Last July, I had been rewarded with a Bonus Travel Ticket for generously volunteering to give up my seat on an AS san-sfo flight (since discontinued). The expiration on my free ticket anywhere in the Alaska/Horizon system was looming, so I researched my options. My window of opportunity was limited to mid-June. While LIH was my top pick, avail was spotty, and I wasn't keen on paying rental car rates higher than Mt. Wai'ale'ale. I considered Kodiak, but it didn't seem like a great solo destination, not to mention the awkward connection times, and foreboding forecast for my intended dates. Actually, the seven-day forecast appeared to be rainy and dreary pretty much anywhere I looked in the 49th state. I had no interest in Mexico, so that left the East Coast. Boston seemed the logical choice, as they had availability on the exact dates I wanted, I could visit my friend there, and they even have a river named after me. So, it was off to the city of the (formerly) dirty water.
14 JUNE 08
SAN-SEA AS485 V 14C DC-9-83 N961AS
I arrived at the airport around 12:45 for my 14:30 departure, just in case there were any snags with check-in. Generally, there is no line to speak of, and today was no exception. The friendly agent produced boarding passes for both legs, even though my connection was five hours later. I was feeling a bit peckish, so I went down to the Yan Can Cook place outside of security and ordered the beef with Bush Sr.'s least favorite vegetable. There was no line at security, and the boarding area was not especially crowded.
My MD-80 arrived from Seattle three minutes early at 13:47. I had flown on this particular tail # at least twice before: Dec 2004 on the same route, and Dec 1997 on the sjc-sea route. This type is being retired from the fleet August 25. At the adjacent gate, ship 767 (which is in fact a 737-400) was preparing to depart for PDX. The plane had finished boarded, but they were repeatedly paging several missing pax, even though it was a couple minutes past the departure time. I would have left without them. Over at my gate, an announcement was made that F had checked in full. A very photogenic agent showed up to board our flight, starting with preboarding, followed by Golds/First Class, then MVPs and partner elites, and then rows 15 and higher.
The cabin was very clean and still featured the rather intricate seat fabrics with blue, beige and gold patterns. I just had a regular coach seat, but in comparison to my most recent flights on VX, the AS MD-80 had more legroom in coach. The difference was especially noticeable when the seat in front of me was reclined. Seat width was comparable, as both the MD-80 and A320 seats measure about 17.75" between armrests, which is slightly wider than the 737. The AS MD-80 has the 3x2 coach configuration (only shared with DL) which allowed for a larger rear galley, and has a side benefit of reducing the number of middle seats in the noisy rear of the aircraft. Of course, this configuration is an artifact of the days when hot meals in economy were the norm.
The flight was nearly full, and pushback was on-time. We took off from runway 27 at 14:51 for the two hour, twenty minute flight. We took the coastal route over Santa Catalina Island, Van Nuys, Santa Barbara, Salinas (near Monterey Bay), and then flew direct to Portland and into Seattle via the Olympia arrival. There were several wildfires visible along the CA coast.
Our flight attendants, Cheryl, Shannon and Candida (that's what the nametag said), offered a beverage service along with AS party mix. Anyway, I had the Jones cream soda. The flight attendants restocked the cart and did another beverage service. The snack box was also available for $5. I chatted for a while with one of the flight attendants in the rear galley. She was not sorry to see these planes on their way out, and seemed interested in my impressions of VX.
As he headed north, the clear weather afforded views of Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake, the Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, the Columbia River, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and finally the crown jewel, Mt. Rainier. As a kid, I was mesmerized by the sight of the myriad snow-capped peaks along this route, and quickly memorized their names. Upon arrival into SEA, I saw this really weird, almost comical looking aircraft sitting along taxiway Tango (yes, the same taxiway certain pilots from Texas have mistaken for a runway). It had engines at the ends of stubby wings, and a tiny, stubby tail. I'm sure it wouldn't fly, so what exactly is it? Anyone know? There were also quick glimpses of the Disney plane and alaskair.com, taxiing by the gate as if on cue, but not the Hainan, which had already left much earlier.
I had a bit of a layover in Seattle, so I caught the bus into the city, walked around for a bit, and saw a movie that was part of the Seattle International Film Festival
SEA-BOS AS24 V 4C 737-890 N587AS
I swung by the service center and a friendly agent rewarded me with an F boarding pass. In comparison, United's "service center" at PDX consisted of a bunch of kiosks and a direct line to India for rebooking. I found a lei-tailed Eskimo awaiting me at gate C16. The leis are only found on ETOPS-certified aircraft. Since AS only has three routes to Hawaii at present and about 10 lei'd planes, they do end up on other routes as well. My boarding pass indicated boarding would begin at 22:00 for the 22:30 departure, but I arrived at the gate at 21:55 to find the boarding area deserted, with almost everyone already on board. I was happy to be in F, as there was a large group of adolescents in economy on some sort of field trip. They did seem rather well behaved, perhaps owing to what appeared to be a rather large number of chaperones.
