Here's my report of my trip from home to college in Colorado...enjoy!
August 11, 2003
Scheduled Departure 10:10 AM (Gate E10)
At long last, the day had finally come…the day I was to begin my journey into that vast and mysterious world known as “college”. However, seeing that I would be attending the University of Colorado-Boulder and that I live in the suburbs of PHL, I had a considerable distance to cover first. ATA offered the best fare for my journey to the wilds of Colorado and I was looking forward to the opportunity to experience a new airline.
I woke-up at the not-unreasonable hour of 6:45 AM (despite only 4 hours of sleep or so) and got ready, making last minute checks to see if I forgot anything major, as I would not be coming home until the Thanksgiving holiday. Although classes would not start for me until August 25th, I was leaving early to go on a program called “CU in the Rockies” which was a weeklong outdoor program to get to know some other incoming freshmen as well as see the true wilds of Colorado. Immediately following that I had to attend orientation as well as register for classes, and that would pretty much take me right up to the start of classes.
Because my dad needed to leave that morning on a business trip, it was decided that I would go to the airport with him in a car hire as usual, and my mom would stay behind at home. This wasn’t really a big deal because they would be coming out in a week to attend their own CU orientation program as well. However, it was very sad to say goodbye to my golden retriever, Copper, for the next 3+ months, who of course would not be coming out with my parents.
We pulled out of our driveway at 7:35 PM, and 50 minutes later, we pulled up to the Term B/C curbside l where my dad left to catch his US flight. Then I was dropped off in front of Terminal E with my somewhat awkward load of luggage, consisting of a fully laden hiking pack, somewhat fully laden carry-on backpack, and a small fully laden duffel.
Somehow I managed to awkwardly waddle inside with that load and, since there was no lines at checkin, right to a counter. I had made a small error in packing the main pack, by clipping my water-bottles to the outside in a holster, and when the agent observed this, she gave me hell for it. Now I openly admit that I made a mistake in doing so, but this agent left a lot to be desired in terms of friendliness over the issue, and thus my first impression of ATA was, unfortunately, a negative one.
Despite the unpleasant check-in incident, I got my boarding passes for both PHL-MDW, and MDW-DEN and my seats for both flights was to be 4F. I headed upstairs to security and noted that my boarding pass was checked twice, first when I entered the queue and then just prior to going through metal detector, and also that I did not need to take my shoes off. Aside from that security was uneventful. Being a US flyer mostly, I had never had occasion to step foot in Terminal E before, so I was curious as to what I might find. Term E proved to be relatively basic but satisfactory, with a few assorted concessions and eateries amongst the gates of several airlines including TZ, DL, and NW amongst others. Of particular interest to me was the commanding views offered of activity out on the field, far better than any other PHL terminal IMO.
There was no aircraft at the assigned gate of E10 so I took a seat and read for about 30 minutes until I saw N318TZ pull up. Then I moved over to the good viewing windows and watched the various movements on the field, the most notable being an NW A319 in the new “Northeast compass” colors taxiing in. At 9:30 boarding started and I was amazed to see that it was actually somewhat of an orderly process, with people actually waiting til their assigned row was called. Being in 4F, I of course was amongst the last to board.
Stepping on board the 737-800, I took a quick peek into the cockpit before moving into 4F. The seats are leather and I found them to be fairly comfortable. Pitch was excellent, actually much roomier than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. Music videos were also playing on the drop-down screens which was also a great touch that Ive never seen on a US-based airline before. Once loading was complete (it was a full flight), the flight crew made a PA announcing that our scheduled flight time was 1 hour and 29 minutes at FL 350.
Pushback was at 10:07 and I was very tired from only having 4 hours of sleep…all I wanted to do was conk out, but I always force myself to stay awake until after takeoff so I can start my stopwatch for the actual flight time. Our taxi to Runway 27L was fairly circuitous, past a UA 733 and UA A319 that were parked away from their gates on an open ramp. Takeoff occurred at 10:22 after a short wait, and after a surprisingly long 44 second roll, we lifted off almost immediately into cloud cover as I said goodbye to Philadelphia for the next 3 months.
