I got tickets to the Final Four (NCAA college basketball semifinals and finals), held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. I would ordinarily fly Delta on this route, but I decided to check AirTran. AirTran was running a special promotional Business Class fare in the TPA-ATL market, which was actually cheaper than coach on one of the segments (coach was full Y, so discounted Biz was cheaper). Basically, you buy a coach ticket with all the restrictions thereof, but get a Business Class seat and service. This price was roughly the same as the lowest Delta fare (a non-upgradeable U fare) and significantly less than the lowest upgradeable fare on Delta. Since TPA-ATL upgrades are never guaranteed on Delta, the confirmed AirTran business class ticket was quite a deal. Plus, it would give me a chance to try out the carrier, and both of my flights were scheduled to be operated by Boeing 717’s, a type which I’d yet to fly.
My schedule prohibited me from staying for Monday’s final game, so I’d fly up midday Saturday, attend the two semifinals games, and fly back early Sunday. A short trip indeed.
My AirTran flight was due to depart Tampa at 12:45. I parked around 11:45, stopped by Wall Street Deli (adjacent to Airside A) to pick up a sandwich, got my itinerary checked outside of the Airside D shuttles (no wait, and no ID check as has been usual for the past month or so), flew through security with no incidents, and was at the AirTran gate by 12:00.
Tampa’s Airside D is more than a little dinghy. It has all the lowfare carriers (AirTran, JetBlue, Spirit), plus United and Air Canada. Along with Airside C, it is one of the two oldest airsides at TPA (A and F are new), but it hasn’t been renovated as much as C. When the brand new Airside E opens in November for Delta, the D carriers will move to C and D will be knocked down.
The departure monitors listed the flight as going out of D51 but the gate agents were really at D52. So I checked in there. The “Agent in Training” was pretty friendly, but the AirTran check-in process is kind of weird. The agent was fumbling around with at least fifty pieces of paper (printed on receipt-style paper) that was spewed out when she checked me in. Then she had to figure out where each piece was to be stapled, glued, nailed, or tucked. I was expected it to be like JetBlue, where you have a receipt-style boarding pass. The part the passenger keeps is stapled onto the ticket jacket, and the part the boarding agent pulls is semiattached. AirTran was the same, but then you have the A=Plus Rewards credit voucher, passenger itinerary and receipt and two beverage coupons. Lots of paper.
Now here comes one of my big complaints with AirTran. Our flight was delayed (which I was expected, as the weather around the Southeast was awful). But no one made any announcements. No one explained that Atlanta was shrouded in fog and thus delays occur. As departure time came and went, I asked one of the agents, who insisted that the flight was ontime. I coerced her into looking at the departure time and looking at her watch. When the latter was ten minutes past the former and there was no ugly green A outside the window, the flight must be delayed. She agreed and said it would be arriving from Biloxi, MS, in a little bit (good god that’s an odd route).
Finally the 717 in the ugly beige and green colors pulled up to D52. Bravo to the AirTran crew who did turn around the plane quickly. No less than 10 minutes past from the plane’s arrival than we were called for boarding. I let other people pass ahead to they could have their toe nail clippers confiscated before I waltzed onto the new Boeing Seven-One-Seven.
I loved this aircraft! It had very capacious overhead bins, spacious and airy feeling, just like the new Airbus narrowbodies and 737NG’s. AirTran’s Business Class seats were amazing spacious. I estimated the pitch to be about 42 inches!! It far exceeded the legroom in domestic FC on US Airways, Delta, and American. The seats themselves were a tad uncomfortable (lumber support was weird. I think you could adjust it but I couldn’t figure out how). The legroom more than made up for it.
No preflight beverages were offered, but I wasn’t really expecting any. We pushed back and taxied and took off without further delay.
There is only one galley aboard (forward), so two of the FA’s took a cart from the forward galley and headed back. The forward FA took drink orders, passed out drinks and a big bag of pretzels before taking orders from the first rows of coach and serving them off of a big tray like Southwest. Coach gets a smaller bag of Rold Gold pretzels.
Each Business Class passenger gets coupons for two free alcoholic drinks. They are printed at check-in and the FA collects them if you order alcohol. Now, admittedly, I don’t drink on planes, so maybe I underestimate how much others drink, but I think this is a really stupid policy. Most passengers aren’t aware of this policy, so when the FA requests the coupons, they have to search for the ticket jacket, get their bag out of the overhead to retrieve it, etc. Would it really affect the airline’s bottom line to allow unlimited drinks in BC and not have to deal with this mess. Or have the FA just remember who drinks what and limit it to two?
We descended into pretty ugly Atlanta weather, but taxied to our C gate efficiently.
Another observation: AirTran cockpit crews use “codes” to communicate with FA’s. For example, they’ll blurt out “takeoff check” over the PA (be seated because we’ll be rolling), “descent check” (prepare the cabin), “landing check” (be seated, because we’ll be hitting the ground soon), and “arrival check” (not sure what this means, but it’s said on the ground taxing to the gate). Just an observation, because other airlines either use “bings” over the PA or something.
