Southwest Airlines Flight 2532
Dallas Love Field (DAL) - Austin Bergstrom (AUS)
Departs DAL 8:50am, arrives AUS 9:50am
Saturday, August 31
Flying time: 45 minutes
Photo © Jon Bradshaw
I pulled into Love Field at about 7:15 in the morning and found it relatively busy, owing to the Labor Day holiday. I checked my luggage all the way through to Los Angeles (if you're traveling on a Rapid Rewards pass, you can check luggage beyond the four-state limit... take THAT, Wright Amendment!) and had a look around Love Field since it had been a year since my last visit.
The terminal lobby has been butchered by a huge new security checkpoint for Southwest that occupies most of the old entrance to the three concourses. It was sorely needed, but it was sad to see more of the Love Field terminal design altered (I have a real soft spot for DAL, if you've ever read some of my posts on the Civil Aviation board.) The two lesser-used concourses (for Delta Connection and Continental Express) now have a small side entrance near the old American Airlines ticket counter.
The parking garage has always been one of my favorite spots at Love Field, and I was encouraged to see that it's been expanded to almost three times its former size. I headed up to watch the WN 737s stream in and out on Runway 13R and snap a few pictures. When the time came to head to the gate, I used the 'hidden' security checkpoint on the skybridge from the parking deck to the gates. No line at all, so if you fly out of Love Field, remember to use it.
The Austin flight this morning left out of Gate 8 on the West Concourse, which was occupied by the usual crush of morning passengers. Southwest has kept its gates in fairly nice shape, although the concourse does have low ceilings and pretty narrow corridors. Tough to believe it was once the domain of American Airlines back in the late 1960s and early 1970s...
I boarded with the 'A' Group using the forward jetway - Southwest has installed an experimental dual jetbrige at Gate 8 that allows forward and rear boarding through an over-the-wing jetway. It's a pretty monstrous-looking device, but apparently it cuts the boarding time in half. They've also got one at AUS. I took a seat on the right-hand side of the cabin, about four rows behind the wing (didn't get the seat number, but it's my favorite spot in any aircraft.) The flight was completely full, and my companions on the short jump to Austin were two businessmen who talked loudly the entire flight. Grrrrr.
Pushback was right on schedule and we taxied at a fast clip to the threshold of Runway 13 Right. I've noticed that Southwest flights seem to taxi much faster than other airlines, and many times the pilots bring the engines up to takeoff thrust before they enter the runway. It's kind of fun to take the turn onto the runway at full speed - lots of lateral G-forces.
Takeoff was fast and smooth and we climbed out over the very hazy Oak Lawn neighborhood and downtown Dallas. Early-morning haze and mist obscured most of the view on the way to Austin, although the impression I got was that we followed Interstate 35 most of the way south. The FAs performed their usual friendly drink-and-peanuts service and in no time at all, the captain announced our descent into Bergstrom International Airport.
We started down just as the aircraft passed the Temple-Belton area, and before long the suburban sprawl of north Austin appeared out my window. This was my first flight into the new Austin airport, and the long, straight-in approach affords some pretty nice views of downtown Austin off in the distance. It's no match for the fighter-jet style landing at the old airport, however (as an aside, I spotted poor abandoned Mueller Airport in the distance; the terminal and control tower are still standing, although the concourse 'finger' has been demolished.)
We passed the city and sank down into Bergstrom, roaring low over Ben White Boulevard and some pretty gross-looking junkyards on short final. Touchdown was on Runway 17 Left, the shorter runway that the city of Austin built onto the old air force base. I spotted a smattering of Southwest 737s, two American MD80s and a Delta MD80 at the airport terminal as we pulled into Gate 6.
Disembarking into the Barbara Jordan Passenger Terminal was an experience - basically, it's a pretty ugly hunk of steel. It looks modern now, but in ten years, it'll just be ugly. The piped-in country western music is a nice touch, however, and lets you know you're in Austin. My LBB-LAS-LAX flight was leaving from Gate 8, so I made the short walk over and picked up my boarding pass. Due to my tight connection, I got a 'B' group pass (choke, sob, will I get a window?) and resignedly got into the second line.