Shortly after we climbed into the clouds I allowed myself to succumb to the tiredness that was overwhelming me, and slept pretty comfortably for about an hour and fifteen minutes. When I woke up, the captain was making some announcements prior to landing, saying that landing was about 20 minutes away and that it would be on Runway 4R. The weather was again cloudy, with some rainshowers in the Chicago area, but we touched down safely on 4R at 10:54 AM Chicago time and began a fairly long taxi to gate A6. The only notable aircraft that I spotted during the taxi at MDW was Southwest’s “Shamu” 737-500, which was a cool sight. We arrived at Gate A6 at about 11 AM and since I was up front, I was amongst the first to deplane into the terminal
With about an hour and a half to kill before my connecting flight to DEN, I decided to explore Midway and try to grab a bite to eat. Alas, the food choices in the terminal didn’t really appeal to my ultra-picky ways of eating, so I headed over to the very expansive Hudson News and purchased a bag of Nestles Crunch along with the new Tom Clancy book The Teeth of the Tiger and ESPN magazine and headed over to my departure gate of A8. Overall, I was very impressed with Midway airport, finding it to be very clean, spacious and modern…definitely an airport I would come back to again…
August 11, 2003
Scheduled Departure 12:40 PM (Gate A8)
Once I made my rounds of the terminal, I decided to go to my gate and dive into ESPN magazine and the bag of Crunch bars while waiting for my flight to be called. I finished the magazine and there was still no sign of boarding so I took out the new Clancy book and started that. I’m a fairly fast reader, and by the time I was about 35 pages into it or so, the first boarding announcements were made for ATA 385.
Boarding was only done in two segments this time…the rear half of the aircraft followed shortly by the front half, and the line moved quickly. They announced that photo ID’s were not required to board, and MDW is equipped with magnetic stripe readers at the jetways as well, so perhaps that sped the process up a bit. Once again, I settled into 4F, noting that it was still pouring outside.
Pushback was at 12:42, followed by the commencing of taxi at 12:46. It was a short taxi to Runway 31C, where another ATA 737-800 kicked up a ton of water on its roll. The captain announced a flight time of 1 hr. and 55 minutes at FL 350 again. It was interesting to note that Runway 4R was being used for landings still, and there was a steady flow of arriving aircraft so each takeoff and landing had to be sequenced just right.
At 12:53, we taxied onto the runway and thundered down it, lifting off in 32 seconds and climbing into the rain and clouds. Once the 10,000 ft. announcement was made, the f/a’s came around offering headphones for sale, for the low low price of $2.00. I thought I had heard wrong…Headphones=IFE on a 2 hour flight? What the deuce is going on here? My curiosity was piqued by this foreign idea, as on my main carrier of US, IFE on a 2 hour flight would be unfathomable. The headphones were of the dime-sized in-ear type, coming in a fashionable plastic ATA case. For some reason I have great difficulty getting these into my ear and having them stay there, but I managed to uncomfortably wedge them in.
Drop-down screens made their appearance, and the IFE turned out to be a 45 minute program or so on various sports events around the world. The only event they featured that meant anything to me was the Stanley Cup Game 7 where the Devils blew past Anaheim to win it all. Nevertheless, it was a good diversion from my usual routine of reading and listening to music, and a definite plus for ATA in terms of service.
At some point during the video the f/a’s came around with the beverage cart, and I got my standard Coke w/o ice (for those who care, the whole can was not given), and the traditional airline snack of peanuts to accompany it. Once the video was completed, I opened my shade to see fairly clear skies and the plains below us in all their majesty. There was no further IFE, so I stowed the headphones away as a souvenir, and took out Teeth of the Tiger again. The time flew by (no pun intended) as I got deeper and deeper into the exploits of Jack Ryan Jr, and before I knew it, I felt a slight weightless sensation. Checking my watch, we were about 1 hr. and 30 mins into the flight, so this signaled the TOD point. I put away Clancy and stared out the window, still seeing nothing but plains and farms.
The captain came on again to announce that the wind in DEN was gusty, as well as update the status of the flight. Before I knew it, we had turned onto a final approach for 16L at DEN, but the aircraft was crabbed significantly due to the wind so it looked like we were going to land on 16R, which is the new runway at DEN with the ridiculously long length of 16,000 ft. Of course, we gradually slid over to 16L and firmly touched down at 1:46 PM Mountain Time, giving a flight time of 1 hour and 53 minutes.
ATA is located in Concourse C at DEN, and this is just a fairly brief taxi (given how vast DEN is, it could have been much longer), and as such we arrived at Gate C49 just 5 minutes after touching down. I had heard that AF1 was scheduled to arrive in DEN around the same time as my flight, and so I was keeping my eyes peeled for it, but did not see it.
I exited the plane and made my way to baggage claim, where I picked up my luggage, then booked myself on the 3:10 SuperShuttle to Boulder. I had plenty of time to kill and I was famished, so I went off in search of food along with my cart full of bags, which was a major annoyance….the carts in DEN are in a “taildragger” configuration so to speak, with two front wheels and a rear wheel that steers it, and it can be tricky to control, but I managed to maneuver it all the way through the Jeppesen Terminal to Burger King. I got some chow and then headed outside to the waiting area for the SuperShuttle…and there I saw it…AF1 sat on an FBO ramp, although I couldn’t tell if it was 28000 or 29000 that brought El Presidente. The shuttle came about 15 minutes late, shuttling me to the Millennium Hotel in Boulder in roughly an hour or so, thus ending my day’s traveling out to DEN.
Thanks for reading…my next report will be the return of this flight in late November..