All in all, a good experience. Business Class was extremely comfortable and FC service was average for a short route. My only complaint was the complete lack of communication regarding our delay.
When I booked the hotel, all hotels in downtown/Peachtree (around the dome) were blocked. Some hotels were open in Buckhead or Perimeter, but I decided to book a room at the airport since I would be leaving early the next day. The Atlanta Airport Marriott was running a $80/nt promo rate, so I booked that. However, I called some hotels this morning before leaving for the airport. The Omni at CNN Center (.5 blocks to the dome) and the Embassy Suites Centennial Olympic Park (1 block to dome) both lifted the room block and wanted $280, so I booked the Embassy Suites so I could be closer to the action than a sterile airport hotel.
I think this is a new hotel (I don’t recall it existing during the Olympics). It’s a standard Embassy Suites with the garden atrium set up.
Atlanta weather sucked, but the skyline shrouded in fog was a neat image.
The games were enjoyable, but I was not a fanatic for any of the four teams. I will comment that the Indiana fans are now vying with Kentucky for the most obnoxious fans award. Alcohol is prohibited at NCAA events, so these folks came in already drunk with alcohol filling their pockets for later consumption. They were simply obnoxious. Oh well.
Returned to the ES around midnight and crashed.
I wasn’t sure how long Atlanta security would be today because it’s the end of the Easter weekend and spring break for many schools. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have access to the premium security line because I was flying AirTran.
I shared a cab with a friend who was flying Delta to Providence. He had bags to check, so we left ES at 5:45 and arrived Hartsfield about 6:10. There was no wait at curbside at all (took 10 seconds for bag check and boarding pass issue), no wait at FC/Medallion, and short wait at coach line.
I decided to stop by the AirTran ticket counter to check-in so I could spend more time in the Delta concourses with my friend. No line at Business Class check-in.
Security had no wait at this early hour My BP was quickly checked (no ID checked). Security was a little infuriating. There was something on the X-Ray monitor in the bag of the guy in line in front of me that required a “bag check”. So instead of pulling the bag aside and waiting for the bag checker, the NotSoBright sat there, quieting yelling bag check every 20 seconds. After about 5 minutes I got a security agent to explain what was going on. Well, the NotSoBright wanted the bag checked by hand, and only a bag checker could do that. So I said get a bag checker. (The guy who owned the bag was a once-a-year traveler who saw all the security stories on TV and assumed that this was the way it was supposed to be). After another 5 minutes of the agent yelling for a “bag check,” I told her that if a bag checker didn’t appear in 5 minutes I would demand to see the GSC. She hadn’t a clue what I met but the bag checker showed up anyway. The bag checker grabbed the guys bag, I grabbed mine, and that was that.
Atlanta’s Concourse B was quiet today. I waited for my friend to board his PVD bound flight. I then headed down the secret corridor between gate B28 and Concourse C. Not a person was in sight. It was spooky.
Observation: what’s up with the weird, cheapo stacking chairs in the ASA gate areas?
AirTran has its half of C packed. Every gate was in use. They have a pretty extensive route network out of Hartsfield. But C still sucks; people everywhere.
Again, the flight was delayed but no announcements or anything. This really irritates me. Finally, boarding began. Another fresh and new 717.
Another great cabin crew. Preflight drinks were offered.
Looking out my window, it appears that AirTran uses reverse thrusters to “powerback.” While this saves the time of having to use a tug, I thought it was determined unsafe because it could suck things (and people) into the engines? I noticed the “wingwalkers” would stand with their back to the aircraft they are directing. Why’s that?
Our aircraft filled up and pushed back about 20 minutes late. From the moment we “powerbacked” to the moment we touched down in Tampa, the plane did not stop (i.e., no wait for takeoff this Sunday morning at Atlanta).
Another typical AirTran BC flight. Beverage and a breakfast bar.
We arrived ontime into Tampa, thanks to schedule padding. I said hello to the “Agent in Training” who checked me in yesterday. She was surprised to see me. We touched down around 9:45, I was in my car by 9:48 and home by 10:05.
I was pleased with AirTran and would fly them again. Their business class fares are cheap and anyone can upgrade for only $25 on day of departure. Their network out of Atlanta is large. Out of Tampa, they also fly to Baltimore and Philly, in addition to ATL (all routes which I frequent). The only qualm I have is AirTran’s on-time record (I hear it’s delayed a lot, which my two flights were) and their DC-9’s? Are they comfortable. One of the big attraction of AirTran for me is the 717. It appears from the timetable that they use the DC-9 in long established markets where I guess people are used to them (LGA, BOS, PHL, SAV, IAD, etc.) and reserve the 717’s for new markets where they’re beginning to make a name for themselves and want to make a good impression (like PIT, MKE, BWI, etc.).
Just some comments:
1. Change your paint scheme and logo. Yuck
2. Get rid of the beverage coupons!
3. Announce and explain the cause of a flight delay.