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24 hours in Fairbanks

24 hours in Fairbanks

Old Dec 20, 19, 3:53 pm
  #1  
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24 hours in Fairbanks

I havenít written a trip report in years, but got bit by the bug again so here we go.

About 10 days ago a meeting was scheduled in Fairbanks on December 20 that necessitated my attendance. As a former Fairbanksan, I relish any chance to get back and enjoy being in the real Alaska. Plus Iíd have a chance to be back in town for winter solstice (technically the day before, but close enough) and to top it off, after a relatively mild winter, the weather was forecast to drop down in to the 20ís below zero Fahrenheit.

So there you have it: subzero temps, sunrise at 10:59 AM and sunset at 2:39 PM. Rock and roll.

I was tempted to book DL, only so I could give the A220 a try on SEA-FAI but in the end I stuck with AS. 75K status is always handy, and I was able to burn a gold guest upgrade going north. I was able to route PDX-ANC-FAI going north (anytime you can avoid playing SEA Roulette is a good time), and FAI-SEA-PDX going back home. Since it is close to the Christmas holiday space was tight, but I was able to secure F on all legs.
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Old Dec 21, 19, 12:18 am
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Day 0

Segment 1:
December 19, 2019, Alaska Airlines 173
Portland, OR (PDX) to Anchorage, AK (ANC)
Scheduled Departure 19:25 PST, Actual Departure 19:23 PST, gate C9, runway 10L, temperature 55F, wind S16G25, rain
Scheduled Arrival 10:18 AKST, Actual Arrival 9:57 AKST, gate C3, runway 7L, temperature 14F, wind light and variable, clear skies
Boeing 737-900ER, N486AS
Actual Flight Time 3:17

A Pineapple Express from the tropics took aim at the Pacific Northwest on the 18th, bringing with it a forecast of several inches of rain in the Portland area over the course of three days. Temps shot up from the upper 30s to the mid 50s rapidly as the clouds opened up.

Thanks to the marginal weather on top of normal rush hour traffic on Portland area freeways, it took a whopping one hour and 45 minutes to get from my home in the suburbs to the long term parking garage entrance at PDX, a distance of 21 miles.


Rush hour on I-5

As such, I arrived at a soggy PDX 60 minutes prior to scheduled departure.


PDX drop-off area under the canopy

Seeing a line of about 10 people at the AS First Class/Elite check in, I opted to use a kiosk to print my bag tag and boarding pass. As luck would have it I think I picked the only kiosk out of about 30 that wouldnít print a bag tag, so I had to stand in line anyway. After a short-ish wait a friendly AS agent tagged my roller to Fairbanks and I was on my way.

The TSA precheck line at the B/C concourse checkpoint appeared to be about 30 people deep, so I walked over to the D/E concourse checkpoint where there was nobody in line for precheck and was quickly through, with a quick hike back over to the C concourse via the concourse connector.

Thanks to the abnormally long drive time to PDX, I didnít have time to enjoy the Alaska Lounge, which is just as well. While AS has recently improved the food and beverage offerings at its lounges, the new seating arrangement in their PDX facility is atrocious. I go to a lounge for quiet and privacy, not to sit at a table with five other people I donít know.

Boarding commenced promptly at T-40 at gate C9. Our ride north was on one of the -900ERís with the old style F seating and ample leg room.




Catering was still loading as we boarded, so there was a wait of a few minutes to get to ubiquitous AS PDB, the 8oz bottle of water.




AS gets a lot of flak for not doing a full PDB service in F, but Iíll go down to the mat and say I actually appreciate the bottle of water. Thereís multiple hours sitting on oneís duff in the air to load up on grandpaís cough medicine, so proper hydration ahead of time isnít a bad thing.

We pushed back 2 minutes early and had a quick taxi out to runway 10L, jumping ahead of an AS Q400 bound for EUG in the process. Flight time was estimated at three hours and twenty minutes, and the pilots said that due to turbulence on the climb out they had asked the flight attendants to remain seated. We took off into the night, bouncing around in the stormy air as we followed the Columbia River to Washougal, then made a hard left turn and pointed northwest towards the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island. We reached our cruise altitude of 34,000 feet as we passed over Aberdeen, and our flight path this evening took us out to the west of Vancouver Island and over the top of Haida Gwalior before crossing the Pacific almost in a straight line headed northwest towards Anchorage.

