On December 16.2005 my brother and his wife had their first baby, the adorable Ella Anne, while mumsy has been making just about monthly trips to Memphis to help care for the baby and generally be grandmotherly, a role she loves, I had yet to see the baby. This had to be cured! So, a little more than a month ago it was decided that on my mom’s next trip to Memphis, which happened this weekend, I’d go. I began looking at airfares and quickly discovered that for the most part they were ridiculous, especially on the nonstop United Express and NW Airlink flights, Delta was cheaper, but still a little too expensive, so, just to make sure I had checked all of my options, I checked Air Tran, lo and behold they had a fare for right around 300 dollars. The times were right, I could go early enough in the morning to have a full visit and I could return early enough to get back to work in time on Wednesday, it was decided I should fly Airtran, so I booked it. I admit going in, I really had no idea what to expect, Air Tran was one of the few Airlines in these United States I had never flown on. A bonus, besides the relatively cheap airfare, was the chance to take my first flight on a 717. I will admit, I was a little bit biased going in, as a rule, in my role as an after hours travel agent, I generally don’t suggest Air Tran as an option to my passengers, because I don’t like dealing with their res agents. This, for me would be an experiment, a test, on whether or not I’d be willing to suggestive sell Air Tran, once I knew what their actual product was like.
Having booked the trip, the time passed quickly. I was a little uncomfortable that the fare I was on did not allow me to select my seats more than twenty four hours in advance, but this, to my relief, since I am definitely a window seat flyer, would not be an issue. I checked in on line 24 hours before the flight and found I had been assigned window seats. And decent seats at that, towards the front.
Now, before I launch into the details of the trip itself, a bit of explanation is in order, on this trip report, you’ll see two sets of numbers, the top numbers are the actual information, the bottom numbers are the data relating to my fantasy airline. The ship numbers should also be explained, because they may seem kind of strange, the first three numbers represent the subtype, each individual subtype gets it’s own number, the last two correspond with the last two digits of the registration number, which are based on the year the plane was built and the overall fleet number, so, for instance, N25435, means that the plane was built in 2005 and was the 435th aircraft I’ve flown on.
Now, let’s go to Memphis!
1 FL 300 737-76N N278AT Denver -Atlanta C-49 C-20
NS 6086 N25432 Ship 14032
Trip day dawned early, like four a.m early, having worked the night before until 730pm, then having done some errands and driven twenty miles to spend the night at my dad’s house, because my mother did not trust me to awaken myself in time for a seven a.m flight, it was 11 when I finally got to bed. Dad woke me at four, I had a small breakfast, and got in the bat mobile for the trip down the mountain to the airport. Despite almost running off the road twice (because it was quite poor visibility up where my dad lived) I managed to make it to the airport with about an hour and a half to spare. I parked in close in uncovered parking, which is half the price of parking in the garage, got my rollaboard and walked to the terminal. Naturally, since I had printed off my boarding passes the day before, I could skip the checkin counter and head straight for security. So, having enjoyed my last cigarette, and having once again cursed the fact that I have to give up my fourth amendment rights every time I go into an airport, I threw away my lighter and headed inside as I seriously considered the logistics of putting signs near every airport entrance that state “Check your fourth amendment rights at the door.”
I moseyed my way up to the check in level and across to the mezzanine and I had to decide where I wanted to endure security, did I want to go to the bridge that links the A concourse to the main terminal or did I want to go downstairs and use the main TSA checkpoint. In my own mypathy, I figured that the line on the bridge would be shorter. Well, despite the fact that it was six o’clock in the morning, I think everyone else had the same idea. The line was huge. I got in it and slowly progressed up the bridge towards security. Of course, those lucky few who have some kind of premier status got to zip right by in their own special lane, as the rest of us plodded ahead, slowly, and I watched the clock slowly ticking away. As the clock ticked towards 620 and I had visions of missing the flight and trying to explain to mumsy, who was already in Memphis, that I did not infact oversleep that I simply chose the wrong line in security! Sure, she’d believe that! She’d say I overslept. Closer and closer I crawled, occasionally looking behind me and marveling at the length of the line. It seemed to stretch past the entrance of the bridge. Amazing. Get to security, show my boarding passes, take off my shoes and jacket and put them in the tub, put my rollaboard on the conveyor and shove everything forward as I walk through the Xray, recollect my stuff and head, or hustle, down three levels to the underground train to the C concourse. I tried to relax as we rode to B and then C, and I got into hustle mode again, time was tight. I mounted two flights of stairs to the main concourse and walked down to gate C-49. Interesting: Southwest has taken over the old USAir gates, C-41, 43 and 45. I walked past C-45 and I smiled, the equipment was in, I could see the green tail popping up, and was that….a winglet? Yes, it was! Cool. My first 737NG with winglets. By the time I get to the gate, the flight was already boarding, so I had only a moment to walk to the window and note the rego, N278AT.