At each F seat there was an AS water bottle, along with a pillow and blanket. Since there was some time to kill prior to departure, I asked the f/a for a glass of the Jones root beer, which was delivered without hesitation. I happened to see a 737-400 Combi pull in next door. A large delegation of ramp workers were sent to unload the freight, while passengers deplaned via rear stairs. It seemed like most of the employees were standing around with nothing to do. I sipped my root beer (really good) until the door was closed at 22:30. Not sure why they couldn't have closed the door earlier, but it didn't really matter, as SEA was not busy at that hour. We taxied to the far end of runway 34R and took off at 22:43.
The 738 has 16 F seats, which are dark blue leather with winged headrests. The pitch is probably 37-38", which obviously doesn't compare to the 55" pitch sleeper seats with massage function on VX. Of course, VX only has 8 F seats, and there are no comp upgrades, so the only way to secure an F seat at present is to pay for it. AS could actually increase the F seat pitch by about four inches by simply removing the closets in front of row 1. The closets serve no purpose as far as I can tell, since there is already a coat closet by the L1 door. Just one of those things that makes me scratch my head. But, if they really wanted to match VX's F seat, they'd have to reduce seat capacity.
After takeoff, menus were passed out and drinks were provided. Digeplayers were passed out, although there were few takers, even in F where they are complimentary. I later heard the F/A say she only had two to collect from the Y cabin. The F meal was served fairly promptly after takeoff, but I noticed the Y beverage cart wasn't rolled out until 50 minutes past takeoff, which I guess is because they were waiting for the cookies to finish warming. I'd think they'd want to get the service over with as quickly as possible on a red-eye flight. Anyway, the F snack was a cheese plate (two kinds of cheese, two kinds of crackers, grapes and some nice apricots), served with a full white linen, silverware and china set-up. The Y cabin received complimentary warm ginger cookies, with little cartons of milk. The F/A said she'd let me have one if there were any left over after serving the Y cabin, and she did in fact come back with two about ten minutes later. I noticed they loaded up the beverage cart to do another drink service in Y, while up front, Becky refilled our glasses.
The remainder of the flight was pretty smooth and uneventful. About one hour prior to arrival, a scone and fresh fruit bowl (melon, strawberry, blueberries, pineapple) was served up front, while there was a beverage service with snack mix in Y. Hot towels (real ones) were passed out prior to arrival. We touched down at a rainy Logan airport around 6:22 and parked at gate 15 at 6:31, thirteen minutes early.
I then headed over to the bus to catch the blue line to downtown. I was glad to find a Bank of America ATM at Logan , as I was quite short on cash, and certainly did not want to suffer the same fate as "Charlie on the MTA."
Some general sightseeing. I walked around Copley Square, and went to the famous Trinity Church. I walked past IM Pei's Hancock Tower, which is such a striking contrast to the surrounding cityscape, yet somehow doesn't seem out of place. I walked along Newbury St, the shopping district, and the broad Commonwealth Ave, lined with old mansions. The Museum of Fine Arts was undergoing some renovations. I get "gallery fatigue" pretty quickly at large museums, so I left after about two hours. I enjoyed walking around the historic districts of Beacon Hill and Bunker Hill. There had obviously been some Victorian bay window additions to some of the Beacon Hill properties, but for the most part, the area has been preserved to look close to 200 years ago, apart from the automobiles and electric lights. As for Bunker Hill, I hate the phallic Bunker Hill monument (I'm not a big fan of obelisks period, especially modern ones), but otherwise the area is pretty picturesque. It's also interesting to note how much of downtown Boston actually sits on fill. The path the freedom trail takes today is pretty close to where the land ended in the early days. I got a good look at some of the area impacted by the Big Dig. Overall, it seems to have turned out well, provided there aren't any more leaks, or any more fatal collapses. I also really like the cable-strayed Zakim Bridge, and the Silver Line is pretty sleek.
The Isabella Gardner mansion was also pretty interesting, with an eclectic collection of artwork surrounding a landscaped inner-courtyard with a glass ceiling. The building doesn't look like much from the outside, so I was rather surprised by all the many gothic details of the courtyard. In her will, she forbade the museum from making any modifications to the property or the collection. As a result, the museum lacks modern climate control necessary for proper preservation, although the dim light helps protect the paintings from light damage, and creates an intimate feeling. Probably the most interesting thing are the empty picture frames hanging on the wall in one room, which stand testament to a 1990 heist that made off with thirteen paintings, including Rembrandts.
I did a day trip to Salem on board a catamaran, which was pleasant, owing to the fine weather, and fairly inexpensive. Having been forced to read The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter in grade school, Salem was not exactly on my short-list of destinations, but I was mostly looking for an excuse to get out on the water and go somewhere historic, so this fit the bill. No sign of Hillary here, either.
