Another first for me is that this is the first airline trip I have taken since 1999 that did not involve either business or a funeral. While attending a wedding is not exactly a vacation, this was definitely a leisure trip, the first I have been able to take in a long time.
And most importantly to this forum, this is my first trip report. As such, you will notice some things missing as I took lousy notes, since I [duh!] forgot to take anything to write with!
On to the trip:
US Airways flight 250
ORF-PHL Friday, 21 May 2004
Depart 1:00pm, Arrive 2:04pm
N350US (dot-com livery), 737-300 former Piedmont bird that needs some interior work
Photo © Paul Kanagie
Photo © JetPix
I got to Norfolk International Airport at about 11:30am for my 1pm flight. As this was just a quick weekend wedding trip, I had only a carryon bag and a camera bag and did not need to check anything. So with online boarding pass in hand, I proceeded to concourse A security. Concourse A is the old wing, and houses only US Airways and Southwest. It has few amenities, rusting jetways and rotting furniture. The newer Concourse B, which houses American, United, Northwest, Continental, and Delta, has better lighting, better furniture, better everything. Concourse A seems to be a lonely place.
Getting through security was no trouble at all, I waited in line all of 45 seconds. I proceeded down to gate 5 where our plane was already waiting at the gate more than an hour away from departure. I sat down, got out my book and got a good 20 pages read before the first boarding announcement. Since I was in row 12, I was one of the last to board. Our flight was 100% full, but I didn't have any trouble stowing my carryon in the overhead. But when I sat down, I noticed that the overhead compartment door directly across from me was taped shut. What struck me as more-than-appropriate was the fact that they had Band-Aids holding that door shut. Actual self-adhesive bandages from the first-aid kit. Someone took the saying "just put a band-aid on it" a little too literally.
At 1:00pm we pushed back from the gate and taxied to RWY 23 for an on-time departure. Considering there were severe thunderstorms over Pennsylvania, I was worried about being delayed. But once we got to the runway we took off almost immediately. Once we got to 35,000 ft the flight attendants began the beverage service. No can, just a cup with very little ice that melted almost immediately after they poured the Sprite into it. And no pretzels. The flight itself was smooth, turbulence-free and on-time. The thunderstorms had not affected Philly too much and we landed and taxied to the gate without incident.
US Airways Express flight 3949
Operated by Allegheny Airlines
PHL-MDT Friday, 21 May 2004
Depart 3:35pm (scheduled) 4:00pm(ish) (actual)
Arrive 4:16pm (scheduled) 4:35pm(ish) (actual)
This was my first Express flight on Allegheny. I'm not impressed. While the pilots and F/A's were all very pleasant people and did an excellent job, the planes are crap, held together mostly with duct tape, with loose panels vibrating the entire time. And the ventilation on this particular plane worked intermittently, so the entire flight was very hot, very humid, very uncomfortable. So with a 100% load and 90-degree weather outside, it smelled like a locker room by the time we landed in Harrisburg.
I can't say I'm in love with the Philly airport either. Since I was connecting from US mainline to Express, I had to walk outside and catch a bus to terminal F. Since I had an hour and a half for my connection, I grabbed some lunch first and then walked... and walked... and walked to gate F17. We boarded on time and pushed back on time, but after we sat on the apron with one prop spinning for about 15 minutes it was clear we weren't going anywhere. Eventually the captain came on the PA and told us that everyone was being held up because of storms to the south and the planes in front of us were headed that way so they had been ground stopped. He said he was trying to get permission from the tower to cut in line since we were headed west, not south, so we could get off the ground and get on with it. Apparently he got ATC to agree because about 5 minutes later we entered the taxiway and headed for whichever runway didn't have a delayed plane parked at the end of it. We taxied forever and finally took off 30 minutes late. Our pilots pushed that Dash-8 and we ended up landing only 20 minutes late.
Since I was seated in 1A, I had a chance to chat with the F/A briefly after she finished the beverage service. I mentioned that I was headed to a friend's wedding and that the groom's brother, whom I'd never met before and who had never met me, was waiting at the airport in Harrisburg to pick me up, and that this should be interesting because not only had we never met, I'm also running late! When I deplaned the F/A wished me good luck. Fortunately I didn't have to claim any bags so I hoofed it to the main terminal where, as luck would have it, the groom himself, who I have known for several years, was waiting for me. Apparently his brother had been there earlier but gave up on me and left. Here's another first for me: An airline delay actually being a good thing! Who knew?
