airline starts to fly a new route. Those flights are known as an inaugural flight and typically there is fanfare at the originating airport as well as at the destination. Alaska Air recently started to fly from John Wayne Airport, in Orange County, CA, to Albuquerque, NM, and I was on the inaugural flight.
Alaska Air is the only airline to offer non-stop flight between Orange County and Albuquerque. The other major airlines fly to Albuquerque from Los Angeles, so this city pair may seem a little strange. John Wayne Airport is the 2nd busiest Los Angeles-area airport and narrow-body jets are the largest passenger jets it is capable of handling. However, John Wayne Airport serviced almost 10.5 million passengers, in 2016, which represents a 4.6% increase over the year before. Ever since Alaska Air’s acquisition of Virgin America closed, they have been building up their routes in the Western part of the United States. Given the growth of the airport and the need for more routes by Alaska Air, I can see why this route makes some sense. Alaska Air has been giving John Wayne Airport more love and have added more routes from there.
Festivities Before Boarding
I have never been on an inaugural flight before. Since I knew there would be a bit of fanfare before boarding, I got to the airport earlier than usual. After a quick walk to the gate, I settled in close to the boarding area. There were several people from the airport and the airline setting up balloons and swag bags.
All of the airport employees that I talked to were very excited about the new route. “We are always happy when a new destination is available” since it gives people more options, said one airport official.
As the incoming passengers were de-planing they got a swag bag of goodies, including an airline-branded water bottle, a discount book for South Coast Plaza (the 3rd largest mall in America), among some other trinkets.
I was expecting a short speech or something, but the only indication this flight was special (besides the balloons) was the gate agent announced it as the first flight to Albuquerque. Most of the awaiting passengers had no idea that it was an inaugural flight which I think is fairly common. I was slightly disappointed that there weren’t any cupcakes which seem to be a staple for inaugural flight festivities.
Flying to Albuquerque
The flight is operated by Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Air, using a 4.5 month old Embraer E-175 (abbreviated in the airline industry as E75). There are 4 rows of first class seats in a 1×2 configuration whereas economy is in a 2×2 configuration. The first class seats have AC power plugs; however, they are difficult to use due to their location.
I have Alaska Air MVP elite status so I got upgraded to First Class. I tried being the first passenger on board. Some of the other passengers slid in front of me but not a big deal. The incoming flight wasn’t completely full so there were leftover swag bags. I managed to get one along with an Alaska Air cookie.
Aside from the fanfare at the airport and a few conversations during the flight, it was an otherwise ordinary flight. The inside of the plane itself wasn’t specially decorated. The flight attendant serving first class has been working for Horizon for over 20 years. The E75 is a new aircraft for Horizon Air and I was curious how she felt about them. Their older planes don’t have a first class cabin. I half-expected the flight attendant to not like working the E75. She not only loves the plane but loves the closer interaction with the passengers.
The flight is only about one and a half hours and is quite scenic. The windows are actually larger, by area, than windows on a 787! They’re also higher than 737 windows so they are easier to look out. I’m always craning my neck on a 737 to look out the window. I purposely sat in seat 1A so I could look out the window and not have anyone sitting next to me. Having a window seat would also give me a good few of the water cannon salute. I was disappointed that we didn’t get one. Water cannon salutes are a tradition with inaugural flights.
The plane is an awesome plane to fly on. It is very comfortable and spacious. Flying on an inaugural flight was fun and I really hope to go on one again in the future.
Have you ever been on an inaugural flight? Leave a comment with the route you were on and what you thought about the flight!