Southwest Airlines flight 2210
PHX to PDX
Sky Harbor Terminal Four
Real Time Log of my Trip from Phoenix PHX to Portland PDX
Looking LARGE! Looking LARGE!
We’ll see if anyone sits in the middle seat. The guy in the aisle seat, 21C, is pretty big and so am I in 21A, the window seat, and both of us are puffed up and carelessly overflowing a bit into the middle seat, hopefully making it highly unattractive to anyone still coming on board. The flight attendant told us the plane was “pretty” full and we hope that means a few empty seats. We hope that one of them will be in between us! There are still a lot of people boarding so I’m not holding my breath, but I’m definitely looking LARGE!
Southwest does not have assigned seats, so it’s always a game to get the seat you prefer. Seats are assigned by boarding groups. The earliest people to check in get group A, the later ones group B, and the laggards get group C. Group A gets to board first, after the babies and wheelchair people. (One of my friends recently flew on what he called “the miracle flight.” It was a Southwest flight from Las Vegas to Seattle. In Las Vegas, seven people in wheelchairs were pre-boarded and got to pick their seats first. In Seattle, there was a host of wheelchairs waiting to take them off, but no one getting off needed one, everybody walked off with no problem. I guess they were all “miraculously cured” during the flight!)
I have simple tastes, and I can usually get a seat I like if I have a boarding pass in group A or B. I like to sit toward the back in a window seat, especially one with the window cut-out next to my shoulder so I have a bit of extra room to stretch out in. Seat 21A is one of those. I don’t like sitting on the aisle because my shoulder gets bumped by everybody passing by during the flight.
If the plane is full and someone is in every middle seat, then we’re all uncomfortably jammed together and a flight is significantly less pleasant. Looking large in my seat on Southwest 2210, I remember the time recently when the passengers in my row consisted of the three big guys, two of whom were drunk and apparently had raw garlic for lunch. After two hours crammed together with these two, the third passenger also smelled of garlic and wished he were drunk too…
Coming on board now is a family with C passes that wants to sit together. There are SIX of them! Fat chance, the plane is almost full! Dad is loudly complaining to the flight attendant. I’m thinking; “Bonehead! It isn’t HER fault! Check in earlier next time or fly an airline with reserved seating!” She, on the other hand, is very polite and somehow gets them all quieted down and seated.
I’m in a grumpy mood because I’ve been waiting in one line or another since 6:30 AM. The line for the parking lot bus, the line at the ticket counter, the line at security, the line at the gate for Katherine’s flight (more on this in a moment), the line at Starbucks, the line in the bathroom, the line at my gate… Yeesh!
This flight is getting to be a common one for me. My girlfriend Katherine lives in Phoenix and travels fairly often for her work. She has a client in Louisville Kentucky and the only direct flights there are on Southwest. She takes a Monday morning flight that leaves at 8 AM. I live in Portland, Oregon, and travel a lot for work. After my jobs I can often return to Phoenix to visit her rather than going home to Portland. If I’ve been visiting, we can go to the airport at the same time, and when she goes to Louisville I take this flight which leaves at 9:20. We can spend a few more minutes of precious time together before we go our separate ways.
Back on the plane, I’m thinking “We did it!” The flight attendants are securing the cabin. There are two empty seats on the plane, and one of them is next to me. Ahhhh! I can spread out!
The captain has just apologized for being fifteen minutes late. Many airlines don’t consider a fifteen minute discrepancy “late.” Southwest Airlines may have some annoying characteristics, but they are almost always on time. An apology is very welcome anyway.
We’re now taxiing out to the runway and have gotten into yet another line, this one a long line of planes waiting to take off.
They can really move airplanes out of Sky Harbor and we taxi into position in just a few minutes. We’re leaving behind a US Airways 757 still painted in America West colors; Caution! Wake turbulence!
There’s no obvious turbulence as we take off to the east on runway 7 Left and it’s just a little bumpy as we gain altitude. We continue east until we get to the town of Apache Junction at the far eastern end of the Phoenix metropolitan area, and then we make a big left turn to head almost due north.
The chimes tell me we’ve passed through ten thousand feet. It’s still a little bumpy, but not too bad. Almost immediately the suburbs below us give way to desolate rugged desert. The flight attendants get up to do their service. I order orange juice, and they hand out the famous Southwest Airlines bags of peanuts. Because this flight is longer than two hours, they also give each of us a bag of snack crackers.
At some point the little bag of Southwest peanuts got slightly smaller. There used to be nineteen whole peanuts in a bag, and now there are fifteen or sixteen. I wonder how much money they saved by cutting three peanuts out of each bag?
The pilot tells us the Grand Canyon is off to the left, but it’s invisible due to the haze. It’s been cloudy in Phoenix and this has been made worse by the forest fires that have started very early in this drought year. I may be imagining things, but I swear I can smell wood smoke in the plane as we climb to altitude over the fires raging near the town of Sedona.
According to the FAA Registry, N349SW came on line in 1989, seventeen years ago. It is still in the older brown and orange color scheme, but the interior is in good shape and the extra couple of inches of legroom Southwest has over some other airlines’ economy seats are very welcome. My knees are not touching the seat in front of me.
We reach our cruising altitude of 34,000 feet and the seatbelt sign goes off. We are flying over Northern Arizona and now into Southern Utah. The landscape has turned from tan to red. It’s very dry looking as the rugged escarpments and canyons of Zion National Park come into view. I can see another fire burning in the forest down there. The smoke is white, a clue that the fire fighters must be putting water on it to try to put it out.