A moment later it was down the slanting jetway and onboard. The brightly colored exterior with the bright white fuselage, green tail, red and green cheatlines and blue engines (that’s odd, why paint the engines blue when the rest of the airplane is red, white and green?) contrasted against the incredibly dull interior. White walls and a sea of muted blue seats with paisley circles on them. I put my rollaboard in the overheard and slid into my seat. Perfect, right next to the engine, my favorite spot. If I look back a bit out the window I can see the winglet, with Airtran.com painted on it. Nice touch. Overall the seat was comfortable, not Alaska Airlines 727 comfortable, but comfortable, and the back was high enough to be comfortable. To our right as I look out the window, is a Southwest 737-300 at C-45, N330SW. I must say, on the subject of Southwest, that their new canyon blue scheme really does look much better than the old ochre and red. Nice improvement for Southwest.
With everyone onboard, we push back, the flight attendant do their safety speech thing and tells us we’re under the command of Captain Ralph and first officer Mark. I like it when they tell me the names of the pilots, it’s getting more and more rare these days. Once we’re pushed back one of the pilots tells us that we’re heading over to De-icing. At De-icing, I got my surprise of the day. PSA One was in town, and I must say that plane is as cool looking in person as it is in the pics.
The deicing truck did its rounds, then the first officer came back and looked out the window, to make sure there was no ice on the wings I suppose, then walked back to the cockpit and we were underway. We pulled forward and right and I looked out the window and blanched, it was a happy blanch, PSA One in all its glory was in Denver, and I must say, that airplane is unmistakeable looking, and that orange is so bright! Even from a distance of 100 yards or more it stuck out brilliantly.
Sometime between when we left and when we started to taxi the flight attendants had come through and passed out earphones for the XM radio this aircraft carried and I eagerly plugged them in,only…..to…..discover….it was the same bland sanitized sh*t that all the other airlines call music. I was so disappointed. 100 channels of music and it all basically sucked. Very bland, very inoffensive, there was a good selection of channels, I will say that, but the music was all too bland and sanitized, but still, I listened, I found a channel or two that played something close to my kind of music. We roared off the runway, up into the clouds and headed southeast towards mighty Hotlanta. The flight, overall was smooth, there was a patch of light turbulence as we passed over a large cloud formation, but nothing to write home about.
The inflight service, as well, was nothing to write home about. It was sooo slow. It seemed to take them forever to get to me and it didn’t help that they had to suspend the service as a precaution because of expected turbulence that didn’t seem to materialize. But, I finally got my glass of coke and three biscotti crackers. I enjoyed them and soon enough we were descending into Atlanta.
We landed and rolled out, the reversers deployed but I didn’t hear the enormous roar I’m used to hearing, maybe the 737-700 engines are just quieter. We pulled off the runway and had to wait for some departures on the parallel runway. It didn’t take too long and we were cleared across the runway and into the terminal area.
Moments later and we were pulling onto the C concourse and parking at gate C-20. as for gate announcements, they made none, they just mentioned that red jackets (sorry, old DL term) would be waiting at the gate with gate information, or we can check the monitors. The monitors, I noticed, unless I’m just blind, only showed departure information, no arrivals. I like arrival information because it gives me an idea where my connecting aircraft is coming in from.
