Wednesday, November 27, 2002
Continental Flight 3186, CLE-ABE
ExpressJet Airlines dba Continental Express
Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica S.A. (EMBRAER) ERJ-135ER -- N14508
Seat 6A (left side, single seat, about two rows in front of the wing)
Scheduled Departure 7:05 PM, early from the gate, on time for t/o
Scheduled Arrival 8:21 PM, arrived early
Departure Gate D6
Arrival Gate 8
Photo © Norman Walesch
Conditions at departure: Information Echo / wind 240 @ 11 / alt 3031 / temp -2 / dp -6 / ceiling 4600 o/c / visibility 10 / ILS 24L / Landing 24L / Departing 24C (Personal observation: ceiling 2000 scattered, 2500 broken)
Conditions at landing: gusty winds, clear below 2000 ft
I usually take Cleveland's RTA Rapid Transit train to the airport after parking my car at the last station before the airport. This time I was rewarded by finding a USAirways pilot riding the train with me. He was taking his young daughter to Lynchburg, VA, and was piloting the last USAirways flight out to CLT for the night. This man has been flying for USAirways for 15 years; he was initially hired by Piedmont Airlines but shortly thereafter Piedmont was bought by USAir. He started out flying DC-9s and MD-80s, but moved into 757/767 and is now spending most of his time flying the 737. I didn't get a chance to ask him if he was flying left seat, but with 15 years' experience that is probably a good assumption.
At the airport, I checked in electronically. Continental seems to be encouraging everyone with eTickets to check in electronically and in fact their huge ticket desk area was almost completely empty. Since I don't have a credit card I wasn't sure I could use the electronic check-in, but I was told that their machine could read my Ohio Driver's License, since it has a magnetic strip. That's a little scary -- it knew exactly who I was.
After I received my boarding pass I headed to the Concourse C tunnel, where TSA has set up its security checkpoints. CLE's new director, John Mok, recently established the change in checkpoint location -- the checkpoints used to be at the inside end of each concourse. Mok's goal was to increase sales at the concessions there in the center of the terminal, since passengers won't have to rush past them to get through security. Until Wednesday, I wondered what would happen the first time someone ran through a checkpoint; now I see that they have set up ropes ala amusement park rides, so it is nearly impossible to run through.
At the tunnel entrance there was a huge crowd of people and at first I thought the checkpoint was horrendously backed up. It turns out that the crowd was full of people waiting for passengers coming out of Concourse C, and there were few people actually going through the checkpoint. When I arrived at the security table I was behind one man; by the time I had taken off my coat and put everything on the conveyor belt, he was gone. My total transit time through the security checkpoint: approximately 2 minutes. I was impressed. But most of that time was actually spent walking through the rest of the checkpoint. Beyond the familiar security table and conveyor belt was another set of roped off walkways, extra screening machines, the bomb residue detector, and many waiting TSA agents armed with wands. While many of them stood by waiting for work, none appeared bored or distracted; everyone seemed to be paying attention and ready to work.
My total check-in time was 13 minutes -- arrived at the airport at 5:40 PM and through security to the concourse clock at 5:53 PM.
The airport was busy as expected. There were many people walking in both directions. Back at the ticketing area there were reporters from at least three different television stations set up to report on the heavy travel. Yet everything seemed to be going smoothly. The walk to Concourse D is long but I was able to relax and take my time.
When I got to my gate and checked in, I got my gate-check tag for my suitcase (small enough to fit in an overhead bin on a 737, but has to be gate checked on RJs) and was immediately asked if I would volunteer. "For what?" I asked and the agent told me the flight was overbooked, and would get a $250 travel certificate and an overnight hotel accomodation if I would take a morning flight; or they could put me on a Northwest Airlines itinerary connecting through DTW if I wanted to get there at 10:48 that night. She let me used the gate phone to call my parents but I found out that my father's flight had arrived on time at EWR, so I knew that my family would be waiting for me on time at ABE. So I declined to volunteer. And so did everyone else on the flight, except for the two people who hadn't checked in at the gate by the time we began boarding, so they were the odd ones out.
