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OMA-IAH-SAT On CO And CO Express (longish)

Mon Oct 13, 2003 5:24 pm

Flight: from Omaha, NE (OMA-Eppley Field) to San Antonio, TX (SAT-San Antonio Intl.)
Depart: 3-Oct-03 at 6:20 AM
Arrive: 3-Oct-03 at 10:28 AM

I scheduled this flight for a couple reasons. First, I wanted to visit my relatives in sunny San Antonio and secondly, I used it as a dress rehearsal for my upcoming trip to the UK in November. An added benefit is that the OMA-IAH leg was an ERJ145, similar to what I would be flying on the domestic legs of the upcoming trip (except those flights would be American Eagle, not CO Express). The flight was booked as a NW/CO codeshare, so the trip down would be via CO and the trip back would be with NW, giving me the opportunity to see how two different airlines handle themselves. Luggage carried this trip was only a carryon, but with a secondary bag packed for any goodies purchased in San Antonio. The carry on was a brand new backpack setup, where I could stow the straps and use it like a normal bag.

Arrival at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield (OMA) was at about 5:00AM. Changes since my last flight in May of 2002 had the TSA in full operation with checked luggage screening done before the ticket counter. The checking process was all manual, with the TSA guys having to lift each piece of luggage to a table, open it, then essentially wand check the contents. Even at the beginning of the shift, these guys already looked rather ragged from having to do this and it was a rather small aircraft. I can empathize as even though I pack light, my folks ALWAYS overpack on their trips! Luckily, since I had only a carryon, I didn’t have to get my bag screened this way. I went up to a CO rep, handed over my itinerary and she essentially typed in the essential information into a self-check in kiosk and I was issued my boarding passes. She did mention that I could also do this online up to 30 hours before the flight leaves and I will probably do that the next time I fly CO (assuming it can be done with tickets purchased through Expedia).

Check in complete, I went upstairs and still had plenty of time before my flight. I had a Krispy Kreme donut and some hot tea before going through security since I wasn’t sure exactly what food service was available on the other side of the security checkpoint (turns out the same food choices, oh well). No mention was made to empty my pockets of metal stuff before going through the detector, so naturally I had just enough stuff on me to set off the alarm. I got manually wanded as a result and it picked up every piece of metal on me. Oh well, at least the TSA rep was pretty friendly. Like I said, this was something of an educational trip for me anyway.

I sat down at gate 10 and took in the sights. It was still very dark outside, so I didn’t get a good look at the ERJ. Next door was an America West SG 737, but I couldn’t make out the number on the side. A CO rep attached a blue “check bag at gate” tag to my carryon, as it was too big to fit in the tiny bins on the ERJ. I had two smaller items in the bag that I could take on the plane, a CD player and a digital camera. I chose my camera, as I always prefer pictures to music for IFE.  Smile Boarding commenced at about 5:50 AM. There was some commotion on the CO radio about an International passenger who arrived at the ticket counter with a LOT of luggage and they wondered if she could still board our flight. I don’t know if that passenger made it or got bumped to a later flight (always pays to show up early, ESPECIALLY for International flights). Finally my number was called and down the jetway I went. I handed off my bag to the baggage guy and boarded.

Depart: Omaha (OMA), 3-Oct-03 at 6:20 AM
Arrive: Houston (IAH), 3-Oct-03 at 8:35 AM Terminal B
Aircraft: Embraer EMB-145
Meal Service: n/a
Duration: Not Available
Distance: 795 mi (1279 km)
Economy/Coach Class

I’d seen pictures of ERJ interiors before, so I was somewhat prepared for what I saw. But, space is really at a premium on these planes. The center aisle reminded me of an action figure blister pack since it was very form fitting. The overhead bins were indeed pretty small, so I stowed my camera bag under the seat. My seat was 7A, a window/aisle seat on the left side (two seats on the right side). I like this arrangement, as I got the best of both worlds. Seats were trimmed in leather in a staggered blue, then gray color arrangement (very nice). Seats were very comfortable and I had plenty of legroom. The ceiling was rather low though. Only problem is that the overhead speakers didn’t have very good volume as I had to strain to understand what was being said, even though my head was right next to a speaker. The air nozzles provided lots of air to keep me cool, but I don’t think the AC was running on the ground as I didn’t get pelted with any ice pellets. I heard this can happen on an ERJ even in the height of summer on the ground with the AC going full blast.

Pushback occurred right on time and we taxied for takeoff immediately with no waiting. Departure was on runway 14R and takeoff roll was only about 22 seconds. On takeoff, I noticed that runway 14L, the commuter runway, was closed and had a big lighted “X” at the end of the threshold. Climbout was very smooth and comparable with a larger jet, just not quite as noisy. A few miles to the south, we climbed into unbroken overcast and it was pretty much this way for most of the flight. It was still pretty dark outside and the sun didn’t begin to come up until after 7:00AM. Once we leveled off a bit, I pulled out my camera and decided to try and shoot some pictures of the sunrise. Inflight meal service consisted of a muffin and some drinks. I had an apple juice for my first drink and later had some water as I was still battling the effects of a minor cold from the week before. I managed to shoot about four or five pics of the sunrise and got some interest from both an aisle partner and the flight attendant on my amateur photography skills. Flight was very smooth and our cruising altitude was about 35,000 feet. There was some stormy weather over Tulsa, OK, but it was far below us. I did see one lighting flash out of a small cumulus cloud though. The clouds pretty much remained mostly unbroken until we got to Houston. When the sun did come up, I did have to pull the shade to keep the sun from blinding the people sitting across from me. You don’t normally have that problem in a wider jet.