2 FL 110 Atlanta Memphis N928AT 717-231 C-16 C-16
NS 6416 N20433 Ship 14133
My first thought, as I came up the jetway and into the very crowded C concourse, was “I need a smoke” and I remembered from looking at the terminal maps on the Atlanta Airport website that there was a smoking lounge. Small problem, there was a smoking lounge and it was quite well used, but, there were no matches to be had! Wanting a smoke, I went on a quest to find matches, only to discover that apparently the bars and restaurants are not allowed to carry matchbooks. This would prove to be no problem, I was able to bum a light and burn a couple before I headed out to see if my equipment was in (it wasn’t) and look around the concourse. My second thought, after having my derigeur cigarettes was that Frank Borman would be rolling in his grave if he saw what condition the C concourse was in. it was a dump. It seemed very narrow compared to the A and B concourses, the whole interior seemed very kind of dreary with worn brown carpet on the floors and aged looking slide in signboards at the gates. As I walked around, looking at the concourse, I made a vain attempt to locate the one leftover from Eastern that supposedly still exists on concourse C, a mural, but I never could locate it. I contented myself to strolling around the concourse, looking at the airplanes and by the time I got back to my gate, C-16, our equipment was in and the waiting room was packed. I did manage to catch the rego, but I couldn’t verify it until I got to Memphis, as the aircraft was parked at something of an angle to the terminal that made it a bit difficult to see the rego.
Like the flight from Denver, the flight from Atlanta was pleasantly full. In time, we boarded, I descended the jetway and noticed a couple of interesting things, signs, one told the gaters not to touch the cockpit windows with the canopy, another told the gate drivers not to touch the fuselage of the aircraft with the bumper of the jetway, leave an inch or two of separation between the two.
I think if I hadn’t been somewhat tired I would have smiled as I made the realization that with the addition of the 717 to the fleet, Northstar now flies every boeing model except the 707 (if only I could go to Iran!) coming onboard and having to walk a couple of rows back to put up my rollaboard made me think of an A.net thread discussing the penchance for those sitting in the back to put their carryons towards the front, forcing those seated at the front to have to walk further back to find bin space, it was a little annoying. Not overly so, but it spawned an idea, maybe what the airlines should do is put placards to the effect that certain bins are reserved for passengers sitting in the rows associated with those bins, like “this bin reserved for passengers in row 12, please be courteous” and maybe the flight attendants should be trained to enforce those placards so that if the guy sitting in row 28 places his carryon in the bin reserved for row 12, the flight attendant says, “excuse me sir, you can’t put this here, you need to take it back with you. If you can’t find room for it, we’ll check it.” In that way deplaning could be that much quicker because the guy in row 12 isn’t forced to fight the stream of forward deplaning traffic to get back to row 16 where his carryon is. Just a thought.
As for how to enforce this, I suppose the trick would be to issue each passenger a color coded carry on tag that he attaches to his luggage, each color corresponding to specific row numbers so that the flight attendants as they do their checks can look at the tags and make sure that all the colors match, and if not, that bag gets moved to the corresponding row, or gets checked if there’s no room.
I will also admit that there was no overwhelming well of excitement inside me at the concept of flying on my first 717. maybe that’s because the 717 was not a completely new type, really it was nothing more than a modernized, reengined DC-9, and I’ve flown on a few of those.
I take my seat, in row 12, window seat and smile. The window is huge. In time, we’re all seated, the door shuts and we push back. The flight attendants do their safety speech and we’re underway. The engines spool up and we taxi out, right past Delta Tech Ops, lots of widebodies sitting on the lower ramp, the occasional 737-200 or two and of course the hangar doors are wide open with more airplanes parked therein, too bad I didn’t have my camera. The taxiway leads to the runway, we make a left, another left onto the runway, power up and roll down the runway. Overall, the flight is smooth, and not long enough to bother with XM radio, I just enjoyed the ride into Memphis.
The taxi to the runway gave me yet another observation of a wtf kind, all of the jetways on the delta side of concourse C had been removed! Why did they do this? I know from experience that a jetway can be lowered to the level of an RJ, why not use them? Why go to the expense of removing them? The answer I’m sure is that if the jetways aren’t there then you can pack more RJs onto the ramp, you can park them side by side, as Delta did, but it just seems like a waste to remove all the jetways on like half the terminal.
Overall, I would not go out of my way to fly on the 717 again. I neither loved it or hated it. It was just okay. I will take a 717 over a regional jet any day, because of course it’s a lot bigger, which makes it a lot more comfortable. I will also say I was impressed with how it handled turbulence, it had a very solid feel, even in turbulence, that I liked. Another funny thing, I had read on seatguru that the engines were very quiet, but really, they didn’t seen any quieter than any of the other current generation aircraft I’ve flown on. Come to think of it, I think the MD-80 is actually quieter inside than this airplane, but then again, the MD-80 is also a lot longer, which means when you’re sitting towards the front you’re a lot further from the engines, and that does make a difference.
