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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, April 17, 2000

By Nancy Wilcox, Special to the Star-Bulletin
The Oakland City Center is colorful and walkable.

More leg room, smooth
flight make the long
trip tolerable

Across the Bridge

Across the Bridge
All aboard wine train

By Tim Ryan


One of my favorite "Seinfeld" episodes found Jerry and a supermodel indulging in hors d'oeuvres and champagne in the first-class section of an airplane, while his buddy Elaine is stuck in coach.

Elaine misses her pitifully cheap meal when she gets stuck behind the cart and sneaks into first class only to learn that Jerry and his new pal are feasting on caviar, a crispy Caesar salad, lobster, creme brulee and wine, served on china and linen.

The final straw for Elaine comes when she smells fresh-baked cookies in the forward cabin.

"Hey people, listen up," she screams to her fellow coach captives. "They've got fresh cookies up there; lots and lots of fresh cookies!"


Bullet Honolulu to Oakland: 3:10 p.m.
Bullet Oakland to Honolulu: 10:30 a.m.
Bullet Maui to Oakland: 1:50 p.m.
Bullet Oakland to Maui: 9:10 a.m.

I thought I was living part of that experience when my wife and I took a business trip to the Bay area recently, deciding to fly Aloha Airlines' new service to Oakland. Sitting in coach -- and after what may have been the best cheap-seats' meal I've ever had on an airplane -- I recognized that cookie aroma.

Aloha's new Boeing 737-700 carries just 124 passengers, more than a third fewer than its big brother, the 747. Aromas fill the smaller fuselage quickly. As I prepared to put on my best sad face and beg for a cookie, I saw a vision. An angel in an Aloha Airlines uniform walked toward us holding a basket filled with cookies! And, MILK!

Cookies and milk were just one of several pleasant surprises on Aloha's new mainland route.

We were cautiously optimistic about the Aloha flight to California, booking one way in first class, one way in coach. Could this primarily neighbor island carrier -- yes, I know Aloha goes to several South Pacific locales as well -- compete with the big boys as a trans-Pacific airline? Was the Boeing 737-700 as comfortable as its bigger counterpart? Would service be adequate in a single aisle aircraft?

The first thing we noticed was that a plane with 124 people -- 12 in first, 112 in coach -- loads up quicker than a 400-passenger aircraft.

Aloha Airlines
Aloha Airlines now files direct to Oakland.

The specially configured first-class and coach seats have more legroom than other aircraft: 38 inches in first class; 33 inches in coach. Yes, I measured. It means a lot to someone my size, at 6-foot-2 and 200-plus pounds.

The first-class seats have four lumbar back support controls and expanding foot rests. And each row has its own television that folds down from the roof. (In coach, there's one slide down TV for every three rows.) The Sony sound system is amazingly crisp, with clear tones and 10 stations to choose from. Headsets are free.

Engine noise is lower than on larger aircraft and the flight considerably smoother. That's because the plane, the captain said, cruises at 39,000 feet, above most weather patterns. Most wide bodies cruise at 33,000 feet.

The meals are by noted island chef Alan Wong. In first-class I chose grilled salmon on dungeness crab cake; my wife had the grilled beef tenderloin. Both were juicy and ample. (My big faux pas? I asked for soy sauce for my rice: none available.)

Dessert was a magnificent chocolate shell filled with haupia sorbet on lilikoi sauce. Coach wasn't far behind. We were served hearts of romaine salad, and given a choice of meatloaf or BBQ chicken. My meatloaf was juicier and more tender than I thought airplane beef could be.

Last but certainly not least. If you've never flown into, or out of Oakland International, you're missing real convenience, compared to the hellish experience across the bay at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Remember: the city of San Francisco is closer to Oakland airport than to its own. And wine country, as in Napa, is just one hour from Oakland airport.

Another thing: Oakland flights are rarely impacted by things like fog delays, which seem to be traditional at SFO.

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