Fast forward to Sunday morning, friends are now hitched, and I'm on my way back to MDT for the flight home. Today's going to be an all-Dash8 day. yay. I'm really not a fan of these sardine-cans.
US Airways Express flight 4076
Operated by Allegheny Airlines
MDT-LGA Sunday, 23 May 2004
Not once during this trip was I able to see a registry anywhere on an Allegheny Dash-8. I'm sure they're there somewhere, but I never saw them.
In Harrisburg, if you're flying an Express flight you have to go upstairs for security screening, then back downstairs to the gates. And MDT is under heavy construction so everything is crammed into a very small usable area. I walked all the way to the end of the terminal... gate B9B. We boarded on time and departed on time, and since there were maybe 15 people on this flight they only made one boarding announcement. No pre-boarding, no rows called, basically "Ok, everyone who's going to La Guardia get on the plane now." I was seated in 2A and had the row to myself. Since nobody was booked in row 1 (an exit row on a Dash-8) one tall guy got up from his seat in the back and moved up front. The F/A also sat in 1A-C instead of the fold-down seat.
This particular Dash-8 was in worse shape than the PHL-MDT plane but at least the ventilation worked. The pilots warned of some turbulence heading into NYC but we managed to avoid most of it and only hit a couple of bumps. After flying over Manhattan... another first for me... we approached over Flushing Bay and landed on RWY 22. When we got to the US Airways Terminal, there were airstairs leading up to empty jetways. With the passengers milling around on the ramp one of the rampers pointed us in the general direction of, well, two of the gates. As a herd we picked the one on the left and headed up the stairs. Apparently the passengers always have to open the jetway door themselves as there were several gate agents at the top who never batted an eye when the door alarm went off and never bothered to open the door to begin with.
Once inside the terminal I headed to the food court for some lunch. I was nearly broke so I went to McDonald's. Doesn't that just figure: I fly all the way to New York City just to have lunch at Mickey D's.
After lunch I went to the newsstand and then headed over to gate 1. Apparently there are several gates at La Guardia labeled "Gate 1", and this was Gate 1 in the US Airways terminal. There were two Dash-8's parked there, and a third pulled up while we were waiting. That turned out to be our plane.
US Airways Express flight 4233
Operated by Piedmont Airlines
LGA-ORF Sunday, 23 May 2004
Arrive 2:40pm (scheduled) 2:20pm (actual)
Photo © Radomir Zaric
This Piedmont Dash-8 was in much better condition than the Allegheny birds, and it was very nostalgic seeing the Piedmont logo next to the door. We boarded on time and pushed back on time. And there were no delays getting to the runway so we even took off on time. No turbulence and except for the fact that Dash-8's are the noisiest things I've ever flown, the flight was cramped (100% load) but otherwise enjoyable. We even got pretzels on this one.
The flight to Norfolk was the longest of the four flights during this trip, at just over an hour. It was supposed to take longer but we had good weather and no delays, and landed 20 minutes early. I had a beautiful view of the Chesapeake Bay for most of the flight, and on approach we flew over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and Little Creek Amphibious Base on a straight line for RWY 23. Since I had no need for the baggage claim, I hoofed it back to my car (no shuttle for long-term on-airport parking at ORF ) and was through the tollbooth and on I-64 before the original scheduled arrival time.
Overall, I had no problems with US Airways during this trip, their service on shorthaul is below that of AirTran's (the only existing LCC I've flown so far... R.I.P Eastwind) but the F/A's and pilots were all pleasant, professional, kept everybody well informed, and in general acted like they gave a *^@%& about their passengers and their airline. I realize US Airways' current financial situation precludes them retiring these old DHC's but I really wish they would at least upgrade them to RJs. If I could avoid the Dash-8, I would fly US again without hesitation. If I had to fly the Dash-8 again, I would absolutely invest in some Bose NC headphones.