After two quick but fun days in Memphis seeing the baby as well as my brother and his wife, it was back to the airport at the ungodly hour of four a.m. thanks to the wonder of online checkin, I was once again able to get good seats and, while mumsy had to go to the counter to check her bag, we had already checked in and gotten our seats online. The Airtran crew at Memphis was quite good, the guy even suggested to my mom that she remove some items from her bag to avoid an overweight charge of 25 bucks, now that’s service! Mom took a couple of books out of her bag and put them in the front pocket of my rollaboard and the issue was solved.
My mom was amazed he even suggested a way for her to get out of the fee, we figured either the guy was very customer service oriented or he was just in a hurry to get everyone checked in and didn’t want to have to spend the extra time to collect that 25 dollar payment when there was an easy way to get around it.
Having checked mom’s bag, we headed for security, which for me was a breeze, though mom got the usual extra search because her bracelets, which really can’t be easily removed, always set off the alarms. I also learned that even placed in my carryon, my lighter wasn’t safe, they made me open my bag and remove it, once again there go my fourth amendment rights.
(What is this thing I have with my fourth amendment rights and airports anyway? Why does this bother me so? Because in my estimation, the act of forcing me to give up my personal property, for whatever reason, is unconstitutional. You know that little thing about unlawful search and seizure? Somehow the government has decided that this doesn’t apply to the TSA or to Airports, and because they label it as an “anti-terrorism measure” we all go along with it. No one is willing to stand up and tell the TSA “you don’t have the right to tell me I have to give up my personal property when I haven’t been identified as a specific threat.” We all just act like sheep in the name of security, and in my mind, because we so willingly allow the government to take away our rights, however small they may be, it’s basically like the terrorists have won. Personally, I think the message to the terrorists should be just the opposite “we’re not going to allow you to take away our freedom by unnecessarily restricting the movements or constitutional rights of our citizens by making it more difficult or more time consuming to travel.” Okay, enough of my political rant on the TSA and my fourth amendment rights, back to the trip)
Once we were checked in, I went outside for my last cigarette while mom went to the powder room. We regrouped, did the security thing and headed for the gate, C-16. it was our luck this morning that Fedex was launching late, so I got to see a veritable parade of Fedex 727s, DC-10s and Airbuses pass by on their way to the runway. I had forgotten how loud the 727 is. They roared into the sky, literally. When we got to the gate, our plane was already in.
3 FL 532 Memphis Atlanta N717JL 717-2BD
NS 6746 N23434 Ship 14234
After a bit of an apology from the ground crew about the flight being late on account that the power had gone out at the airport last night (some major thunderstorms had rolled through) and they couldn’t get the jetway into position as early as they liked, we boarded, and got underway. The funny thing was, we really weren’t that late.
The seat, I noticed, on this 717 was different, it was smaller, with a lower back than the one I had on the ex-TWA 717 I had coming down two days ago, and it prompted a question in my mind, do all the ex-TWA 717s have bigger seats?
Interesting too that this 717 had a different pattern on the seats, it was more of a futuristic wedge pattern, not the paisley type pattern I had seen on the ex-TWA ship.
Once again, I was seated on the three side and the plane was amazingly full considering that it was six in the morning. I suppose I shouldn’t be amazed, mom had sat next to a business traveler on her trip down and he mentioned that the six a.m. was very popular with business travelers, because it allows them to get to Atlanta early enough to conduct their business and get home the same day.
Sitting on the right side gave me a good view of a UAX CRJ-700 in United’s new colors, I really do like their new colors, a far sight better than the old dark blue and grey, if I do say so.
My seat afforded me some great views of the terminal action (or inaction,) and I marveled at all the regional jets. Northwest, of course, was virtually deserted, their gates were almost all empty with the exception of maybe one DC-9 that I saw, amazing. We trundled past the terminal complex to the runway and launched into the very turbulent morning sky. Other than being turbulent, the flight itself was rather uneventful, with one exception. I had my first encounter with wake turbulence. Does this surprise me? no. We were on an odd numbered airplane, the only one I had this trip, call me superstitious, but I just never seem to have good experiences with odd numbered airplanes. As it happened we were descending into Atlanta and all of a sudden we bumped up and to the right in something of an S then dropped back down, not bad, just rather startling, then the captain came on and told us we had hit wake turbulence from the aircraft in front of us. I can only imagine what kind of aircraft it was, but I didn’t ask. We continued our descent and landed.