PDX-ANC flight path

Once we hit 10,000 feet the WiFi and inflight streaming was turned on. AS recently announced a partnership with Hallmark Channel to show hundreds of their comically bad Christmas movies on their airplanes, but fortunately they still had one of the best Christmas movies of all time available:



The turbulence finally settled down after about the first 40 minutes of flight, and the flight attendants sprung to action. I ordered the Lush IPA from Seattleís Fremont Brewing, and it arrived along with warm nuts.



Dinner tonight was a choice of entrees between a vegan ravioli or chicken with rice. I went with the chicken and rice, and it was accompanied with a fresh salad and dinner roll. Since the VX acquisition, AS has made a very noticeable effort to step up its catering in F, and the effort shows. The portion sizes arenít as big as what youíd get in F on UA, for example, but the quality is much better.



Warm cookies were passed out after dinner, and the rest of the flight was uneventful. Once Hans Gruber fell off the top of Nakatomi Plaza I dozed off for a bit until we approached ANC via the usual arrival pattern up Turnagain Arm. We greased runway 7L ahead of schedule and parked at C3 in a snow-less Anchorage, just as ANC was getting revved up for its nightly red eye bonanza; AS nonstops to LAX, PHX, and ORD were all getting ready to load as we arrived.





Segment 2:
December 19, 2019, Alaska Airlines 167
Anchorage, AK (ANC) to Fairbanks, AK (FAI)
Scheduled Departure 23:00 AKST, Actual Departure 22:59 AKST, gate C4, runway 33, temperature 13F, wind S6, clear skies
Scheduled Arrival 22:59 AKST, Actual Arrival 22:55 AKST, gate 1, runway 2L, temperature -26F, calm wind, a few clouds
Boeing 737-900ER, N407AS
Actual Flight Time 0:44
Scheduled Departure

As luck would have it my connection to Fairbanks was scheduled right next door at C4. Originally scheduled as a 737-700, the flight was subbed with another -900ER. Boarding commenced a bit late but concluded on time and we pushed back one minute early.



Thankfully no deicing was needed, and we zipped out to runway 33 and took off to the north over Knik Arm, passing over the west side of Wasilla and made it all the way up to a brief cruise of 32,000 feet as we passed over the Broad Pass and Cantrell area. We remained at our cruise altitude for a whopping five minutes before starting a gradual descent into FAI just as we passed over the Denali National Park entrance.

Thereís not much to say about a 44 minute flight in the dark. I had a glass of ice water and stared out the window at a faint aurora in the northern sky.

Winds were calm at FAI, and we landed straight ahead on runway 2L, slicing through a few wisps of ground fog courtesy of the chilly -26F temperature.

ANC-FAI flight path

Bags were delivered promptly as they always are at FAI, and I dug out my stocking hat and gloves for the quick walk out to the rental car lot, where I had a Subaru Impreza waiting for me. The car wasnít plugged in so it cranked a little harder than it should have, but ultimately fired right up.



Thanks to the cold temps the tires were frozen, leading to a bumpy ride for the first half mile as I pulled out of the rental car area and headed down Airport Way towards downtown Fairbanks and my ultimate destination for the evening, the Springhill Suites. Iíve stayed at most of the big hotels in Fairbanks and tend to gravitate towards the Springhill Suites for its combination of central location, restaurant (Lavelleís in the lobby is one of the best restaurants in Fairbanks and also has one of the best wine selections in Alaska), and spacious rooms. I crashed at 1:00 AM Alaska time. It was good to be back in the ĎBanks, even for only a day.

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Old Dec 22, 19, 12:17 pm
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Day 1:

The temperature hovered around -25F to -33F pretty much all day. I wonít bore you with details of my meetings, but instead here are a few photos of Fairbanks the day before winter solstice. Sunrise was at 10:59 AM, and the sun stayed ďupĒ until 2:37 PM. I say ďupĒ because in reality it barely clears the southern horizon.


2nd Avenue in downtown Fairbanks looking west.



2nd Avenue in downtown Fairbanks looking east.



1st Avenue in downtown Fairbanks. The building in the background is the Rabinowitz Courthouse. Photo taken at 9:42 AM.



Cowles Street shortly after sunrise at 11:10 AM.



