Sunday, August 11, 2002
HP 55 JFK-LAS-PHX
Dep. JFK 9:00 am
Arr. LAS 11;23 am
Dep. LAS 12;29 pm
Arr. PHX 1:40 pm
The four of us (me, my wife Carole, my 17 y.o. stepdaugher Cherie, and my 13 y.o. stepson Russell) arrived at JFK's Terminal 7 about 7:00 am. The terminal, which serves UA and BA in addition to HP, was absolutely jammed at that hour; the line at the HP counter in particular snaked around several times and looked truly frightening. The UA and BA lines were long but not quite so bad. To my pleasant surprise, however, our line moved quickly and we had our bags checked and boarding passes issued by 7:30 or so. Kudos to HP's staff at JFK for their efficiency. Several TSA-manned security checkpoints were open and we were through in just a few minutes.
We then spent quite some time in the waiting area by Gate 3. A PHX nonstop was boarding when we got there, but after that the area was fairly quiet. The rest of Terminal 7 was busy, however, with a few UA transcons and a BA LHR flight. I'd say the terminal was okay, in your generic-airport sense, nothing spectacular. But we did have a pretty good view of a BA Concorde off to our left at Gate 1. This was my closest view of a Concorde and I was struck by just how tiny its windows were. We were able to get an even closer head- on view from a corridor near the (strictly off-limits) Concorde waiting lounge. I noted with some amusement that Concorde pax also appear to have a dedicated security checkpoint. No need to mix with the hoi polloi, I guess, although considering the price of Concorde tickets some perks are in order. At any rate, there also was a nice view of a variety of AA equipment at Terminal 8, as well as of the construction work on the new terminal for that airline. Of all the majors, AA is by far the most committed to its presence at JFK, especially now that DL - the only other one that comes remotely close - has cancelled its new terminal project and slashed its service in the wake of 9/11.
As the time for the flight approached, the gate area slowly filled, and it became obvious that the flight would be crowded. Soon enough, the gate agent announced that the flight was overbooked and offered $200 travel vouchers for anyone willing to take a later flight. I thought that was fairly stingy compared to what I had seen WN offer at ISP on a TPA flight a month earlier; if I recall correctly, WN's offer topped out at a $200 voucher, an immediate cash refund of the overbook flight's fare, and a free lunch. Then there was a bit of a commition as a woman with two small children in two began quite a heated argument with a gate agent, due to some problem regarding her seat assignment. I couldn't catch all the details, but whatever it was the problem must have been settled as the woman and children were able to board. Which is good for the gate agent, as the disgruntled woman was definitely ready to rumble
Boarding began in a timely manner and proceeded quickly. The jetway was a very long one, decorated with British travel posters. It obviously was built for BA and sized to accommodate jumbos. This was my first non-WN flight in over a year and the boarding by rows for assigned seating was quite a change from WN's system. By the way, we had inquired into taking WN, as we live close to ISP, but the best available fare was more than $100 per person greater than HP's, believe it or not. At any rate, a pleasant surprise soon awaited. Legroom on the A319 was very spacious, probably the best of any flight I've ever taken. The cabin also was clean and bright, a nice contrast to WN's sometimes dingy interiors. In part that may have been due to the aircraft's obvious newness, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that WN's fast turnarounds mean that cabin cleaning tends to suffer.
We pushed back almost precisely on time and taxied to Runway 13R/31L. Although I had an aisle seat, I was able to get a pretty good view of several B6 A320's at their gates as well as the now-abandoned TWA terminal. Hopefully it'll be redeveloped soon. We waited about five minutes for other traffic and took off to the west at 9:15 or so. I had a good view of Brooklyn, Staten Island, the ships in New York Harbor and parts of New Jersey before clouds mostly obscured the view. I didn't really see much out the window until I got a glimpse of some desert terrain as we approached LAS.
Two female FA's were serving the coach cabin. Both of them were well into middle age - I'd estimate that one was about 50 and the other in the 55 to 60 range. JFK runs must be quite desirable and therefore attract high-seniority FA's, I assume. The FA's were reasonably efficient and the younger one quite friendly; her older counterpart was a little on the brusque side. Not that they had too much to do, unfortunately - HP's "snack" service on the nearly 5-hour flight to LAS consisted of a single HALF-OUNCE bag of peanuts! Okay, WN and B6 don't serve meals, but at least you get a bit more substantial a snack. I'm not exaggerating, the peanut bags were about the size of sugar packets. First class, I noted, got something on a tray, whether or not they were actual meals or larger snacks I couldn't tell for sure. At least we got to keep the soft drink cans, a welcome change from the small glasses you have to content yourself with on WN.
