Welcome to yet another one of my famous or infamous pictureless trip reports. This time we're going back to 1996, when i made my one and only attempt to fly six segment in one day. It was, all in all, fun but also something of a disaster. As usual there are no pictures, but hopefully, my writing makes up for it. I hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to comment.
It started on a particular day in 1996. I was working at the time in Omaha, a place I hated, so of course I traveled just to travel, just to get out of Omaha. On the particular day it started, one of my co-workers came in with great news: TWA was starting service to Omaha and they were advertising a killer deal, round trip from Omaha to St. Louis for 29 dollars. There was, of course, as I looked into this, and the opportunity to once again get out of Omaha and go someplace new, a catch, you had to take the first flight of the day, at six in the morning and return on the last flight of the night. I was all over it, I could not pass up 29 dollars round trip. So I called TWA and booked the trip. Naturally, having booked my tickets, I began asking myself what in the world was I going to do in St Louis for like 12 hours?
(I know, some people would probably say “rent a car, so see the sights, enjoy yourself! Really though, I don’t go to cities to see the city itself, I just go to see the airport, most of the time I could care less about the city itself.)
Then I started thinking, as long as I was in St. Louis, maybe I could go to Midway, more checking found me a deal on Southwest from St Louis to Midway for an equally low fare and the chance to fly on a Southwest 737-500, never been on one of those before, and a 737-200, a disappearing breed. So, I called Southwest and booked it and found that I had six hours to kill in Chicago. Hmm? Could I go somewhere else? How about….Columbus Ohio! Where in the world did I come up with this idea? What was in Columbus? An airport I had never seen before. And a good deal. Yeah, that’s about it, plus it was somewhere I could get to and back in one day, with enough time to still make the last TWA flight of the night from St. Louis back to Omaha.
I called America West and booked myself to travel Midway to Columbus. Now had everything gone the way it was supposed to go, I would have set a new record, six segments in one day. (My last record, which shall forever remain unbroken, is five segments in one day) I should have known things were not going to go well, considering it was winter and I was going to Chicago. I should have known. But, I was optimistic. I was a fool! So, having booked my tickets then having driven out to the airport with my checkbook and bought them, collecting three sets of nonrefundable paper tickets on three different airlines, I was set. For a disaster.
1 TWA 430 Omaha-St Louis DC-9-31 N980Z
It was early and it was freezing, a combination I do not like, as I collected myself and my tickets and headed for the airport. The flight left at six, which meant I had to be at the airport at five, which meant I had to leave for the airport at four. Now, of course, since I am not a lad of leisure, but rather a working stiff, I had worked the night before until midnight, by the time I got home it was twelve thirty, and since sleep never comes right away, I fired up my computer and worked on my book for a while, and the hours passed blissfully, until I looked at the clock and realized it was two a.m. I had to get some sleep. I did have to get up at four, after all. I got scant little sleep, looking forward to my big day, and besides, I told myself, I can sleep when I get home. And as far as I knew I would be home that night, totally exhausted, but happy, with six new registration numbers to add to my list.
Anyway, four a.m. came way too soon as I dragged my sorry rear end out of my apartment and into the freezing cold, got into the pizza mobile, my Ford Escort (yes every one of my cars has a nickname) and slipped and slid to the airport in a mantel of snow and ice.
Barely awake, paper tickets in hand (there was basically no such thing as E tickets in 1996, amazing how far we’ve come in ten years. I fully expect in another ten years Airlines will have done away with tickets entirely and everyone will travel biometrically, your fingerprint will be your ticket.)
I schlepped to the TWA counter and checked in, getting my boarding pass then heading upstairs to the mezzanine and across to Concourse “1” (Omaha had two concourses, and a total of twenty gates, concourse “1” serviced Northwest, Frontier, TWA, American, and Midwest Express, terminal “2” served Delta, United, Continental, America West, and most recently, Southwest.) gate 21, with no security, on the lower level, served USAir Express.)
My assigned gate today was gate three, one of two gates TWA used, they shared gate 3 with Frontier and had gate four to themselves. Gate three was a relic from the 1960s, I think gates three, four and the unused gate five were the oldest gates at the airport and the only ones that hadn’t received new jetways. Gate three was one of these compact boxish looking jetways with the huge canopy. When I got to the gate, our equipment, ship 8380, a DC-9-30 acquired as a result of the merger with Ozark, was already in. At gate four, next door, was a TWA 727-200, it did the 730 a.m. flight. Our DC-9 loomed in the darkness as the passengers assembled in the boarding area. Soon enough we tromped down the jetway, made a sharp left and onto the airplane, resplendent in bright TWA colors.