Mitchell Expressway (Alaska route 3). This becomes the Parks Highway, heading to Denali National Park and Anchorage.



International Arctic Research Center on the left and the Geophysical Institute on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.



Looking west towards the Geophysical Institute on the UAF campus. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is the flagship campus of the University of Alaska system and is a global hub of arctic research.



The University of Alaska Museum of the North. This world-class museum is one of the top rated visitor attractions in the state.



A panoramic of Fairbanks and the Tanana Valley taken from the UAF campus at 11:29 AM.
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Old Dec 22, 19, 5:15 pm
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Interesting, I;ve never been to Alaska.
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Old Dec 22, 19, 6:11 pm
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Wasilla makes me think of Sarah Palin and finding a corner in round barn before Denali ,

Love Alaska, always an adventure
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Old Dec 24, 19, 9:03 am
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Originally Posted by HawaiiFlyerDC8 View Post
Interesting, I;ve never been to Alaska.
Itís well worth it, and really not that hard to get to!

Originally Posted by satman40 View Post
Wasilla makes me think of Sarah Palin and finding a corner in round barn before Denali ,

Love Alaska, always an adventure
Haha, yes, Wasilla is its own brand of special.

Iím hoping to get the rest of the report posted today. Thanks for reading!
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Old Dec 24, 19, 10:39 am
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Originally Posted by Chugach View Post
Haha, yes, Wasilla is its own brand of special.
Said like a true Alaskan.
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Old Dec 24, 19, 9:14 pm
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Loved my visit to Alaska in December 2015 and flying around the US on Alaska Air with their friendly crews.

Springhill Suites looks like a better option than the Hampton Inn, as the food options around there were limited.

UoA Fairbanks had great ski and snowshoe trails that were great for enjoying the snow.
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Old Dec 26, 19, 8:12 am
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Day 2:

Segment 3:
December 21, 2019, Alaska Airlines 132
Fairbanks, AK (FAI) to Seattle, WA (SEA)
Scheduled Departure 23:55 AKST (December 20), Actual Departure 00:50 (December 21), gate 2, runway 20R, temperature -31F, calm winds, clear skies
Scheduled Arrival 04:40 PST, Actual Arrival 05:02 PST, gate C3, runway 16L, temperature 46F, wind WNW7, rain, visibility 6 miles
Boeing 737-900ER, N275AK
Actual Flight Time 3:00

I arrived at FAI about three and a half hours prior to the scheduled departure time of 11:55 PM. Check in was easy and quick (it always is when youíre the only person in line) and the friendly woman explained to me that SEA was in full on meltdown mode due to record rainfall and a malfunctioning baggage belt system, and that most flights that involved SEA were running one to two hours behind schedule. If youíre so inclined, hereís a FT thread about the event: SEA is a Christmas holiday nightmare

Security was a breeze with Precheck, and soon enough I was set up with a table at the airport bar and grill, the appropriately titled Local at FAI, in between gates 3 and 4. The FAI terminal was rebuilt from the ground up in about 2007, replacing the old terminal which was a hodgepodge of facilities from the 1950ís and 1980ís. Originally constructed in 1951, the airport is owned by the State of Alaska and is co-managed alongside ANC under the Alaska International Airport System umbrella. While ANC gets the bulk of the cargo refueling business, FAI acts as a reliever when ANC is shut down due to weather or other events. Currently for passengers FAI sees year-round service from AS (SEA, ANC, SCC, BRW) and DL (SEA, seasonal MSP). UA (DEN, ORD), soon to be AA (DFW, ORD), DE (FRA), and 4N (YDA) serve the airport seasonally, along with numerous JL winter charters from Japan for aurora boreal is tourism. The airport has six jetbridge gates, allocated as such: Gates 1 and 2 for AS, gate 3 for Shared Services Aviation (shuttle service to North Slope oil fields) and a reliever for AS, gate 4 for DL, gate 5 for AA, and gate 6 for UA plus all international arrivals and departures (DE, 4N, JL). Fun fact: FAI is the smallest city in the country with transatlantic service to Europe.

A Twister Creek IPA from Denali Brewing and a glass of Knob Creek helped pass the time, and soon enough my ride to SEA landed, shortly after a DL flight from SEA. With three redeye departures tonight, all to SEA, (two on AS and one on DL), the terminal was fairly busy.