Here’s my orange juice with ice cubes. I try to walk the fine line between getting too dehydrated and having to go to the bathroom. On these shorter flights I’d rather not have to make my row-mates move so I can get up. Sucking on the ice cubes after I finish the juice really helps keep me feeling hydrated without actually filling me up.
Now we’re turning northwest and we’re crossing I-15 as it goes between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Soon we’re into Nevada, which is a very different looking desert. Brown rows of mountains bracket long tan valleys. Lonely ranches have startlingly green irrigation circles of hay for their livestock. There’s still some snow on the highest ridges.
We cross US-50, billed as “the Loneliest Highway in America,” but I drove through this area last year and it wasn’t as lonely as it used to be! There used to be almost no traffic, one could drive fifteen minutes without passing another car, but now there’s a steady stream of cars and trucks. The west is growing. You can still go sixty miles between gas stations, but it just isn’t the same!
Soon we fly over I-80, the newer interstate highway that crosses Nevada north of US-50, and pass into a new kind of landscape made up of ancient, rugged lava floes and rising mountains. We cross into eastern Oregon and fly over Steen’s mountain, an unmistakable snow-streaked landmark looming directly above the Alvoord Desert, a giant dry lake. Here the high desert looks oddly green around the edges. Unlike Arizona, Oregon has gotten more rain than usual this winter and the desert below us is blooming.
We pass over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, a huge inland marsh incongruously set in the middle of the dry brown desert. Below us is Burns, the largest town we’ll fly over during the entire 1000 mile flight. Its population is 2800. It’s the seat of Harney County, an Oregon county bigger than the state of Vermont that has a total population of just over 7000. I guess the west still is pretty empty!
The flight attendants are doing their government-mandated door-blocking thing up in the front of the plane. The cockpit door is open to give the pilots their lunch. The F/As shoo everybody out of the forward galley and lavatory, and one of them stands looking fiercely out at us while another passes the food to the pilots. I know she’s trying to look tough, but the 5’ 2” F/A blocking the aisle doesn’t really look very menacing… I have my doubts about how effective this federally-mandated practice would really be in the event of someone actually storming the door. Fortunately, all of us simply want to travel to Portland. The cockpit door is soon secured, and everything comes back to normal.
Now in the distance I can see white mountain peaks rising out of the blue haze. These are the Cascade volcanoes. Perpetually snow-covered, they rise to 10 or 11,000 feet out of the green forested 6,000 foot ridgelines of the Cascades. Because each one stands majestically alone, they are all spectacular. I can see Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters, seemingly floating in the blue distance.
As we get closer, the blue haze resolves itself into tree-covered mountain ridges and Mount Hood comes into view. Mount Hood is the volcanic mountain nearest to Portland. As we begin our descent, we come closer and closer, crossing over the Deschutes River and the orchard-dotted Hood River Valley, seemingly heading right for the 11,000 foot mountain which is now almost at our altitude. Instead we sweep past, dramatically close enough to see individual trees high on the slopes, and make a left turn to put us on the approach to Portland International Airport.
We are flying down the Columbia River, which drains most of the Northwest United States and much of Western Canada. The river is half a mile wide here as it flows through a deep gorge cut through the mountains. In a single cataclysmic event at the end of the last ice age, when the ice dam holding back a lake that covered most of Montana suddenly burst, a wall of water four hundred feet high came rushing across Eastern Washington and slammed against the Cascades, punching this gorge through a low spot in the mountains before rushing to the sea. Much later, the rapids at the bottom of the Columbia Gorge were the last obstacle for pioneers coming to Oregon along the Oregon Trail. The rapids are gone now, and the river is wider, deeper, and quieter thanks to several dams, but it’s still a spectacular setting.
We descend over the now-dense Douglas Fir forests of the Western Cascades, in many places a patchwork of clear cuts, but in others a lush unbroken carpet of green. From past experience I can tell that we’re not quite on the right approach path and the pilot makes some extra turns to get us where we need to be. I wonder if he flies into Portland very often.
PDX is located on flat bottomland right next to the river. We are landing from the east and we come in over the suburbs of Troutdale and Wood Village. The landing gear go down with a thump and the flaps come down. It seems a little cross-windy and we make a very solid landing on runway 28 Left. It’s a long runway, 11,000 feet, and planes often roll out easily, but this time the pilot uses spoilers, reverse thrust and hard braking to haul us down in a hurry. We turn off the runway and taxi to gate C-14.
PDX is my favorite airport, a good thing because it’s my home airport. It is rarely too crowded, it is big enough to have flights and connections to everywhere, there are good coffee stands, and there is a small but diverse branch of Powell’s Books, one of the best bookstores in the world.
We get off the plane and pass the knot of people massed at the gate waiting to take N349SW on to Sacramento and then LAX. The terminal is open and airy and spacious. Sunlight streams down from skylights. The Port of Portland, which runs the airport, often provides music for travelers and today, walking through the lobby of Terminal C, I pass a harpist playing pretty and ethereal new age music. I stop for a while to listen and then pass out through security and down the escalator to baggage claim belt number four, where I find my bag already circulating.
Pulling my roller bag through the revolving doors, I step outside into an afternoon almost as hot as it was in Phoenix. Today it will reach 103 degrees, the hottest June day ever recorded in Portland.
After my month-long trip, I have just one more ride to take on mass transit. I walk across the street to catch the shuttle bus out to the Red Economy Parking Lot. I recover my car, pay the machine on the way out, and I’m free. About thirty miles back up the Columbia Gorge, on an unmarked forest road deep in the Cascades, is a pretty little river with waterfalls and deep pools. I’m thinking an afternoon swim might be in order for the tired traveler!