I had to fly to CLT to drive to NYC. Make sense to you? It didn’t to me either, but in any case my routing was ORD-DTW-CLT-MEM-ORD on NW/XJ/9E. I checked in online for my outbound segments on January 1.
I arrived at ORD at 5:05 on January 2 for my 7:05 flight. Baggage check and security were fairly painless, with nominal lines for each. Something led me to head to T-1, which is funny because there is usually nothing to spot there. However, Sunday morning is prime charter time, and I saw D-ABOL, a DE 753 wearing Apple Vacations titles and operating for Apple to PUJ. I don’t think ORD gets any scheduled 753 service, so this was a rather unique visitor. I also saw an Apple 752 headed for CUN which I thought was registered G-JNCE but was evidently not. I then headed to Great American Bagel in T-3 for breakfast. The egg and cheese sandwich and bottled beverage for $4.44 is possibly the best deal in the airport for decent food. Since it was still only 5:55, I went to Concourse L thinking that I might see the daily DL 762. Unfortunately, it turns out that there is no longer a 762 which RONs at ORD, so the most interesting a/c I saw was N622AS arriving from SEA. By then, it was about time to head back to –gasp—Terminal 2 for
Airbus A319 (new c/s)
Depart ORD: 7:05 AM
Arrive DTW: 9:26 AM
Actual Departure: 7:00
Actual Arrival: 9:10
I should note that I really do not mind Terminal 2. After doing a lot of flying on NW, I’ve come to like it a little. A lot of the UA Express gates are too small, but the US, NW, and CO/HP/DH gate areas are lovely. Furthermore, Terminal 2 gets some unique visitors such as D-APAD, the Privatair A319 I saw there in November. On a totally different note, I had amazing luck on this trip getting planes in the new colors. Except for my XJ segment which (obviously) had an ARJ in the bowling shoe, I flew on all newly-colored planes. Anyway….
The NW agents at ORD are very senior and, for lack of a better way to put it, know their stuff. The gate agent threw the jetway door open at 6:34, and boarding was underway at exactly 6:35. We boarded quickly, and I found my seat in Row 15. I was joined by a mother and her daughter, who slept much of the flight. Unlike some, I think little kids are excellent seat partners on flights unless they are directly behind me where they can kick. We were off on time and made the quick taxi to the intersection of T10 and 32L. This is pretty much standard procedure for departures on 32L as it avoids the intersection with 9R-27L and still provides some 8000 feet plus for departures. We were off and in to the clouds before we even crossed the Northwest Tollway, where cars paying cash now pay double. The pilot came on and announced the visibility at DTW as 1/8 mile with a ceiling of 100 feet. I knew it was going to be a long day in DTW. Service was quick an efficient, although I was quite disappointed to get pretzels instead of the granola bar more common for morning flights. They weren’t even Spinzels… However, the flight did have the usual NW orange juice which I am a big fan of.
After 15 minutes of cruise or so, we began our descent in to DTW. Despite the crappy weather there, we seemed to take a pretty direct path in and touched down on 4L around 8:55. Owing to the desire to avoid crossing 4R-22L, we had a fairly lengthy taxi down to Q to go around the south end of the runway. ATL really needs a setup like DTW has which allows arriving flights to get to the ramp without crossing the inner runways. It’s much more efficient. We were scheduled to arrive at A24, but even with the long taxi, our early arrival meant that the gate was occupied. We therefore sat on the taxiway between A and B/C awaiting a gate. Is it really a taxiway? That’s what the pilot said but I would think that it is just ramp space. I observed a fair number of widebodies, including a fairly infrequent visitor to DTW these days, N220NW, a DC-10-30 off to HNL. I must say that I really don’t think the old NW color scheme looks good on widebodies. I also dislike it on CRJs, but I do like it on mainline narrowbodies. I know many disagree with me, but I like the new colors much, much better. After a brief wait, we taxied down to A40, the premiere gate for connections at DTW (not that that was going to wind up mattering). As I waited to deplane, I noticed that the rampers had written the destinations of connecting bags in chalk on the carts. This seems like a pretty simple but effective system. Perhaps it explains NW’s excellent baggage handling.