I'd already the usual Boston touristy stuff on a previous visit, such as the freedom trail. The old city hall is pretty nice, reminiscent of, but not quite as grand or as strategically placed as Philly's. Today it is a commerical building with various tenants, including Ruth's Chris, and the (boring) current city hall is several blocks up the street. I wanted to go inside the gold-domed state house, but they seem rather hostile to visitors compared to other state capitals, so to heck with them. I did go visit the USS Constitution, supposedly the oldest commissioned vessel anywhere. It's pretty cool, although I have to think it must be a rather boring job for Navy enlists. The hull is mostly pine and oak (yes, someone on the tour did ask if it was iron), with copper sheathing was supposedly fashioned by Paul Revere (makes for a good story, at the very least). The ship is undergoing m/x for a while, so they won't be floating it out anytime this year. The museum showcased the role the ship played in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, which was actually pretty interesting. Also interesting to note how some aspects of foreign policy do not change.
The Institute of Contemporary Art, which I like very much, had an interesting special exhibit by sculptor Anish Kapoor. The sinuous forms and reflective surfaces (both stainless steel and epoxy resin) created some novel optical effects. I liked the suspended sculptures by Ranjani Shettar too.
I also visited MIT and Harvard. I'd been to MIT before, but the Simmons Hall remains my favorite building, and the Stata Center is one of Gehry's better works in my opinion, though I only like it from certain angles. In fact, Gehry has already been sued by MIT for various design deficiencies in the new building. I also found the name "Stata" somewhat awkward-perhaps it's too similar to Stasi. At Hahvahd, I had wanted to see the Flentrop organ, but old Busch Hall wasn't open (apparently, only every other Sunday). The two art museums had pretty good collections, and since they were about to close for renovations, I decided to visit. It was actually a pretty pleasant museum, with a surprising number of masterworks. I also saw the Natural History/Anthropology museum, with its unique collection of glass flowers. The Le Corbusier building was sort of dingy looking, but I did like the ramp, and the angled windows.
After spending the first night with a friend, I stayed at the Renaissance on the waterfront, a steal off of Priceline, just like the UN Plaza in NY had been. The hotel was practically brand new, with a sharp lobby, heavenly-type beds, flat-screen TVs and well appointed bathrooms. And, of course, everything was still immaculate. It was also nice to be safely ensconced in this hotel Tues night, while the revelers were going wild over at TD Banknorth Arena, owing to the Celtics championship-clinching victory over the Lakers. Of course, I did not dare show my loyalties that evening.
18 June 2008
BOS-PDX AS31 V 12C 737-790 N612AS
Took the Silver Line to the airport, which took less than 15 minutes from my hotel---so convenient compared to many big cities. Check-in and security were painless. Aircraft arrived early from PDX. US Airways ground handles and staffs the gate. One weird thing---I noticed a ramper who appeared to be cleaning the inside of one engine with what appeared to be some rather generic spray cleaner. Not sure what that was all about. Anyway, boarding very early at 15:35 for the 16:15 departure, and the proper boarding procedure was observed, though some pax were confused by announcements for the flight to LGA leaving next door. There were a few empty seats, including the one next to mine. Pushback was on-time and takeoff was at 16:30.
F had been 0'd out the night before, so I wasn't surprised about being in the back. I ended up with the two seat exit row (the one that has the window removed). I could still see out the window adequately from the middle seat. Contrary to claims on seatguru and the other board, row 12 does actually have a little extra legroom. I measured the seat pitch to be 35" with my handy pocket tape measure. Otherwise, the seat pitch is 33" forward of the exit row and 31-32" aft of the exit rows. The leather seats were pretty decent, and I noticed seat recline was much more limited than on VX (even outside of the exit row). That's either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. In my perspective, it's a good thing.
Digeplayers were offered to the F cabin, and then sold to the Y cabin. AS accepts either cash or credit card. I think offering the credit card option has been a boost to their BOB sales. I think they came very close to selling out of digeplayers on this flight---a marked contrast from my outbound. Of course, the 5 hr 33 min flying time was an hour longer than the eastbound flight too. I watched The Bucket List, and then the Simpsons episode. I watched a few minutes of Jumper (all I could stand), and then fell asleep watching some Irish movie. I noticed the Alaska Airlines anniversary video and 737-200 retirement video were gone. Apparently there is now a new and improved digeplayer, but it wasn't on this flight.