The movie shown was something I'd never heard of, something called "Showtime" about a TV news crew. The fact that it had a couple of A-list stars (Robert DeNiro and Eddie Murphy) but had escaped my notice - I'm reasonably well-informed about movies - presumably meant that it was something short of a box office smash, to say the least Carole bought a headset, but none of the rest of us did. I was somewhat disappointed by the fact that had the flight been just five days later, they would have shown Spider Man, a movie I'd like to see. Oh well. From my aisle seat, I did see something a bit amusing. The captain rang for the First Class FA and exchanged places with her in the cockpit, under the new security procedure, as he entered the forward restroom. He was in there for a LONG time, I'd estimate close to 15 minutes. Within just a few minutes after he re-entered the cockpit it was the first officer's turn to hit the donicker - and he too spent at least 15 minutes in there! All I could think of were the drunk HP pilots busted in MIA, and concealed liquor bottles in the lavatory. Much more likely, of course, was the possibility that both of them REALLY had to go, and we ain't talkin' Number One And I felt sorry for a pretty young woman who entered the lavatory immediately after the first officer left! On a more serious note, I also noticed that the cockpit door was open for at least fifteen to twenty seconds each time a crewmember exchanged places with the FA. Crews on WN have refined that practice and seem to be able to have the door open for just a few seconds. Trust me, I'm not paranoid and believe there is very little chance of another hijacking, but there's no reason to take unnecessary risks.
At any rate, the five hours passed quickly and we landed on runway 7L/26R at LAS at around 11:20 local time, right on schedule. I left the plane after we stopped at Gate B-2 and went to explore a bit. Because of the heat outside, the FA asked everyone to close their shades before leaving, and I also saw that aircraft had tarps of some sort over their cockpit windows while at the gates. Carole and Russell were going to wait onboard for the hour until the LAS-PHX leg but were told they'd have to leave so the aircraft could be cleaned. HP obviously takes some pride in the appearance of their cabins, and I appreciate that (and sort of wish that WN would do likewise ...). The B-concourse at LAS wasn't particularly interesting, with the usual food and gift outlets - not to mention the only-in-Nevada touch of a cluster of slot machines. I knew that there were slots in LAS, of course, but their appearance still came as a bit of a surprise. The concourse and gate areas didn't appear particularly crowded at that hour, nothing at all like JFK. From the area near the gate, we got a nice view of the southern end of the Strip, with the Mandalay Bay and Luxor casinos quite close by. I must have seen five or six helicopters buzzing around the Strip in just a few minutes. Do high-rollers often travel that way? Other aircraft at LAS consisted mostly of HP and WN equipment, as I'd expected. I did have a partially blocked view of a JAL 744 and a closer view of an Aeromexico MD-80. By the way, I'd have to say that AM's silver and black livery is among the more attractive in use, nicely understated and dignified in appearance.
We boarded for the short PHX leg about 10 minutes before the 12:29 departure. When I got to my seat, I noticed with some dismay that a large road atlas I had left in the pocket was gone. It was my fault, however, as the FA had announced before landing not to leave any personal property in the pockets. I don't have much in particular to say about the LAS-PHX leg, as it lasted barely an hour. There was time for one drink service and, yes, another microscopic bag of peanuts. Carole asked the FA (the younger, friendlier of the two) if we could have something more, and she graciously gave us several bags of the much nicer nut mix served in First Class. Way to go! At any rate, we circled the Phoenix metro area before landing to the west on Runway 08/26. Even from the aisle seat I was able to get an impressive view of the metro area. After landing close to schedule at 1:40, we taxied to Gate A12 of Terminal 4 (the Barry Goldwater Terminal) and then we proceeded through the fairly uncrowded concourse to baggage claim and Alamo car rental. I soon noticed two not-so-nice things about PHX, or Terminal 4 at least. All other airports I've seen have electric message signs over the baggage carousels to indicate what flights' bags are there. Not PHX, at least not as far as I could tell. Fortunately, there weren't many flights arriving at that time, and we found the correct carousel easily enough. I don't know what would happen during a busy time. The other drawback was the VERY long walk to the rental car pick-up garage. Moving walkways made it a bit easier, but it's tough when you've got a lot of baggage. To its credit, of course, PHX is very conveniently located to the city..
We then proceeded to spend a week at the Arizona Biltmore. It's normally a very expensive resort but offers terrific off-season rates. As this is airliners.net and not travel.net, I'll just make some brief observations on our stay:
- The old line about "dry heat" really is true. Temperatures were sky-high (over 100 every day) but it rarely felt oppressive.