I headed in to my favorite airport terminal in the nation and checked the departure screens. Surprisingly (and incorrectly), it didn’t look like the crappy weather was interfering with operations too much. My flight had been moved from one of the XJ gates at the north end of Concourse A to B1, so I headed down in to the tunnel. As I ascended on the other side, I saw the f/o conducting a walkaround of N520XJ. It looked like the weather wasn’t going to disrupt our plans at all. Conveniently, ATC had switched to a South flow, so I had an excellent view of departures on 22L. I was thus a happy man and sat down to wait for the boarding of
Operated by XJ
Avro RJ-85 (old c/s)
N520XJ (or so I thought)
Depart DTW: 10:10 AM
Arrive CLT: 11:58 AM
Actual Departure: Really freaking late, probably around 1:15 PM
Actual Arrival: 2:50 PM
Almost as soon as I sat down, the agent announced that our cabin crew had been diverted to FWA, so we would have to wait for them to get in. I totally understood. After some pacing about N536XJ arrived with our cabin crew after its stop en route from DSM. Soon after the cabin crew’s arrival, XJ decided to dispatch Ship 520 to SYR, leaving us without an airplane or a gate. Meanwhile, N536XJ sat at B4 for a 4:00 departure to PHL. About an hour later, XJ decided to dispatch us on 536. I have no idea why it took so long to make this decision. Anyway, we boarded quickly enough and were off around 1:15. Load was 100% or darn close. As soon as I sat down, I noted that my seat was very, very hard and uncomfortable. This almost removed the allure of 33 inch seat pitch, but when I have status later this year, I will almost certainly gravitate toward the Avros as the ratio of F seats to Y seats is perhaps the most favorable in the industry.
We taxied over to the deicing pad adjacent to the departure end of 21R to await weight and balance information, and after a short wait we were off. About 10 minutes after departure, the flight attendants announced that the plane had been incorrectly catered and so they would offer single serve water or orange juice. The aircraft had apparently been scheduled to operate DTW-PHL, so I’m not sure what the reason for this problem was, but I grudgingly took my orange juice. Before long, we began our descent and I caught a glance of Lake Norman, indicating that we would likely land on 18R. Happily, we touched down there and had a fairly quick taxi to the ramp. We stopped on the ramp to await our gate, and the pilot informed us that although our gate was occupied, the good news was that he had switched to Geico. It was a bad time for such a joke. At CLT, NW’s MSP and DTW departures share A6 while all 9E planes go to A8 due to A8 being designed especially for a CRJ (more on that later). Thus, even though A8 was unoccupied, we had to wait for N521XJ to depart for MSP. It’s pretty unusual to see 2 Avros at CLT. Bags were delivered promptly, as always.
On January 9, I arrived at CLT a little before 10 for my 12:25 flight. As I had not had access to a printer, I checked in at the kiosk. Upgrades were being sold for $45 on the MEM-ORD segment, but after giving it a little thought I declined. In hindsight, this was a very, very good idea. After walking through the A checkpoint (not unusual), I was on my way. I honestly believe that this checkpoint is the best one in the entire United States. I would challenge anyone to find one with less waiting and more courteous and competent screeners. The TSA really does a great job in CLT as the others are really not much worse. Spotting in CLT was boring as always, although I did see a T9 DC-9 variant of some sort and N182YV, a Beech 1900 wearing the US Air Express white color scheme.
I headed toward Concourse D intending to get my usual airport breakfast, but before I even got to the D Security checkpoint, I discovered that Jamba Juice was now open and promptly went there instead. After a little more walking, I headed to the gate for:
Operated by 9E
Canadair Regional Jet 200 (50 seat, new c/s)
Depart CLT: 12:25 PM
Arrive MEM: 1:15 PM
Actual Departure: 12:23 PM
Actual Arrival: 1:01 PM
The incoming a/c was a little wait, so I watched N534XJ touch down and head to A6 as this week’s on time version of NW 3566. Soon after, our plane came in from MEM. Unfortunately, my diligent efforts to get the registration were unsuccessful. Thus, I watched the ground crew unload a fairly light load and preflight the plane. I noticed that the jetway had an elevator onto which the ground crew rolled the cart with the gate-checked bags. This was quite convenient as it allowed bags to be delivered in an orderly fashion without the need to bring them to the jetway on a belt loader as DH has been known to do.
Around 12:05, we began boarding. I noticed that unlike the usual hand-positioned ramp on the jetway to board the CRJ, this jetway had an automatic ramp which extended from the bottom of it. The jetway in MEM also had this. The load was fairly light, not to surprising for a Sunday afternoon, with maybe 25 or 30 seats occupied. 5B was happily empty. I don’t mind seat partners, but on CRJs, the extra space is nice. As soon as I stepped on the plane, I was struck by the newness and obvious quality of the cabin. It was as nice as or perhaps nicer than DH’s cabins even though DH’s cabins are all under a year old. Very quickly, we taxied out to 18R. As we taxied, the flight attendant’s smooth southern drawl, attention to passenger comfort, and use of “y’all” made me sure that this was going to be a good flight.