Atlanta, of course, at eight in the morning, was abuzz with arrivals and our connecting gate happened to be at the end of the terminal, so I watched as a whole parade of aircraft, from Delta MD-80s, to 767-300s, a couple of 767-400s and perhaps coolest of all, I saw SAA’s A340-600 land and taxi by, and I must say that that aircraft, in person, doesn’t seem as big as it looks in pictures. It’s still huge, but in person it just doesn’t seem that long.
Of course I had to take my obligatory trip to the smokers lounge, although it was a short one this time, no hour and a half to stroll the terminal. I had one cigarette then walked back to C-2, taking note of a boarding flight to Freeport, Bahamas.
By the time I got back to the gate, our aircraft was in and we were getting ready to board.
4 FL 303 Atlanta Denver-DIA 737-7BD N272AT
NS 7946 N25435 Ship 14335
Seat guru saved me from a really crappy seat? Or did it? When I checked in online last night, I noticed that I was assigned to 14A, theoretically a window seat, but I know that there’s a blank wall up there somewhere, so thinking 14 might be it, I logged onto seatguru and sure enough, 14 was the blank wall, can’t have that now, I called Airtran and they happily moved mom and I to rows 16 and 17A, we both like window seats. Mom likes to sleep and I like to look out the window. 16 I knew from my trip down was safe, it did not have a blank wall. I accepted the seats, not realizing that there would be another problem.
So, we boarded and took our seats I was content to look out the window at the activity outside as well as look at the reflection of the fuselage in the shiny blue engine sitting next to me. We pushed back, the engines spooled up and we headed for the runway as the flight attendants did their demonstration and I looked at the boarding card and wondered to myself if Air Tran’s expansion plans include the 737-800. There are two things I saw that prompted this wonderment. One, I noticed on all of Air Tran’s gates that the painted lines on the ramp that tell the rampers where to stop the aircraft, had 737-700/800 on them. Secondly, I noticed that on the safety card, they had safety information and diagrams for both the 737-700 and 737-800, this just seemed very odd to me that an airline would have safety information for an aircraft type (737-800) it doesn’t even operate. The only other explanation I could think of (possibly the more logical one) was that Air Tran simply ordered the least expensive possible safety card, and it happened to have safety information for both the 737-700 and -800 on it.
We took the long taxi to the runway, once again taxying right by DL Techops, not that I could see much, since I was on the left side this time, but I duly craned my head somewhat and tried to catch a glimpse of the tech ops ramps and open hangars, and as I did, I thought I saw the Spirit of Delta in one of the hangars. It was definitely the widget paint scheme (in my opinion Delta’s best paint scheme) and it looked like a 767 so I assumed it was the Spirit of Delta. Soon enough we turned onto the runway, affording me a good view of the very long line of mostly MD-80s and regional jets waiting for takeoff behind us, and started rolling.
We soon lifted off and began the long trip from Atlanta to Denver, made even longer by the sudden discovery that my XM radio unit was broken. None of the buttons worked, especially the volume, which was effectively trapped at a level so low I couldn’t hear a thing. I tried in vain to make it work, but after a while I just gave up. I contented myself to looking out the window and watching the cloud blanketed scenery pass by below as I imagined in my head what it would have been like to fly in an earlier day, when the captain might come on and say “well folks we’ve reached our cruising altitude, we invite you to sit back and relax and enjoy the ride, as for inflight entertainment, we have the best IFE in the sky, the chance to watch god’s green earth pass by below, it doesn’t get much better than that folks.”
I must say that three hours is a long time to go without IFE, whether it be PTVs or drop down screens.
The time passed as quickly as it can, as I sat crammed into my window seat, watching the landscape below and saying to myself “are we there yet? Are we there yet?” like a bored kid in the back seat of the family station wagon. At one point I did get up and walk back to the lavs, and noticed that the last few rows of the plane were actually fairly empty, empty enough that the surfer dudes I had seen in the gate area before we boarded, were able to stretch out across entire rows and sleep. The back of the plane was empty because most of the passengers were packed in the front like sardines.
Soon enough we began our descent and I was home again, none the worse for wear.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my latest trip report, feel free to comment