Ah, yes! The long-awaited day of my quick weekend to Minnesota to visit my cousins is here. I threw my bags together and ran to JAX, got my ticket, and got on the plane.
FL Flight 916, JAX-ATL, Eqp. B717-200
My first B717 flight, and damned if the Seven-One (as the pilot called it over the intercom) isn't my new favorite jet! Even from my seat (18A, one ahead of the wing), it was very, very close to silent, and that puppy took off like a rocket on steroids!
I spent most of this flight listening to my newly-burned CD, and stopped just long enough to get the snack bag and 7-Up AirTran served. We landed on time, and I immediately began kicking myself for not bringing a notepad and pen to write down the N-Numbers and flight times, so I took pictures of the Ns and my wristwatch with the time on them. My best guess puts this flight time around 45 minutes.
After deplaning, I went over to the gate Flight 20 to MSP (via MDW) would be departing from, and checked the status. The agent told me it was fine, and I went to spend my two hour layover taking pictures. I got some great ones of DC-9s powerbacking and the remaining FL B737s, and kicked myself again for putting my camera away just in time for an AF A340 to go by (d'oh!). I got some DL pics as well, and will submit any that turn out half-decent once they're developed.
I got quite a sideshow, as an FL DC-9 parked outside for maintenance work had its doors open, and pigeons kept flying in, only to be chased out by maintenance personnel. Quite hilarious!
It was now that the problems started. After going back to my gate with 45 minutes before takeoff, I noticed there was no plane. I asked, and the gate agent told me that the flight was delayed until 5:20 PM, and would be leaving from a new gate. I asked why, and received the answer, "It doesn't concern you." *That* was the beginning of the end for AirTran and myself.
After going to the new gate and asking, the gate agent clearly had no friggin' idea what I was talking about. Fortunately, an agent from MSP who was non-revving knew the real story, and after I'd been swimming in a sea of BS and outright lies for answers for about an hour and a half, she finally told me the truth. Our inbound flight from Memphis was delayed by mechanical problems. I sat resignedly, and the gate agent who'd been BSing me for some time saw how clearly angered I was. When we finally boarded, I noticed a businessman with two full-sized Travelpro suitcases get on the plane unheeded. The gate agent then stops me and tells me that either my backpack (moderately sized) or my duffel bag (small enough to fit under a seat) would have to be checked. I turned red, started to steam, smashed my backpack into my bag, and started a little rant about, "You've been feeding me bull for the past five hours, you just let a guy with two huge suitcases on, and I'm gonna stuff my backpack in here, and this is gonna work, and I am getting on that plane." I then walked aboard, and she made no attempt to stop me. I was fuming.
Flight 20, ATL-MDW-MSP, Eqp. B717-200
After a 3-hour delay, our B717 finally got underway. From my seat (19A), I had a wonderful view of the wing, so I slept most of the way there. By that point, I really needed it. I honestly don't know if anything was served- if it was, I slept right through it.
We arrived at 7:45 Central time, two hours later than we were supposed to.
After gutting a deer the night before (what fun!), it was finally time to head back home. I got to the AirTran counter and was pleasantly surprised by who I met there. The non-revving agent who had given me the only straight answer I got in ATL. When I checked in my coach reservations, I looked down at the boarding passes she'd given me, and saw they were for 3A the whole way! Business class! I looked up and said, "Excuse me, but I'm in coach." She nodded, smiled, and said, "You earned this one." A good start to a slightly better day.
Flight 25, MSP-MDW-ATL, Eqp. B717-200
The plane showed up about an hour late, prompting me to think that AirTran has expanded too far, too fast. Two delays due to inbound aircraft in four flights is just unacceptable. I slid aboard into my Business Class seat, without fighting with the gate agent about my bags this time, and settled back for the hour-long hop to Midway. Once again, I'd forgotten my pen and paper, so I took pictures of the N-Numbers and watch again.
Service to MDW was good. We got drinks and large snack bags in Business, and the usual drink & bag in coach. I listened to my CDs on this leg, then slept through most of the MDW layover.
When I woke up, we were boarding, but wouldn't go anywhere for the next hour after boarding was done. Two hours behind schedule already...argh! An older man, I'd guess 65, was next to me for this flight, and we talked the whole way back. We covered everything from my plans for college to his life to the mess we Floridians made of the election to the best time to buy a computer (Decidedly February ).
After the same choice of drinks and a snack bag, we touched down in Atlanta about 10 minutes ahead of our revised schedule, or 1 hour, 45 minutes late. I'd guess on a total gate-to-gate of 4 hours, 30 minutes, with 2 hours 10 minutes flying time.
Flight 579, ATL-JAX, Eqp. B717-200
After calling home just to find out how miserably my beloved Jags had lost (and talking to a man I could've sworn was the Jaguars' Donovin Darius, strong safety, about our lack of fight this year), I headed to the gate and sat down. I watched some FL DC-9s powerback again, and had quite a view. No pictures this time- it was much too dark.
We boarded at the right time, and took off at the right time. Problem- a flight for JAX scheduled to leave at 5:55 PM had been delayed, and pushed back when we did. I was actually amazed when we touched down 15 minutes ahead of schedule, meaning we'd flown ATL-JAX in 35 minutes! Oy!
I was delighted that I'd be getting home early, then I noticed a problem. To phrase it as I did to the FL non-rev pilot sitting next to me, "What happens when you have two jets from the same airline that need to deplane, but only one gate to do it in?" Simple answer- we parked 100 yards from the gate and sat. And sat. And sat. It was 10 PM when we pulled into the gate finally, after arriving in JAX at 9:15 PM. So much for getting home early...
Final judgement- I had fun in Minnesota. Next time, however, I'll spend some cash and get a ticket on a *real* airline. AirTran had me won over when they were using their DC-9s on the same routes with outstanding reliability. Now that they have B717s, they're going nuts with new routes, and shooting themselves in the foot. Here's to hoping they don't go PeoplExpress on us.
I guess what it comes down to for me is that a Business Class upgrade can't bring me back to an airline I'm currently quite disenchanted with. I'll probably fly FL again if I need to go to Atlanta for a day, but otherwise, I'll splurge and go Delta. AirTran needs to get its act together on connecting flights, and, for God's sake, *stop expanding so quickly*!