There was one TSA agent at the gate when I arrived and another joined him shortly before we began boarding. Although there were only 37 people on the flight, at least two were pulled out of line for secondary screening. We boarded through a jetway on the west side of Concourse D. The east side gates are still multiple-door gates to the ramp.
The ERJ-135 was not the most comfortable aircraft, but I'm almost never comfortable in RJ or turboprop seats these days. They just weren't made for a size 20/22 woman. Yes, I'm obese, but not that much! Perhaps I should think of it as just one more incentive to lose weight? I kept thinking about how uncomfortable this aircraft would make my father, because he would have to duck just to board and walk through the plane, and he would have to bend almost double to get into a seat. He's only 6 feet tall. I did, however, find the lavatory to have a good amount of space for an RJ.
I noticed that there was music playing on the overhead speakers. We heard Muzak until the door was closed and then we heard a prerecorded flight safety briefing, accompanied by illustrations from Heather, our flight attendant. Our pilot also gave us a preflight announcement of conditions and what we should expect during our flight. I've never heard so much information from the pilot before a flight -- ever.
When we pushed back I saw that the west Concourse D gates have the same electronic signs that I saw at DTW, telling the flight number, destination, and time until scheduled departure. We were well ahead of schedule. Our taxi route was the usual: Spot 1 (between the ends of Concourses C and D), Juliet, Uniform, Runway 28, Zulu, position and hold on Runway 24C at the numbers. We were initially behind seven other planes (all Continental 737s and ERJs) but by the time we began our roll there were at least ten aircraft behind us (all ERJs except one ACA FRJ.) Our pilot apologized for the delay and said we were going to move slowly because there were a lot of planes landing at the same time as we were departing. I thought "HA! This is nothing!" since I am often out at the end of CLE's runways at 7:15 PM on weekdays and I've seen much worse!
One thing I noticed on Runway 28 was the hold-short lights. I just can't understand how a pilot could overrun the critical area with those things flashing in his/her face. They were bright and highly visible to me even though they weren't aimed at an ERJ's seat 6A. As far as I'm concerned an attentive pilot should never create a runway incursion at that hold short line, yet I've seen it happen several times. Argh.
We were off the ground roughly parallel with the end of Concourse C. There was some very loud vibration of an internal fixture near the front of the aircraft as we accelerated, and after a brief pause, a burst of even louder vibration just after we were airborne. That was unnerving at the time but I didn't hear it again for the remainder of the flight. We made a right turn 280 at about 1500 feet and then another turn to 180 after we reached 2000-2500 feet. I could see LPR off to the left. We crossed the Lake Erie shoreline approximately 10 miles east of Lorain, Ohio.
According to our pilot we cruised at 23,000 feet. Our actual flight time was estimated at 55 minutes. I think we were on the ground in line for about 15 minutes.
I didn't follow our route very closely since there were clouds beneath us which distorted the perspective. However the overcast had quite obviously broken up when we took off and the clouds beneath us were widely scattered all the way across Pennsylvania.
Our landing at ABE was done with the formulaic downwind, base, final. We landed on Runway 24, turned off at Bravo, and taxied in Bravo, Alpha (A-3), ramp. We had a jetway at ABE.
Sunday, December 1, 2002
Continental Flight 3161, ISP-CLE
ExpressJet Airlines dba Continental Express
Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica S.A. (EMBRAER) ERJ-145 -- N16541
Seat 6A (left side, single seat, several rows in front of the wing)
Scheduled Departure 10:15 AM, early at approximately 10:10 AM
Scheduled Arrival 11:55 AM, arrived early, out of jetway just before 11:40 AM
Departure Gate 9
Arrival Gate C29
No photo available in Airliners.net database: statistics below
EMB-145LR, m.s.n. 145542, certified 5/30/2002
Conditions at departure: Clear and cold, very gusty winds
Conditions at landing: Temp 21 wind chill 11 winds from the south
This was my first time flying out of ISP. It was recommended by my parents since they have flown out of ISP on Southwest Airlines. ISP is a new-looking, clean airport with wide open spaces. It is small, approximately the same size as ABE (slightly larger.)