I was barely awake but smiling as we pushed back and the ancient JT8Ds at the rear wound up into a loud metallic hum. Soon enough we were taxying away from the gate as the Flight Attendants welcomed us onboard and gave the ubiquitous safety demonstration. Outside, the darkness was giving way to morning twilight, we were enveloped in shades of grey as we taxied to the runway, made a rolling turn, since we were the first departure of the day, of course, we were number one for takeoff as we screamed, literally, down the runway and our 1969 vintage chariot lifted into the sky and we thundered over the Missouri river as we climbed over Iowa and made our way southeast towards Missouri and mighty St Louis.
I settled back into my seat and listened to the electro mechanical hum of our JT8Ds as we climbed ever higher over Iowa, at some point banking southeast towards St Louis. The flight attendants came through with refreshments. I had apple juice, six in the morning is way too early to be drinking fizzy caffeinated beverages. The sun was coming up as I looked out the window and I was smiling. This was going to be a great day. Or so I thought. Soon enough we were descending and landing. We rolled into gate C-34 at the base of the mighty C concourse that served TWA and there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of activity. I deplaned, put away my TWA ticket and pulled out my Southwest ticket.
2 Southwest 876 St Louis –Chicago-Midway 737-5H4 N519SW
I had some time to kill, purposefully. In planning this trip I had purposefully built in at least a two hour layover at every stop, just in case. We landed at eight, or thereabouts, and I think my Southwest flight went at ten or ten thirty. The first step was to actually find Southwest. Having done my homework before I left, I understood that Southwest went from concourse E. Coming into the terminal, I had a tint of Déjà vu, the last time I had been to St Louis was in 1979, when, at age 11, I was on my way from Boston to Colorado. I was struck by the massiveness of the terminal. I was also struck by the enormity of the distances and I was struck by the contrast between the jetways. While some of the jetways were new, most on the C and especially the D concourse were antiquated.
Naturally, having no luggage (this was supposed to be a day trip afterall) meant I could check in at the gate. This was probably a good thing, as I overheard people saying that the ticket counters were a mess. The gate, I soon realized, was a very long way away. I was glad I had allowed myself two hours, I was sure I’d need it. I meandered my way off the C concourse and down the massively long D concourse, which seemed, for the most part, abandoned. I stopped once in a while to look at the airplanes, and marvel at the very long, antiquated jetways. The whole terminal was definitely in need of a major refurbishment. The sun was now up, and I was feeling sort of a second wind as I meandered my way, eventually passing the threshold from the D to the E Concourse and checking the monitors to find my gate, 79, and realizing that my equipment was not in yet.
By the time I got to concourse E, my legs literally ached, I felt like I had walked a mile (not likely, but it felt like it) the seeming abandonment of TWA was replaced by the crowds of southwest, there were people everywhere. I migrated into the gate area and checked in, getting my boarding pass and marveling at the huge number of people. This plane was going to be packed, I was sure. Standing by the window, I watched as TWA 727s, MD-80s, and DC-9s taxied in. Southwest was a constant ebb and flow of people going who knew where. The one constant was the people, they were everywhere. Soon enough, our 737-500 came in. Whether I realized it or not, things were about to start getting interesting.
As soon as the last batch of passengers deplaned we boarded, by dint of being sufficiently early, I got a good boarding card and got my coveted window seat right next to the engines. I can’t explain why I like to sit next to the engines on the CFM 737s, other than I just love to listen to the unique howl of those engines. Soon enough we were packed in cheek to jowl, then pushing back and the engines were rumbling to life. The flight attendants, with their usual Southwest sense of humor, pointed out the safety features, and the smoking lounge on the wing. With howls and whines from our CFMs we trundled to the runway and roared into the sky. The flight was smooth and soon enough we began queuing up for descent for the Aviation Mecca that is Chicago, it was a Chicago blanketed in clouds. Down we went, into the clouds, clouds that seemed to only release their grip at the very last moment as we passed over snowy Chicago land and landed at Midway.