Southwest Airlines Flight 708
First Leg: Austin Bergstrom (AUS) - Lubbock International (LBB)
Departs AUS 10:05am, arrives LBB 11:10am
Flying time: 1 hour
Photo © Jason Knutson
Made my way onto the 737 and found the last remaining window seat, on the left side of the aircraft right behind the wing. This flight was about 85% full, and the aircraft was outfitted in standard Southwest interior - tan, orange and brown checkered seats with brown fittings.
Flying time was announced at 1 hour exactly and we pushed back from the gate about five minutes behind schedule. We taxied out to Runway 17 Right, which was the main runway back when Bergstrom was an Air Force Base. I could see a shorter runway paralleling it, which looks like it's been closed (although maybe someday it will become 17C-35C.) We took off to the south and climbed over farmland, making a sharp right turn to the west as we did so.
The drink service began in earnest, while out the window the landscape changed from the rolling green of the Hill Country to the sunbaked flats of west Texas. I can't say much about the scenery on a flight to Lubbock. It's not a horribly exciting place.
The captain started the approach after about 35 minutes in the air, and as we descended I noticed that the haze had cleared from the sky. We passed over Interstate 20 and headed northwest, and eventually I spotted the city of Lubbock off in the distance. The captain made a sharp, sharp turn to line up with the runway, but didn't quite make it - we performed a snappy little S-curve on final approach to correct the oversight. Down, down over the cotton fields we flew, for a textbook landing on Lubbock's runway 27. Spoilers came up, reverse thrust was applied and we braked to an almost complete stop at the end of the strip.
If you've ever been to Lubbock International Airport, you know it's not exactly the crossroads of the world, although its 25-year-old terminal building still looks quite modern (semicircular, with brown concrete and tinted glass, kind of a mini-DFW.) It has about five more jetway gates than it needs, most of which have been maneuvered off to the side to allow space for more ramp equipment.
The interlining passengers were asked to remain on board during the brief stop; about three-quarters of the people on the aircraft disembarked. The FAs took a head count, cleaned the aisles, and got ready for a new complement of passengers. Out the window, I saw another Southwest 737 (I'm pretty sure Southwest is now the only airline operating mainline jets into LBB), a Delta Connection CRJ and a Continental Express ERJ.
Southwest Airlines Flight 708 (continuation)
Second leg: Lubbock International (LBB) - Las Vegas McCarran (LAS)
departs LBB 11:35am, arrives LAS 11:40am
Flying time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Photo © Tim Lachenmaier
A full load of passengers boarded the plane - I moved across the aisle to a window seat on the left side of the cabin and ended up with a very chatty college student in the middle seat next to me. I made light conversation with her at first (she was en route to a sibling's wedding in Vegas) but was tired of her incessant chatter before the plane even pushed back.
As we pushed back I caught sight of LBB's old terminal across the runway; it looks like it was essentially a one-or-two-room brick structure with a quonset-style control tower on top. Maybe that explains why they built a new terminal about four sizes too large. The 737 taxied out the threshold of Runway 27, which is smack in the middle of cotton fields. We took off to the west, crossing over the north-south runway as we climbed out and affording an interesting view of the Southwest 737 on final approach.
About twenty minutes out of Lubbock, as the FAs came down the aisle taking drink orders (it's really nice not to have to deal with a clunky beverage cart blocking access to the lavatories), the landscape began to change dramatcially. The plains disappeared and rumpled, scorched desert began. As we crossed over the Rio Grande valley in central New Mexico, a United Airbus passed off to the right, although I couldn't tell if it was an A320 or A319.
The captain called our attention to the Grand Canyon about half an hour away from Las Vegas; it was a truly spectacular sight. I've always flown into LAS at night and had no idea the daytime approach was so impressive. Our descent seemed extremely slow, even after we passed below the level of the clouds. We made a gentle turn onto final approach over the Hoover Dam and Colorado River gorge; by that time passengers were oohing and aahing at the sights down below.
Our 737 made a routine approach to the east-west runway complex at McCarran, although we hit some moderate chop crossing over the Sunrise Mountains east of the airport. Final approach was over Interstate 515 and the commerical areas along Paradise Road - the Stratosphere Tower looked especially impressive in the distance. We thumped onto Runway 25 Left and rolled out using lots of reverse thrust.