Boarding began and was fairly normal, aside from the guy who attempted to board this AS flight to SEA with a boarding pass for the DL flight to SEA. I settled in to 3F and almost immediately dozed off once the safety briefing was completed.


Obligatory legroom shot



Another AS 737 parked next door at gate 1

Not much to say about this flight as a dozed as much as a I could. We took off to the south, and made an immediate left turn as we passed over the Tanana River and had a nice tailwind and a straight shot flight path down to SEA.

FAI-SEA flight path

We touched down in torrential rainfall at 4:58 AM on runway 16L and had a quick taxi over to C3.

Segment 4:
December 21, 2019, Alaska Airlines 944
Seattle, WA (SEA) to Portland, OR (PDX)
Scheduled Departure 06:05 PST, Actual Departure 06:38 PST, gate D5, runway 16L, temperature 45F, wind NNE7, rain, visibility 3 miles
Scheduled Arrival 07:09 PST, Actual Arrival 07:31 PST, gate C3, runway 10R, temperature 51F, wind S6, rain, visibility 8 miles
Boeing 737-900ER, N474AS
Actual Flight Time 0:32

SEA was still in recovery mode, and while the flight boarded on schedule it took a while to round up bags and as a result we were 33 minutes off schedule.

Flight time was estimated at a quick 36 minutes, and a PDB of sugar with a splash of oranges or coffee was offered. My seatmate was wearing enough cologne to stun a small farm animal.


Interior of this 737 has seen better days

We were fourth in line for departure, behind another AS 737 bound for LAX. Our flight time was so quick that the FA was unable to get drinks out past the first two rows; honestly I donít think anybody cared on a scheduled 6:05 AM Saturday morning flight that was barely in the air for half an hour.

SEA-PDX flight path

PDX weather wasnít much better than SEA, and we landed on runway 10R and quickly taxied to C3 (gate C3 seems to be a theme on this trip).


Morning lineup at PDX



Another day in paradise

Thanks for reading!
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Old Dec 26, 19, 8:15 am
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Originally Posted by wrp96 View Post
Said like a true Alaskan.
Former Alaskan at this point!

Originally Posted by Coathanger View Post
Loved my visit to Alaska in December 2015 and flying around the US on Alaska Air with their friendly crews.

Springhill Suites looks like a better option than the Hampton Inn, as the food options around there were limited.

UoA Fairbanks had great ski and snowshoe trails that were great for enjoying the snow.
Yes, UAF has a fantastic trail system. The Hampton Inn isnít near much in the way of food; more and better options are definitely available in the downtown area.
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Old Dec 26, 19, 9:58 am
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Originally Posted by Chugach View Post
Former Alaskan at this point!
I resemble that remark.
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Old Dec 27, 19, 12:17 pm
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Thanks for the nice read about Fairbanks, Chugach! I live out towards the Goldhill/Ester area and rarely ever venture downtown. Mention of Lavelle's however has got me thinking it might be nice to pop in for dinner some evening. Their Chicken Champignon is memorably delicious. Today however, I think I'll hit one of our many fine Thai eateries - perhaps Lemongrass as it's closest to home. The daytime high today is projected to be -31F (Hey - it beats -41F!!)
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Old Dec 27, 19, 1:29 pm
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Originally Posted by Seat 2A View Post
Thanks for the nice read about Fairbanks, Chugach! I live out towards the Goldhill/Ester area and rarely ever venture downtown. Mention of Lavelle's however has got me thinking it might be nice to pop in for dinner some evening. Their Chicken Champignon is memorably delicious. Today however, I think I'll hit one of our many fine Thai eateries - perhaps Lemongrass as it's closest to home. The daytime high today is projected to be -31F (Hey - it beats -41F!!)
Thank you! I appreciate the comment from a true FT trip reporter legend.

Iím partial to the halibut at Lavelles, although they also do a good prime rib. I also had dinner at Ivory Jacks on this trip; it wonít win any style points but itís one of those old-time classic Fairbanks haunts with solid comfort food.

And the Thai food up there. Iíve often said thereís no place on earth (or at least in the USA) thatís quite like Fairbanks, so it only makes sense that a town so wacky would have world-class Thai food at multiple restaurants.
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