3 America West 1620 Chicago Midway-Columbus 737-277 N185AW
Midway is such a trip. It’s a department store that wants to be an airport. Coming into the A concourse on Southwest, hustling my way down the hall, because time was relatively tight, I descended the escalator and entered the B concourse with it’s ground level gates that stretched up to meet the airplanes. What a trip. I felt like I was in a department store. Now I should have known there was going to be a problem, descending down into Chicago through layers of very low clouds before we broke through the clouds and landed, I should have known I was not going to get out of this unscathed. But, so far, everything was going well. I had made all of my connections and when I got to Columbus I’d have two hours to walk around and look at the airport before beginning my trek home. When I showed up to gate B-9, our equipment was already in. I checked in at the gate again and got my boarding pass, another window seat. What I loved about Midway was that it had character, unlike many of the superfortress hubs that dot America, the old Midway had character.
Having gotten my boarding pass, I wandered around a bit, taking note of an ATA 757 taxying by, heading for the C concourse. The 757, at this airport, looked huge. In time, I found myself back in the waiting area for B-9, waiting to board.
To get to the airplane, we had to climb a small flight of stairs, then walk up the jetway. Flying out of airports like Midway you really get a feel for how big airplanes really are. A steel and glass superfortress hub can’t give you that feel. Midway did.
Soon enough we boarded, I took my seat and relaxed, one more hour and I was about to die and go to hell, figuratively speaking.
Everything up to now was going great. We landed at Columbus on time and deplaned through door B-9. I had a couple of hours. I was wearing down. I was impressed with the Columbus airport, it was a very impressive small airport, modern and nice. I walked around a bit, looking at different airplanes, American ATRs going to Chicago, a Delta 757 to somewhere, Atlanta I think. I noted that my connection was going out of B-11, or was that B-9? I don’t remember anymore. having seen all that Port Columbus International Airport had to offer I migrated back to the gate. Our little ex-Australian 737-200 was now gone, but an A320 had come in. it was heading to Phoenix. I watched it for a while and watched the clock tick away, and noted that our equipment for the trip back to Chicago had not come in yet. A little unnerving, but I still had plenty of time. I think our departure time back to Chicago was 4p.m.
4p.m came and went and our equipment was not in yet. I sat and relaxed and watched the A320. our equipment, I think was coming from Phoenix and it was running slightly delayed. But, eventually it came in, a 737-300, EI-CKV was etched into my mind forever because of the experience I had. It was an experience that would lead me to boycott America West for at least two years. and the funny thing is, when I think about it, I had no real reason to boycott them, other than they would not give me what I want.
So, our equipment came in, deplaned, the waiting area was a zoo. The flight was oversold. And I was beginning to realize I was going to have a problem. I was now in danger of missing my Southwest flight from Midway back to St Louis, which meant I’d miss my St Louis to Omaha. I called TWA and informed them of the situation, they really didn’t care, I could make the change for 100 bucks plus a fare increase. This would not work, I had no credit card and limited cash on me. Maybe, I told myself, I should talk to the gate agent, see what they could do for me. I stood in line and eventually got to the podium, I handed over my tickets and explained my situation, that I was on three nonrefundable tickets on three different airlines, but I had to get back to Omaha, I didn’t care how, could she do anything? I was thinking maybe she could put me on the Phoenix flight that was now boarding next door, then connect me to get to Omaha.
I can’t believe I was so delusional. I should have known that their responsibility was just to get me to Midway. Still, the nice young girl looked at my tickets then handed them back and said she’d do what she could. Then she walked away and disappeared. Soon, boarding began. And it was clear that she couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything for me. She could pre protect me to the flight for tomorrow back to Midway, but in the scheme of things that really didn’t help any, because I had two other tickets for which I’d be considered no shows, and they’d want money to change me.
TWA specifically, was unsympathetic to my cause. Their flight was not affected by this weather in Chicago.
So, with nothing to lose, I boarded the flight, thinking I’d figure out my way home when I got back to Chicago. We boarded, and I took my seat. I was definitely wearing down. The glow of flying was wearing off.
We board, we took our seats. I was sitting at the window on the left hand side, watching N636AW, an America West A320 in their original colors, the blue pin stripes, get ready to go to Phoenix, or maybe Las Vegas. Passengers continued to stream onboard. I tried to get comfortable, but I felt a little zombieish at this point, the fact that I had only gotten two hours of sleep last night was catching up big time. In the meantime, they filled this flight full. Every last single seat was taken. And we sat. And they gave us no information.
They told us there was weather in Chicago, there was a ground stop because conditions were below minimums, and we just had to wait for Operations to give us the all clear. And we sat. And we waited. To their credit, the flight attendants came through with a beverage service. I had one undersized glass of coke with ice, I sipped on it. I kept expecting regular updates. Even if they came on to tell us “sorry folks, we have no information” it would have been nice to be told something. They gave us sporadic updates but clearly there was nothing to update, Midway was effectively closed because of the weather, and America West, apparently being optimistic that we’d get out, was not canceling the flight, they just kept us sitting here, crammed in like sardines, waiting. The logic, I suppose, was reasonable, once we do get the clearance, we have to be ready to go like NOW! No time to round up the passengers and get them back on board.