Afterwards, drinks were offered, and I had the Jones lemon lime soda, which I liked. The complimentary snack was an oatmeal cinnamon raisin "brownie," which was pretty tasty. BOB was offered for $5-choice of two snack boxes or the Angus cheeseburger with chips. I'd never tried the burger before, and it was actually pretty good, with a full range of condiments on the side, although the bun was dry and there was no lettuce or tomato. The bag of chips also appeared to have shrunk. For whatever reason, the F/A comped my meal, although she did charge for the digeplayer. Meanwhile, F had the full dinner service, complete with menus and hot towels. I don't get why they don't close the mesh curtain during the flight. Not only does it make coach pax jealous, but it also invites them to traipse through the F cabin and use the F lav. Mr. Pajamas, seated a few rows up in Y, repeatedly availed himself of the F lav. There was another beverage service (I had Jones cream soda with vodka), followed later by a coffee and water pass, and then followed by a third full beverage service prior to arrival, which included a decent-sized bag of King's snack mix (about twice the size of the short-haul bags).
I was treated to some nice views of the Rockies, and a great view of a radiant Mt. Hood on final approach. We landed at 19:04 and parked at gate C5 at 19:08, 27 minutes early. Saw Triple Crown One and the QX University of Washington CRJ. Runway 28L was closed, so all operations were off of runway 28R.
PDX-SJC AS2603 V 18B CRJ-700 N618QX
PDX airport was uncrowded, as usual, and I had a nice snack at Gustav's in the C Concourse. Boarding began at 20:20 for the 20:40 departure. Again, a pretty full flight, which surprised me for a Wednesday evening. We boarded from the tarmac and the lady ahead of me, who seemed to speak very little English, did not seem sure of which plane to board. Once onboard, she complained in heavily Spanish-accented English that she was seated apart from her five other children (the oldest might have been seven). Oy. After several seat swaps, they got it sorted out. Then, a pair of Canadian ladies boarded and complained that they were not seated together, prompting another seat swap. The one seated behind me asked the F/A for "gravel." No, not the former Alaskan senator. Eh? What's this gravel you say? Apparently, it's actually Gravol (Canadian name), which is better known in the US as Dramamine, an anti-nausea/motion sickness medication. Of course, the F/A said they didn't have anything like that (they're an airline, not a drug store).
As an aside, common OTC allergy medication (antihistamine) is also an antiemetic and works as well as anything for averting motion sickness (either diphenhydramine, such as Benadryl, or meclizine, which doesn't cause as much drowsiness). Turns out Dramamine/Gravol is just diphenhydramine with a little bit of stimulant added to counter the drowsiness.
Anyway, the other lady was flying from Bellingham to the Bay Area, and was complaining about how she had to make connections at both Seattle and Portland. I let her know about the new Allegiant non-stop flight between Bellingham and San Francisco. Allegiant is building quite the business out of BLI these days---be interesting to see where it leads.
They still managed to pushback on-time, although the taxi was much longer than normal, due to the closure of runway 28L/10R. There was a nice view of the Willamette River after we turned left after takeoff, as well as downtown. Once at cruising altitude, a younger version of Little Miss Sunshine showed up to go to the potty. She was just as adorable as can be, but unfortunately did not seem to be acquainted with airline toilet function, nor the fact that proper etiquette generally includes closing the door while using the potty. Where was her mom you may ask? A few rows up listening to her iPod. Later in the flight, her other adorable blonde daughter came back to use the potty. She was dancing around in the aisles and practically bouncing off the ceiling while waiting for the loo to become available. Again, mom didn't make any efforts to control her kids. Fortunately the flight attendant jumped in and managed the situation very well (including showing her how to flush the toilet).
The drink service included complimentary Thunderhead IPA or Sockeye Merlot, as well as the usual range of complimentary drinks, which included other speciality items such as Tazo tea, Talking Rain and Vernor's Ginger Ale. The IPA was very good and hoppy. The complimentary snack was a decent-sized bag of Milton's multi-grain crackers. The lady behind me ordered herbal tea, but this didn't seem to help her situation. Pretty soon, one burgundy QX blacket was adorned with gastric juices. The lady handed her blanket to the flight attendant who exclaimed, "I'm not touching that! You'll have to put it directly in the trash bag." The lady asked for another airline blanket, and the flight attendant actually gave her one. I think they should have charged her for the privilege of using a blanket, like Air Canada does. Of course, she proceeded to soil the next one was well. It would have been nice if she had at least tried to use an air sickness bag (perhaps she did). Thankfully the flight was smooth---I don't want to even think what the mess would have been like otherwise. Anyway, think about this the next time you want to use an airline blanket.
Arrival to SJC was to the north, and I chatted a bit with the excellent f/a, who had handled the various situations on the flight very well. She said she was sad to see the CRJs leaving, and didn't look forward to flying Q400s on the longer routes, noting the smoother ride of the CRJ (which of course also has a higher cruising altitude the Q400).
Overall, it was a fun trip, and as for the BTT, I'll just have to cross my fingers that similar circumstances arise in the foreseeable future!