Airplanes are like cars. You can buy a basic vehicle that will work just fine, or you can buy one loaded down with options like satellite radio, heated seats, built-in GPS etc.  Airplanes are the same, each airline can choose the configuration they want. In the last month I have had six flights on the Boeing 737-800; four on American Airlines and two on Alaska Airlines.  The planes are similar but not the same. Here are some of the differences I noticed.

Cabin: Each airline offers three-across seating. American Airlines offers cloth seats with leather headrests. Alaska offers leather seats that seem more upscale. American’s seat is slightly wider (17.2 inches vs 17 inches) while Alaska offers slightly more room between rows (32 inches vs 31 inches.) I found the Alaska Airlines seat to be more comfortable than American’s, and while there was only one additional inch between rows, it seemed like more than that. Given the choice, I prefer Alaska’s seat to American’s.

Power Ports: American not only offers power outlets at all of its seats, it’s 110 volts as opposed to the 12 volts on other aircraft. Alaska offers no power ports. Clear advantage to American.

Lavatories: American has two lavatories in the rear of the plane while Alaska has three. Advantage Alaska.

In-Flight Entertainment: American offers more than a dozen channels of music and a drop-down video screen that will play shows from NBC, or, on longer flights, a movie. Alaska offers people a digEplayer: imagine an iPad on steroids and you’ll have a good idea what this is. It’s a portable device featuring music and a choice of movies. The cost to rent the digEplayeris $6. Award this category to American.

Beverage Service: Neither airline serves meals in coach, they both have food available for purchase. American offers snack packages; and meals from Boston Market. Alaska offers both snack packages and meals for purchase on the flight. Both airlines offer complimentary soda, juice, and coffee. Alaska gives a complimentary snack (bag of nuts, cookies, etc.) with the beverage, American does not. Advantage Alaska.

WiFi: They both offer GoGo Inflight WiFi for the same price.

So, which aircraft is better? Neither, they both go from here to there. Which do I prefer? That’s hard to say.

I like the in-flight entertainment on American and really appreciate the powerport at my seat. I can’t tell you how many times I have taken advantage of that to charge my phone or keep my laptop running while I watch a movie or work on a project. So that is a clear advantage to American.

Alaska offers a snack while American does not; not a significant point, I can bring a snack on the flight with me. But Alaska does offer one major advantage — the third lavatory in the rear of the plane.  There are almost 150 coach passengers on a full flight. Are two lavatories enough for that long a flight? On my last flight, as I was one of 5 people standing in the aisle waiting to get to the lavatory, my answer was a resounding no! That extra lavatory makes a big difference.

So which plane would I take? I’ll give a slight advantage (or maybe I should say AAdvantage) to American. I really find the powerport to be a huge advantage. I know my phone will be fully charged when I land after flying on American; I can’t make that claim on Alaska, and a fully charged phone is a big deal to me.

You may find the more comfortable seats and the extra lavatory to be reason enough to fly Alaska. It is, after all, a very subjective decision.  As American Airlines phases out its fleet of MD-80s, replacing them with the 737-800, I know I have more and more opportunity to fly on this aircraft.