In my opinion, McCarran International is one of the most scenic airports in the US - the huge casino hotels framing it to the north, and steep mountains on all sides. McCarran was a hub of activity as we taxied to the gate - a seemingly endless parade of Southwest 737s and America West Airbuses taking off and landing. We parked at Gate C23, the closest gate to the terminal building, and as the Las Vegas passengers deplaned I watched aircraft arrive and depart out my window. A few Continental 737s, National 757s, and a Delta 767-400 rounded out the aircraft mix.
Southwest Airlines Flight 708 (continuation)
Third leg: Las Vegas McCarran (LAS) - Los Angeles (LAX)
departs LAS 12:10pm, arrives LAX 1:30pm
Flying time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Photo © AirNikon
Same aircraft, but again with an almost completely new load of passengers. Quite a few interesting characters filed onto the 737 - three women dressed identically with identical leathery suntans and dark sunglasses, ladies with big hair, and men wearing tanktops and biker shorts. Pretty typical Las Vegas passengers, if my past flights there are anything to go on.
We pushed back from the gate on time and taxied out to the threshold of Runway 25R at a fast clip. From my right-hand seat I could see the Vegas suburbs snaking up the sides of the mountains near Henderson, shimmering in the 95-degree heat. Takeoff took us right over the lower end of the Las Vegas Strip and gave us an amazing view of the resort hotels, particularly the Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur. The 737 climbed out over the city's western suburbs and turned the southwest over the mountains.
Although it had been sunny in Las Vegas, we speared into the thick clouds about five minutes after takeoff and remained in and out of cloud for the remainder of the flight. I ordered a beer this time from the FAs (what the hey, it was after noon, right?) and settled back to enjoy my final flight of the day. Although I had an aisle seatmate, the middle seat was empty, and so I stretched out to enjoy a little bit of extra space.
We were only at cruising altitude for around 15 minutes before the captain slowed the plane and announced our descent into Los Angeles. LAX weather was overcast (there were indeed clouds hanging over the mountains to our north) but visibility still seemed very good. We came in over San Bernardino and flew over the suburban tangle of the Inland Valley, passing directly above Ontario International Airport. It looks to be a busy little airport - there were three aircraft lined up for takeoff and no less than six parked at the two terminal buildings.
Our approach took us over Pomona and the top of the Puente Hills, then the hazy Los Angeles skyline appeared out the window. The captain raised the spoilers, lowered the flaps, and the beautiful rumbling sound of descent filled the cabin. Final approach took us down over south central LA, the 110 freeway, and then suburban Inglewood. Finally we roared over the 405 freeway (the familiar 'Randy's Donuts' sign was visible) and Sepulveda Boulevard before landing smoothly on LAX's Runway 24 Left.
It was overcast and a little misty at LAX - weather you might expect at SFO. As our 737 swung around to backtrack to the terminal area, I saw three (3!) Qantas 747s parked at the old TWA hangar. An El Al 747-400, Mexicana A320 and the Air Tahiti Nui A340 were at the Tom Bradley International Terminal, while at Terminal 2 I spotted two Northwest 757s, a 747-200, and an Air New Zealand 767 and 747-400. We pulled into Terminal 1's Gate 3A (the Arizona One aircraft was parked next to us at 3B) and my long trip to Los Angeles had come to an end.
LAX's Terminal 1 has basically been taken over by Southwest; US Airways and America West occupy a few gates at the end of the concourse, but the red and gold are everywhere you look. It's also starting to look a little shabby and outdated (I had always thought of it as the 'new' terminal at LAX, since it opened in 1984.) It clearly needs more baggage carousels; the two that Southwest uses are not enough. My bags came out of the chute and I headed for the terminal exit to meet my friends.
Long, long trip report. Thanks for sticking with it (if you're still reading!) It was a very enjoyable trip, and the service by the FAs was friendly and reliable the whole way. I will say that four stops on any airline is a little much, however.
It's late, and I'm falling asleep, so my return trip report (LAX-ELP-HOU-DAL) will have to wait until tomorrow. In the meantime, let me know how you like this one. I took LOTS of pictures out the window, but since I only have a regular and not a digital camera, there's no way to show them to you.