After waiting behind a US narrowbody and a couple of RJs, we began our takeoff roll. We stayed on the runway heading for a few miles, turning southwest over I-485 and flying over GSP and GMU and then CHA. Service on this flight was excellent, perhaps the best I have had on a domestic flight in 2 or 3 years. We were given Spinzels, by far the best pretzels in the airline industry, a granola bar, and a full can of the beverage of our choice. Beth was courteous and attentive and conversed with many passengers, laughing at my question about why an airline based solidly in Coke country serves Pepsi. After a short cruise, we began our descent and turned north to descend in to MEM. We then turned west to line up with Runway 27. Touchdown was smooth and we used a fair amount of the runway for our rollout, finally turning off at Taxiway C and making our way to B22. 9E’s operation at MEM is fairly spread out, with gates in all three concourses IIRC, so it was nice to be landing at a convenient gate for connections. One of the consequences of having a hub as highly banked as MEM is that gate space is hardly ever a problem, so despite our early arrival, we pulled right in.
When I arrived at the gate, I asked the agent and learned that my connecting flight would depart from B38. As I looked around, I saw an airport that seemed stuck in the 1960s. The brick everywhere was quite interesting, although the rotunda under construction at the apex of the two halves of Concourse B looks quite promising. Remembering the bold claims of Sean Mendis and others on a.net, I decided to get some barbeque at Interstate Barbeque. It may be my time in North Carolina, but I’d take Lancaster’s in Mooresville over Interstate any day. It was good but not great, but I will grant that it was significantly better than most airport food (except maybe Wolfgang Puck in Chicago).
I walked to the gate as it was around 1:50. Sure enough, the agent began boarding Exit Rows and F on time at 1:55. However, as she prepared to board the Y pax, the captain came up the jetway and told her to stop due to flow control at ORD. I was quite glad that I was not stuck on the airplane as I would be had I upgraded and went for a walk. Soon enough, we received a slot at 3:31 and the agent announced that she would board at 2:35.
DC9-32 (new c/s)
Depart MEM: 2:25 PM
Arrive ORD: 4:11 PM
Actual Departure: 3:11 PM
Actual Arrival: 4:57 PM
I returned to the gate around 2:30 and boarded soon thereafter. I settled in to 16F and was joined by a nice enough man in 16D after the door was closed. The seat was a little uncomfortable, but as the plane was built in 1969, I’ll give it a little slack. The load was again light-maybe 70% in back and very empty in F. We powered back and headed to 18R. It was at this point that I realized how severely banked MEM is. I counted 1 NW mainline plane on the ground and it obviously had a m/x delay. There were a handful of 9E and XJ a/c, but most had clearly gone on their way. We took off right about 3:30 with an announced (and pretty accurate) flying time of 1:23. Service was unspectacular, although a full can of apple-cranberry juice was offered without any indication from me that I wanted it. I noticed that both f/as performed the Y service together, sort of abandoning the pax in F. I’m not sure I would appreciate that, although I wouldn’t expect much service on a 500 mile flight anyway.
We began our descent above the clouds, not surprising since ORD was clearly below minimums (thus the flow control), and I saw a UA 752 (I think) flying a parallel approach to us. Quickly enough, and surprisingly smoothly, we touched down on 27L. Taxi was quick and we pulled in to E15 within 3 minutes of being on the ground. As I walked to bag claim, I glanced at the UA departure screens. It was a fun, fun day for UA pax. My bag was delivered promptly and was, as is usual with NW, unscathed. I went up to the people mover and soon enough was at the “Kiss and Fly” area. I don’t understand why more people don’t use this- it is incredibly convenient and much, much easier than trying to rendezvous on the arrivals road.
NW has, without a doubt, the best ground staff in the industry. I’ve never had a bad experience with an agent from NW, XJ, or 9E (although this trip was my first trip on both 9E and XJ). I was extraordinarily dissatisfied with XJ’s handling of the scheduling difficulties on January 2. I totally understand the crew being delayed, but there is no excuse for the hour-plus wait once the crew and aircraft were both in DTW. Despite this, service was excellent as always, and I will not hesitate to fly NW in the future. After the recent improvements at MSP and the new terminal at DTW, I think that NW also has far and away the best hub facilities of any airline. It’s a pleasure to fly them, and I wish them the best in the future. I would like to add a comment about 9E. A lot of people on a.net have criticized them lately, and I think this is unfair. The ground crews are in a tough position, but they fairly good work anyway, and flight crews are fabulous. XJ is all right; their staff were nice enough but their operational planning needs serious improvement. Overall, though, this was a good trip. I would not hesitate to schedule on NW or either Airlink carrier in the future.
[Edited 2005-01-11 23:10:49]