- Does anyone know why Arizona does not follow Daylight Savings Time?
- Phoenix really is a seasonal destination. Despite the bargain rates, the Biltmore was only 17% occupied during our stay (Cherie asked) and at times seemed almost creepy, it was so quiet. Roads and freeways moved well even during rush hours, and stores and restaurants weren't crowded (and let me tell you, Phoenix restaurants close early - most are shut by 10 pm even on Friday and Saturday nights. Amazing!)
- The base rate on a car rental from Alamo, or any company for that matter, bears only the vaguest relationship to what you actually pay, given all the taxes and fees tacked on. By the way, the Chevrolet Venture minivan we rented was an absolute piece of s***, with lousy handling, feeble acceleration, poor visibility and an uncomfortable seating position.
- Getting around Phoenix is easy. Not only is traffic fairly light, but the metro area is considerably more compact that I'd expected - no more than 40 miles east to west and 25 miles north to south. The street and avenue numbering system is pretty easy to follow too.
- Whatever else you do, AVOID SEDONA! It is a horrible tourist trap, though oddly enough one that was almost entirely devoid of tourists when we went there on Wednesday, 8/14. On the other hand, there were several nice sights, such as the Tuzigoot and Casa Grande Indian ruins, the spectacularly located town of Jerome, and the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix..
- Lastly, Arizona drivers are wimpy. For example, a 45 mph speed limit means that most people go no faster than 40.. And be careful of yellow traffic lights, as in Phoenix that means "Slam on your brakes." In Long Island, where I live, the same 45 mph speed limit would mean that most people go at least 60, and people often don't stop for red lights, let along yellow ones.
Sunday, August 18, 2002
couldn't see reg. number
Dep. PHX 2:59 pm
Arr. 10:41 pm
All good things must come to an end, and on Sunday, 8/18 we drove to PHX at about 1:00 pm to drop off the rental car (the signage for such could've been better). The terminal was more crowded than it had been a week earlier (Why? It was the same day of the week and about the same time of day) but check-in went quickly. There was no line at security, although I set off the metal detector by failing to remove my watch. That "earned" me a wand screening and shoe check, no big deal. I noticed a man with an artificial arm showing a photo ID card to the screener. Is this some sort of special card given to people with medical devices that might set off detectors? If so, what agency issues them? Anyway, we got to Gate A26 after a bit of a walk and staked out seats. That was a wise move, as I noted that seating was more limited than I'd usually seen at other airports. Nearly all seats at all the nearby areas were taken before long. We saw a variety of other HP flights arriving and boarding, and heard a couple of overbooking annoucements. About a half-hour before boarding, the agent at our gate announced that a First Class seat was available for upgrade. Carole decided to treat herself, but later on found that HP had screwed up and given the seat to someone else. She ended up having to sit by herself in coach, but of course had the upgrade fee cancelled. While waiting I saw a large number of HP flights, some WN's and AA's, and best of all, an LH A340.
Boarding began right on time and proceeded efficiently. The A319 was as clean and bright as the one we were on a week earlier - for all I know, it could've been the same aircraft. It was 100% full, or very close to it. We took off to the west with minimal delay on Runway 08/26 and quickly circled right over downtown, quite a view indeed. Mostly after that I saw desert scenery and, later, farms. The two FA's in coach (both women, both in their 30's I'd say) were pleasant and efficient. This flight had a meal service, consisting of a chicken parmagiana sandwich (more like a Hot Pocket). I didn't have that, having ordered a vegetarian meal a month earlier. While I'm not a vegetarian, I knew that special order meals often are better than the standard ones. I had a tofu and vegetable kebab over rice, very nice indeed (the wooden skewer had a sharp point and would've made a dandy weapon, I noted with some amusement). The movie was "Life, or Something Like It," with Angelina Jolie, though once again I didn't bother with a headset. Oh yes, we got more of the half-ounce peanuts. The flight passed uneventfully and soon the captain announced our final descent into JFK. We passed directly over midtown Manhattan, passed JFK to the north, circled south over the water, and finally landed on Runway 13L/31R almost exactly on schedule. After retrieving our bags, we had to face the ordeal of a shuttle bus to the long-term parking area. Suffice to say that the buses are a vile, hateful and degrading experience, and it will be a Godsend when AirTrain opens.
Overall, I'd give HP a grade of A-. Their snack service may be a laugh, but I found their counter, gate and cabin staff almost uniformly pleasant and efficient. I also appreciated the roominess and cleanliness of the A319's. As you may have noted from my discourse, WN's star looks just a little bit tarnished in comparison.