I think we had been sitting on this airplane for two hours, when I finally decided I just couldn’t take it anymore. I think I was not the only one. Plus, I was having bad feelings about this flight, I was sure, even if we did go, that we would not make it to Chicago. Now, these bad feelings have never amounted to anything, I’m not psychic, no ESP or telepathy here. I just had a bad feeling. I was exhausted, I was upset at the treatment I had gotten from the ground crew, so after two hours of sitting on this airplane with no indication that we were going anywhere, I did something I have never done before or since. I got up, got my jacket and walked off the flight. I had had enough of America West.
There were a couple of other people who apparently felt the same way. I walked back up the jetway and went to the podium, they told me they could reprotect me for a flight in the morning, but that was it. I accepted that. But in the back of my mind I had already decided I was not going back to America West, I was going to find another way to get home. I left the concourse and walked out into the main terminal, and Southwest caught my eye. I had flown them before, and I was damned sure I was not flying America West, so, I bought myself a one way ticket from Columbus to Omaha on Southwest, via St. Louis, then I went and found a hotel and crashed.
4 Southwest 947 Columbus-St Louis 737-3H4 N352SW
Day two of what was supposed to be a one day trip. It’s afternoon and I’m in much better spirits. After a hot bath, some food and a warm bed, I’m standing at gate A-2, which, compared to the B concourse, looked rather more outdated, I’m watching this airplane come in and wondering if it’s going to be mine.
I was actually kinds of psyched, I was hoping this one would be mine, it was Lone Star One and lo and behold it pulled into my gate. I was psyched! Excited! Kid in a candy store almost pissing my pants. I was smiling. All of a sudden all the crap I put up with last night became worth it, I was flying on lone star one! I watched, almost mesmerized out the window as the plane sat there in it’s red white and blue glory, then we boarded. With typical southwest warmth and humor they welcomed us on board, did the safety briefing and we got underway. I was, as usual, in my favorite spot, right next to the engine. All my feelings of gloom and doom from last night were washed away as we climbed out over Columbus. The only downside was the very long, like four hour, layover in St. Louis before I caught my flight to Omaha.
5 Southwest 1065 St Louis-Omaha 737-3Q8 N695SW
The red white and blue of lone star one faded away and I was back to ochre, red and orange. Oh well. After four long hours of walking around the St Louis Airport I was on the last leg. Homeward bound. By the time I boarded it was dark out. After quite a bit of loitering around, I migrated back to gate 81, my departure gate, and we boarded. Once again I was in my usual favorite spot. The flight was pleasantly full as we tromped down the jetway and onboard, taking our seats, buckling in and getting comfortable. I was tired but still smiling from having flown on the world famous Lone Star One. the Jetway pulled away we got ready to go, then all of a sudden the jetway came careening back up and practically hit the side of the airplane with a veritable thud. The startled flight attendants opened the door, wondering what was going on.
It was, some would say fate, it was disaster averted, and it was only the start of a very strange flight. Sitting in my seat, near the front, I had to smile nervously, we had gotten lucky, someone apparently had noticed that we were 2000 pounds under fueled. That was big. So the fuel truck came back, topped us up as the pilots apologized for the slight delay with the comment we needed to add a little more fuel. Having gotten our tanks topped, we pushed back and were under way. We climbed into the turbulent night sky and buckled in for the short but bumpy hour and a half or so to Omaha.
We bumped and thudded our way to Omaha, not bad turbulence, just steady and it dogged us all the way to Omaha. Soon enough we began our descent, down over the Missouri River. Down down, down then whoa what was that? We dropped straight down, to everyone’s very definite surprise then came straight back up. My heart was beating a little faster. We had hit an airpocket. Not a pleasant experience. A little freaky to be honest, made somewhat scarier by our proximity to the river, we were on our final descent, passing right over the river when it hit us. A moment later we were gliding down over the fence and to a smooth landing. Home again. finally. One more milestone under my belt. And I swore, as I came up the jetway, that I’d never try to do six segments in one day again. that was just way too much. I also swore I’d never fly America West again. and I kept that promise for a couple of years, until I moved to California.
thanks for reading, as usual, your comments are welcome, and i promise for my next trip report, i will have pictures!