By Jack Turner 09/22/2021 349 views

Recently, as part of my trip to Eugene, OR to watch the Nike Prefontaine Classic Track meet, I had the opportunity to fly on both United's regional service as well as Alaska's. While I also did fly on Alaska's mainline product from Seattle to San Francisco on that same itinerary, I am not including that flight in this particular review. 

This was my first time flying both airlines since the Coronavirus pandemic began, and I was pleased to see both airlines offer nearly the same service, if not the exact same, as prior to the pandemic began. For this day trip, we flew SFO - EUG on United Express, and on the way back we flew EUG - SEA on Horizon Air before transferring to Alaska's mainline back to SFO. In this article I will compare my two experiences and the implications. 

Flight 1: UA5969
Route: SFO - EUG
Airline: United Express on behalf of United Airlines
Aircraft: Bombardier CRJ-200 |N920EV
Date of Travel: Saturday August 21, 2021
Seat: 11D (window)
Scheduled Departure: 8:15 AM PDT
Scheduled Arrival: 9:59 AM PDT
Price: $88

For this flight, we booked a basic economy ticket. Booking basic economy on United Express means you have very little seat selection (which is actually better than mainline United where your seat is assigned, as well as having no ability to bring a full-size carry on bag. As we were only going to Eugene for the day, we didn't need to check anything or bring a full-size carry-on onboard, so the basic economy ticket ended up working out very well.

The aircraft that would take me to Eugene! 

While we could have used the American Express Centurion Lounge at SFO due to my parents holding a Platinum Card, we had very little time before the flight boarded, so we waited at the gate for about 5 minutes before boarding. Once onboard, we made our way to the back of the plane and to my seat, 11D. As with all CRJ-200s, the aircraft was laid out in a 2-2 configuration in an all economy layout, with no marked differentiation between seats. United does charge extra to book seats at the front of the CRJ-200; while I was not able to see prices for SFO-EUG as we booked basic economy with limited seat selection, on a flight from San Francisco to North Bend (OTH), for example, preferred seats at the front cost between $9 and $19 to book in addition to the regular ticket price. 

United Express CRJ-200 Interior SFO - EUG

The flight was quite full surprisingly although we managed to board the plane in about 10 minutes, forcing us to sit at the gate for almost 20 minutes so we could leave on time. That's the problem with departing from a slot-controlled airport! 

My seat, 11D

Once airborne, the flight was quick and smooth straight up to Eugene. Unfortunately due to the massive fires burning in the north part of California, there was pretty much no view of what was below except for the fog and smoke. I was also not expecting much in the way of service due to the pandemic, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see stroopwafels and pretzels being handed out. Personally, I think the stroopwafel is the best snack offered on any airline, and I am pleased to see United continuing to hand them out. Let me know what you think the best airline snack is in the comments! 

United Express snack service

Snack service aside, there was really nothing else that stood out about the flight. The seats are rather tight, and of course, the biggest issue with the CRJ-200 is the low height of the windows. The plane is not particularly passenger friendly, but as an AvGeek, nothing beats the experience of flying on a small regional aircraft. 

Once we touched down in Eugene, we made our way to Hayward Field for the day, before arriving back at Eugene Airport in the late afternoon for our two flights home. 

Flight 2: AS 2498
Route: EUG - SEA
Airline: Horizon Air on behalf of Alaska Airlines
Aircraft: Bombardier Q400/DHC-8
Date of Travel: Saturday August 21, 2021
Seat: 18D (window)
Scheduled Departure: 18:45 PDT
Scheduled Arrival: 19:55 PDT
Price: ~$120

For some reason, I had a sense before I even boarded that this flight would be special. It would be my first time on a turboprop plane in my life, and with the day's running events being some of the most fun I've ever had in my life, I just knew that an amazing aviation experience would make it better. Boarding began on time, and we made our way out onto the tarmac to board from the rear of the aircraft. 

Boarding AS 2498 to Seattle

Upon boarding, I was legitimately shocked by the fresh look of the cabin. I was completely unaware that Alaska was retrofitting their Q400s, and it seems that we got one of the few that has been retrofitted so far. Anyway, the lighting was modern and the seats look beautiful. 

Row 19 on AS 2498

Unfortunately as our area was crowded with people, I did not get the best photos of the seats. The image above was the row behind us, but it still clearly shows the improvement over the old crimson colored Horizon seats. While this is definitely not true of every flight, the cabin crew on this flight was particularly friendly, as well as the people sitting around us. We happened to sit in front of a family that sat right near us at the track race, and we sat across the aisle from a track coach from Pennsylvania! The atmosphere on this flight was one of the most positive I've ever experienced on a flight. 

View from 18D AS 2498. Town shown in photo is Salem, OR. 

The onboard service on this flight was similar to United although the drink selection was far more limited. Passengers on Horizon can currently choose between Orange Juice, Coffee, and a few sodas, but for those over 21, Horizon offers free wine! Alaska does not offer stroopwafels like United or Biscoff cookies like Delta, but they did offer a Kind Bar. This was a surprise to me! I went with the orange juice, but I unfortunately did not get a photo of the Kind Bar or the drink. For most of the flight, I was distracted by the incredible views outside the plane, whether it be the Wilamette Valley or even Mount St. Helens peaking above the clouds. Flying around sunset time was spectacular, and coupled with some of the best scenery in the country, the entire visual experience was stunning. 

Mount St. Helens

The views kept coming, and to my delight, we landed in Seattle from the north, guaranteeing us a spectacular view of the city center. 

Flying over Downtown Seattle on AS 2498

I sincerely did not want the flight to end, but we did have to transfer to our flight home to San Francisco. I will say that the Seattle airport is not particularly conducive to transferring as the Alaska gates are spread all over the place with some connections requiring the use of the inter-terminal train. That said, the onboard experience makes up for all of that. 

So to conclude, while United was great, that flight would never stand a chance against Horizon's perfection. The flight on Horizon was one of my most favorite flights ever—if you're looking for more analysis on Horizon I recommend you watch Jeb Brooks' video on his experience (it was identical to mine)—so no matter how hard United tried with the stroopwafels, nothing will beat regional flying in the Pacific Northwest. Alaska's retrofitted cabin and friendly crew was a wonderful touch, and the Q400 is a much more passenger-friendly aircraft than the CRJ200. The bathrooms are still tiny, but the better window placement and slightly more width and legroom make the passenger experience better. It is important to address, though, that sitting in the middle of a Q400 will likely result in an obstructed view due to the propellor—fortunately for us basic economy passengers are seated at the back of the plane where the view is not as obstructed as seen in the photos above. 

Overall, both United and Alaska offer great regional products on their affiliate airlines, but Alaska steps it up a notch, both as a company and in terms of their onboard product. In my view, Alaska, and Horizon Air more specifically, is the best regional airline in the West, and quite possibly the best in the United States. Let me know what you think of regional air travel in the United States below! 

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