At about 8:10, we began our descent, but the captain informed us we would be sitting in a holding pattern due to the usual traffic stack up that hits IAH at this time of the morning. I was a little concerned as I had to change terminals to meet my connecting flight and my connection time was only 55 minutes before this delay. But, not much one can do except watch the world go by outside. At one point, we did pass over a 757 at lower altitude, although I couldn’t recognize what airline it was (two bluish streaks on the fuselage IIRC). Finally we were cleared for final approach at about 8:30 and we touched down at about 8:50.

Taxi to the gate was pretty fast and the CO Express portion of terminal B seemed very busy with busses taking passengers to and from awaiting ERJ aircraft. Luckily, probably due to the delay, we got cleared to a jetway and I managed to offload at about 8:55, although I did have to wait another four minutes for my bag to get offloaded (which it did in a very speedy fashion). I also did get a sore reminder of just how small the ERJ was as I managed to bump my head on the ceiling, while trying to go straight up (go out at an angle, not right up next time). The backpack straps came in very handy for the terminal change, as I was able to walk faster then most people with their rolling bags. Maps of the terminal in the inflight magazines weren’t very clear, but the CO staff pointed me in the right direction. I didn’t have much time for sightseeing, but I did spy some NW airliners in the new colors at Terminal B, and they looked very slick (hope to see some at OMA soon). Upstairs, I caught the tram that connects Terminal B with Terminal C and it offers a very good view of the airport operations. If I had more time, I would have shot some pictures on the tram ride. But not this time with my tight connection. In Terminal C, I passed near the International security station and it looked pretty chaotic even at this time of the morning. I stopped just long enough to get a bottle of fruit punch to keep myself hydrated on the walk to my gate. I finally arrived with about 20 minutes before departure and the gate reps assured me there was no hurry. They scanned my boarding pass and it was down the jetway for the IAH-SAT portion of my trip.

Depart: Houston (IAH), 3-Oct-03 at 9:27 AM Terminal C
Arrive: San Antonio (SAT), 3-Oct-03 at 10:28 AM Terminal 2
Flight: Northwest 7621, OPERATED BY CONTINENTAL AIRLINES -- CO1621
Aircraft: MDC MD80
Meal Service: n/a
Duration: Not Available
Distance: 191 mi (307 km)
Economy/Coach Class

The interior of this CO MD-80 was very clean, with blue cloth seats in coach. Seats 17D and E were occupied when I arrived with a mother and adult daughter travelling from New Jersey to see a younger sister attending college in San Antonio. The row in front was currently unoccupied and they did suggest I might consider sitting there for more room, but I reassured them it would probably fill up pretty quick due to the air traffic back up. Turns out I was right as the row did fill up about 5 minutes after I sat down in 17F. Pushback occurred on time, although we did spend about another 15 minutes in line (number 5) for takeoff. We taxied behind a CO 737 and a 757-300. It was the first time I’d seen a 753 up close and it looked pretty long. I spent the time chatting with my seat companions about the joys of living in the Midwest compared to the east coast and the comparison of schools there (the daughter was a grade school teacher). Finally we were positioned for takeoff. Takeoff roll was about 32 seconds long, yet very smooth and so was the climbout. This was only a 45-minute flight, so we would only reach a cruising altitude of about 27,000 feet for this 200-mile hop. The sky was clear and the ground yielded a lot of sights, such as the word “LUEKE” carved into the grass near a small airstrip (probably a ranch or farm). Drink service was quick and I ordered a glass of Sprite to keep myself hydrated. Indeed, about five minutes after drink service started (two carts, one from the front, one from the rear). It was already time for descent into SAT. Descent was very smooth and again I chatted with my seat companions about some of the sights worth seeing in San Antonio.

Touchdown occurred at about 10:24 am in San Antonio and we taxied rather quickly to our gate in Terminal 2 (the old terminal building). Gate arrival occurred right on time at 10:28 am. Terminal 2 from the outside looked rather dated compared to the newer Terminal 1 building to the east. I can remember the good old days when this was the only passenger terminal at SAT with service from Braniff, Southwest, Texas International, Continental and Western. Today, Terminal 2 only has flights from AA, CO and HP (America West) while Terminal 1 services the majority of airlines servicing SAT. Inside, the terminal didn’t look all that different, but with a lot more food and gift shops then I once remembered. Since I didn’t have to grab a checked bag, I took a leisurely stroll through the terminal to check out the sites, since it is quite possible that this building will be torn down in a couple years to make way for a newer terminal building. Since I had spent a lot of time in this building during my childhood, I wanted to take in as many sights as I could. On the way to the ticket counters, I passed by the old west concourse, where the TI flights once operated. Since those days, its been walled up and glassed over. The baggage claim and ticket counters looked about the same as they always had. Finally, I met my party and went on to enjoy my weekend in sunny San Antonio, where on Saturday night I would “Rock and Roll All Night and Party Everyday” and experience some "Sweet Emotion"! As for the educational reasons of this trip, I got a lot of questions answered and it should make my OMA-ORD-LHR and back trips go that much more smoothly this November.

I give high marks to the CO staff and will try to fly with them again soon. Since I have relatives in SAT, I will keep flying with them for the level of service provided, as long as the prices are comparable.
I would rate the flights as follows (on a scale of 1 to 10):

Ease of booking: 10
Check In service: 8
Security service: 8
Friendliness of CO staff: 10
In Flight service: 8
Ease of plane change: 7 (due to tight connection from the delay)
On time service: 7 (would have been 10 except for the delay into IAH)
Baggage service: 10 (for my carryon on the OMA-IAH flight, no checked bag)

Check back in a few days and I should have the return leg of my trip posted, SAT-MEM-OMA on Northwest Airlines. Thank you for reading.

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