Once again I used the electronic kiosk to get my boarding pass. Since I had a backpack with me now I checked my suitcase. Check-in took less than five minutes.
Just as I was walking towards security I saw one of the professors who teaches at my college. I ended up waiting with her much of the time and I helped her with her bag at both ends of the trip. She is a dignified older woman who probably didn't need my help, but since she accepted it I was glad to be friendly. We were, of course, on the same flight home for the same reason -- finals week starts today!
TSA was once again very efficient, although they stopped the professor and checked through her bags and all. I ended up being separated from her several times but that was OK because I was exhausted (my 10th high school reunion was last night) and needed a little time for myself anyway. Unfortunately for us spotters, there are prominent "NO PHOTOGRAPHS" signs all over the airport. Argh.
Once we were boarded, the plane was full but apparently not overbooked. We had two female ramp rat/bagsmashers which I thought was interesting. I've never seen an all female ground crew. We were serenaded aboard with "Can't Hurry Love" on the overhead speakers, and other light pop until we were ready for pushback.
While we were still at the ramp I saw at least one Southwest Airlines flight arrive and several Cessna 172s appear to land. Once we pushed back, though, I saw that it was probably the same Cessna 172 all of those times -- practicing touch-and-gos. Around us at the gates we had N638SW, N622DL, and N7...AE, an American Eagle ERJ-135. While our gate and Gate 10 required us to walk out on the ramp and use air stairs, the rest of the gates appeared to have jetways.
Photo © James Richard Covington, Jr
Photo © Andy Jung
Once again our pilot gave us information before takeoff. We had a 1h 30m flight time and would cruise at 26,000 feet. He warned us that we had gsty winds from the west-southwest and that takeoff would be bumpy. We taxied out on Sierra, Echo, Foxtrot, and held at the threshold of Runway 24. We must have held for arriving traffic on 33L or the touch-and-go plane on 33R, because we were the only aircraft at Runway 24.
Takeoff was somewhat rough. We experienced yaw and a little bit of roll in the first 1000 feet, then some bumps up to 1500, but after that it was like we broke through to another layer of air which was smooth as silk.
After departure we made a left turn heading approximately 010 and flew along the southern shore of Long Island. Just past the Brookhaven Airport, we turned 180 degrees and headed back west just south of Fire Island. I couldn't help but to think that my friend Patty Kwiat died there, near Center and East Moriches, in the explosion of TWA 800.
We traveled along the ocean shore but far enough out and high enough that the ocean surface was a mackerel pattern of whitecaps on gray surf. It was beautiful. I thought about how peaceful it looked from above, and that gave me some comfort knowing that Patty had died in such a beautiful place.
We crossed the New Jersey shoreline over Asbury Park, NJ. At that point I was so exhausted that I fell asleep. The flight was incredibly smooth because I didn't feel a single bump all the way to Cleveland.
I woke up when the pilot called for the flight attendant, Heather, to be seated. It dawned on me then that I probably had the exact same flight crew on my plane for the ISP-CLE flight as I had on the CLE-ABE flight on Wednesday. But I didn't get a chance to ask; however the pilot's voice and way of keeping us informed lead me to believe it was at least two out of three of the same people.
We followed the usual Lake Erie shore approach to ENGEL, FOORD, and landed on Runway 24L. Touchdown was as good as I've ever felt. We turned off at the high speed Hotel and taxied straight in to the ramp.
There was quite a bit of traffic at the airport again, Concourse C was very full. But when I left the concourse and looked back at the security checkpoints, everything appeared to be going smoothly once again.
Does anyone know if that "informing pilot" is now part of ExpressJet Airlines' training?