Now that school's over, I've gone to my summer job in North Carolina... my mother passed along some free Southwest tickets she got through RapidRewards, so I scheduled myself on an MDW-BNA-RDU-BWI-CLE-MDW routing.
Saturday, June 15
Southwest Airlines Flight 413
First Leg: Chicago Midway-Nashville
Departs Chicago Midway 3:35pm, arrives Nashville 5:05pm
Flying time: 51 minutes
I arrived at Midway about an hour and a half before scheduled departure time, and to my surprise, the usually-crowded new security checkpoint was devoid of passengers (I made it through in about two minutes.) Flight 413 was scheduled to depart from gate F22, at the far end of what used to be the A Concourse.
The F/A gates at Midway are looking very run-down these days, especially in comparison to the new gates that ATA, Continental, Northwest and the like have moved into. Southwest is now essentially the sole user of the old terminal - what's left of it. Construction is progressing on the extension of the new B Concourse, which in about another year's time will be occuppied by Southwest, but until then, they're stuck in their dumpy old facilities.
Despite what I thought was an early arrival, I received boarding card #104, which had me worrying if I would get a window seat or not. Fortunately, just as general boarding began, one of the security guards near the door asked if he could perform a random search on me, with the promise that I could board immediately afterwards. I agreed without hesitating and about a minute later, was on my way down the jetway, surrounded by passengers from the "1-30" group. What luck...
Our aircraft was a 737-300, but was wearing the new Canyon Blue colors. I'm still warming up to them, but I have to admit they look pretty good up close. I like to sit behind the wing towards the rear of the plane whenever possible, so I chose seat 18F. The 737 was definitely beginning to show its age, although it was clean inside. The seat fabric felt worn and thin, and the design of the overhead bins and ceiling definitely smacked of the early 1980s. Boarding was completed rather quickly, as it always is on Southwest, although by the time we pushed back we were running 10 minutes behind our scheduled departure time. The captain came on as we taxied out from the gate, however, saying he hoped to make up the delay time in the air. Departures this day were from Runway 31C (which definitely sees the most use of any strip at Midway) and in no time at all we were holding short of the runway threshold, waiting for an AirTran Boeing 717 to depart.
The 737 turned onto the runway and made a typical Midway takeoff, with engines screaming at what felt like full power. We rotated about 2/3 of the way down the runway (just as we passed the ATA hangars on the north side of the field) and made the usual sharp-left-hand turn over Garfield Ridge and the town of Summit. From the right side of the aircraft I could see downtown Chicago (briefly), and then the Stevenson Expressway-Interstate 55. We started flying into scattered clouds over the southwest and south suburbs, and, about ten minutes after takeoff, were flying over cornfields, headed downstate towards Tennessee.
The cabin attendants were in high spirits and were very friendly, a welcome break from the 'prison matrons' so common on United and American. The drink service began as soon as we cleared the cloud tops, and the FAs made several passes to refill drinks and pass out more peanuts.
The landscape outside changed quickly from a patchwork of corn and soybean fields to gently rolling hills as we passed out of Illinois and into Kentucky. In what felt like no time at all, I heard the engines throttle back, and the captain announced the start of our descent into Nashville, describing it as a beautiful day with scattered clouds and a temperature of 81 degrees.
Our approach took us west and south of the city, over what looked like pretty hilly terrain and a lot of impressive-looking subdivisions with large homes. The passengers on the left side of the plane commented on their view of downtown Nashville. We made a sharp turn to line up with Runway 2C, and the flaps and landing gear were lowered shortly after. Final approach took us down over lots of thickly-forested neighborhoods (and a mountainous ridge that came a little closer to the aircraft than I expected), which just before touchdown gave way to warehouses and office buildings. We touched down at Berry Field smoothly and right on time, and rolled out for almost the entire length of the runway.
All told, we probably spent about 25 minutes in Nashville... since I was seated on the right side of the aircraft, I didn't really get a look at the terminal building, except for a small portion of the commuter concourse that was visible after we parked at our gate on the C Concourse. After the Nashville-bound passengers deplaned, I went to the lavatory and returned to find new passengers in my seat (never mind that I had left my bag on the seat cushion.) I pointed this out and they sheepishly moved to another row. In just a few minutes boarding was finished, the doors were closed, and the flight attendants announced our departure to Raleigh/Durham.
Southwest Airlines Flight 413 continuation
Second leg: Nashville-Raleigh/Durham
Departs Nashville 5:33pm, arrives Raleigh/Durham 7:40pm
Flying time: 1 hour, 9 minutes
Another relatively short hop... after pushback, we made a left turn and headed for what I thought was crosswind Runway 31 (I had two Southwest 737s depart this runway as we taxied.) At the last minute, however, we taxied beyond the 31 threshold and over the Donelson Pike to Runway 2R.
It looked as though the construction crews performed quite a bit of earthmoving when they built Runway 2R-20L back in the late 1980s, as it's elevated pretty high above the airport entrance road and Donelson Pike. The captain revved the engines to full power as we were turning onto the runway (some pretty cool lateral G-forces) and we took off to the north-northeast. I could see a large lake a few miles from the airport, and some nice-looking lakefront homes.
The landscape out the window on this flight was decidedly hilly (becoming mountainous as we crossed the Appalachians/Smokies) and very, very wooded. The cabin crew had changed during our stop in Nashville, although the new crew was just as friendly as the previous one. They also made several passes during their beverage service and stopped to chat with a few of the more talkative passengers.
It became hazier as we flew closer to the Atlantic coast, and the ground became harder to see. Again, the flight flew by and before long we were heading down into Raleigh/Durham. The approach into RDU seemed very fast (I've noticed that when I fly Southwest, they seem to come into land much faster than the other majors.)
Before too long I spotted the airport in the distance as we approached it from the northwest. I thought we seemed very high and that we would circle and land from the southwest; however, the captain made a tight turn to line us up with the runway, lowered the flaps and gear quickly, and we sank like a stone towards Runway 23 Left, the older parallel runway at RDU. Our final approach was over the wooded suburban enclaves of north Wake County and Interstate 540. As we came in on short final, I had a good view of the FedEx and UPS ramps on the shoulder of Runway 23 Right. The 737 thumped down at about 7:45pm and rolled out alongside a very crowded-looking Terminal A.
Raleigh/Durham's Terminal A is now twenty years old, and is, for all intents and purposes, a dump. Almost all of the airlines serving RDU are wedged into it. American and Midway use Terminal C, which these days sees most of its gates sitting idle; the good news is that the airport authority has finally acquired control of the building from AA and plans to shuffle some airlines around. Meanwhile, A is showing its age, especially in the section that Southwest uses, the former Terminal B. This section was deactivated in the late 1980s, then pressed back into service ten years later. The baggage claim area in particular is in dire need of modernization. There were plans to raze Terminal A and all its various annexes and additions and construct an all-new terminal in its place, but these were shelved after September 11.
That's the report... in late July I'll be flying back to Chicago Midway via Baltimore and Cleveland, so expect another report then.