Another summer has gone by and I recently made the trip back up to Chicago to start my senior year of college at Northwestern. I was a little sad to be doing it, as this was a great summer for me in terms of flying. I flew more than I ever had before, and saw five new airports in the process. But all good things must come to an end...
Friday, September 20
American Airlines 2388
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) - Chicago Midway (MDW)
Fokker 100; Seat 11F
Departs 12:44pm, arrives 3:02pm
Flying time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
All of AA's Chicago flights (along with flights to LAX, SJC, PHX and a few other cities) depart from the recently-constructed Terminal B addition at DFW. When I showed up, it was looking pretty busy... a very long line at the check-in counter and an even longer line at security. Fortunately, I was able to check in using the OneStop machine for passengers with e-tickets and bypass the main line. As luck would have it, a family friend was traveling to SJC this day and so talking with her made the fifteen minutes I spent in line for security go much faster.
Once through security I made my way down to Gate B2, all the way at the end of the concourse, stopping at Sbarro to pick up a slice of warm, greasy pizza on the way (when I started school back in '99, all the Chicago flights had Bistro meal service, but the cutbacks after Sept. 11 took care of that.) By the time I got to the gate, they were boarding all groups and I was able to walk straight onto the plane.
Our F100 still had the old light blue American interior (which now looks very outdated compared to the new furnishings) although the More Room Throughout Coach setup helped considerably. The flight was almost 100% full, which was encouraging; after September 11, I was certain that American would cut its DFW-MDW flights. Instead, they've added more flights and will also start MDW-LGA service soon. I guess ATA is keeping them on their toes.
As the FAs were making their final check of the cabin, the jerk across the aisle from me (in seat 11B) refused to turn off his cell phone. He was involved in a business conversation and kept waving the flight attendant off as she tried to talk to him, saying "I'll turn it off in a minute." When she threatened to have him removed from the aircraft, he complied in a hurry. Funny how some of those business-traveler types think the phone rule doesn't apply to them.
We pushed back with a tug instead of using reverse thrust the way many of American's DFW flights do, and I got a terrific view of the construction work on DFW's new International Terminal D as the engines were started and the control surfaces tested. The frame for the building is up (it's massive!) and they're now assembling the vaulted truss roofs at each end of the building. Looks like it will be a world-class facility when it opens.
We taxied down to the threshold of Runway 36 Right (the west runway complex) and joined an American 757 and MD80, two American Eagle ERJs and a United 737-500 in the takeoff queue. Finally our turn came and we made a smooth takeoff to the north, rotating about 7,000 feet down the runway (now that 18L-36R has been extended to 13,000 feet, I guess the pilots don't feel the need to rush their takeoffs.) We climbed out over Lewisville, then made a slight right hand turn and followed US Highway 75 north to the Oklahoma border.
The captain came over the loudspeaker and told us that there was a cold front moving down across Illinois, and to expect lots of bumps for the last half of our flight. We climbed to a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet, and once there I opened up the American Way magazine (Jamie Lee Curtis was on the cover this issue) and thumbed through it.
Sure enough, as the crew was completing its drink service, a towering line of clouds appeared off to the north and east of our aircraft. The captain came on and pointed out the cold front, and asked the crew to collect cups and glasses early and take their seats. It became VERY bumpy as we flew through the clear-air turbulence along the leading edge of the front - the plane was slewing back and forth in addition to the usual up-and-down bumps. We descended several thousand feet to an altitude in between the cloud layers, although the air didn't get any smoother.
After about twenty minutes of bumping, the captain announced that we would start an early descent into Chicago, although we were still almost 250 miles away from Midway Airport. We sank down into the clouds, bouncing all the way, and broke out at a much lower altitude than I expected. The crew held us at this altitude for quite awhile as they flew towards Chicago. It was nice to be able to see small towns in greater detail - we passed directly above Springfield, Illinois, where I could see the domed capitol building downtown. A few minutes later we flew over the Bloomington-Normal area where Illinois State University and the new terminal at the Central Illinois Regional Airport were visible.
It got bumpy as we started descending again, and cloudier; as the F100 flitted in and out of clouds I saw the Chicago metropolitan area begin to appear. We flew over the south suburbs on the base leg of our approach (I got my bearings by reading the elevated water towers - Orland Park, then Markham and 'City of Harvey'). We then swung into the usual turn onto final approach over Lake Calumet and the Illinois International Port, crossing over Interstate 57. The landing gear thumped down as we passed above the Beverly/Gresham area of Chicago's south side, a usual sight on approach to Midway's Runway 31C. But then...
... as we flew over the Dan Ryan Woods forest preserve at about 2,000 feet, we swung into a hard right turn and headed north... for the fighter-jet style approach to Runway 22 Left! We followed Western Avenue north, still descending through turbulence, before making another sharp left turn over the McKinley Park neighborhood. When the F100 leveled off, we were on very short finals - down we went over the rooftops of Archer Heights, then the rental car lots along 55th Street and Cicero Avenue, before skimming the boundary fence and touching down smartly on 22L. One of my favorite approaches.
We turned off the runway at the last taxiway intersection and headed back towards the terminal area; an ATA 757-200 in the new colors touched down right behind us, then a Frontier A319 (with a deer on the tail) departed. Southwest 737s were departing from the intersecting runway 31C - odd that MDW would use both its intersecting runways for takeoffs...
Our F100 docked at Gate C1 next to a Continental 737 and a Delta 737-800. The three gates on the C Concourse share one large waiting area and it was very crowded as we deplaned. Continental, Frontier, Delta and American all share the three gates; hopefully, Delta and Frontier will be moving to new gates in the A Concourse when they open in 2004. The new B Concourse for Southwest Airlines is coming along nicely; the entire frame is up and workers are installing exterior facing. It's supposed to open next spring.
In sum, a nondescript trip on American. The turbulence kept the FAs in their seats for the majority of the flight, so I can't comment on the service very much. It's good to be back at school though... hopefully at Thanksgiving I'll be making an MDW-DFW-MDW trip (or possibly one from O'Hare.)