Time to travel again – this time to Michigan to stay with some college buddies in a lakehouse they’d borrowed from some friends. My initial plan was to drive, but the prospect of three hours in Friday-afternoon Chicago traffic followed by four hours on I-94 was pretty depressing. I did a quick search and found a very agreeable fare on American, so I was off…
Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Friday, July 23, 2004
After sitting on the Tri-State Tollway for almost an hour en route to ORD, I knew I’d made the right decision by flying. O’Hare seemed almost quiet compared to the disaster unfolding on the expressways outside.
The traffic had held me up, so I was only 40 minutes from departure time when I got off the ATS train at Terminal 3. I was too late to use the automated check-in and so, although I wasn’t checking any luggage, I had to wait in line at the ticket counter to get my boarding pass.
While waiting in line I noticed that work is wrapping up on the ceiling/HVAC replacement project in T3
. The old ceiling tiles have been replaced by a sort of transparent grid system, which makes the terminal look a little like a warehouse. Oh well – at least the horrible scaffolding and construction equipment are almost gone. Once the FACE renovation program is over, the ticket lobby will be almost twice as wide, which will be much nicer for passengers and employees.
I had a pretty crummy day at work, so I used one of my AAdvantage upgrades to jump up to First (it’s only a 45-minute flight but hey, I figured I owed myself the luxury.) I made it through security and arrived at Gate L4
just in time for first-class boarding.
American Airlines Flight 1404
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) – Detroit Metropolitan (DTW)
Departs ORD 6:19pm, arrives DTW 8:39pm
McDonnell-Douglas MD80, seat 5F
Flying time: 35 minutes
I’ve been in the first-class cabin of American’s MD80s before, and I’ll go on record as saying I don’t find the seats comfortable at all. They’re sort of scooped out and don’t give a lot of back support – although I understand American is slowly reinforcing them with extra padding. Fortunately, the adjacent aisle seat (5D) was empty, so I had plenty of room to stretch out and relax.
Parked on stand at Gate L4
, awaiting pushback clearance. The 737 at L6
is headed for Mexico City:
The front-cabin flight attendant was very pleasant – she cracked jokes with the first-class passengers as she took their preflight drink orders. First class was only about half full this evening, and from the looks of things coach was only about half full too.
Happily, we pushed back a full ten minutes early due to the light load. It’s nice when things go smoothly – especially at O’Hare. We taxied out past American’s transatlantic armada, which was parked on Concourse K – 767s to Manchester, Glasgow, Paris and Brussels, and two 777s, both bound for Heathrow.
Winds were out of the north-northeast this evening, so ORD was running takeoffs on 32L, 4L and 9L
(the transatlantic heavies were using 32R, which is closer to Terminal 5 and reduces taxi times). Landings were on 9R
and 4R, although ATC was sneaking the occasional United arrival onto 9L
Taxiing past American’s T3
We joined the queue for 32L – I’ve flown out of ORD maybe a dozen times this year and I’ve taken off on 32L almost every time. We nosed past two United 777s and made our way onto the runway:
Takeoff, passing the two aforementioned United 777s:
Climbing out immediately north of the airport. The field where the American DC10 crashed in 1979 is visible immediately above the trailer park:
We made a fairly sharp right-hand turn after takeoff and I found myself looking back over the ORD property:
Looking southeast towards downtown Chicago:
Our departure route took us almost due north, paralleling the Tri-State Tollway:
We flew almost up to the Wisconsin state line before making a broad turn over Waukegan and heading out over Lake Michigan:
Our cruising altitude on such a short hop would only be 23,000 feet. As we made our way across the lake, the flight attendant came down the aisle to take a second round of drink orders and pass out cashews and pretzels. First-class service on a half-hour flight – they try their best. A hot snack or Bistro bag would have been nice, but it is
a very short flight.
As we crossed the Michigan shoreline, the captain came over the PA to announce the start of our descent into DTW
Michigan was looking good this evening – clear visibility and almost no clouds. We passed north of Grand Rapids before turning slightly southeast and flying almost directly over Lansing. Here’s a shot of the city, with Capital City Airport in view:
From there we turned almost due south, passing by the General Motors proving grounds outside of Milford:
Here’s Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti:
was taking arrivals from the south this evening, so our downwind leg took us almost to the Ohio border before we made the long sweeping turn back to the northeast. Here we are rolling out of the turn onto final, with Lake Erie in the distance:
Short final over Interstate 275…
… and over the fence with Northwest’s World Gateway Terminal passing by us.
Touchdown on runway 4R (Detroit’s longest) was fairly rough, and we used a considerable amount of reverse thrust to slow down in time for our turnoff. Here’s a shot of the tower and Northwest terminal as we turned off the runway:
Alas, our MD80 was heading for the less glamorous Smith Terminal, where a Delta MD80 was parked on Concourse A. I found this a little odd, since Delta’s gates are on Concourse B – can anyone explain this?
The Smith Terminal is a total throwback to the 1960s, which appears to be the last time it was renovated. Still, Arriving passengers descend on escalators to the ground level and walk down the original concourse to get to baggage claim – it’s strange looking out the windows and being on the same level as the aircraft. I met up with my friends in the baggage claim area, and we hit the road for the one-hour drive to the lakehouse.
Detroit Metropolitan Airport
Sunday, July 25, 2004
Sunday mornings must be a busy time at the Smith Terminal – the ticket lobby was packed when I showed up around 11:30am. The lines at the Spirit ticket counter were wrapping all over the lobby – NK
is the biggest carrier in the Smith Terminal now and has Concourse C all to itself.
The security checkpoint for Concourses A and B could use some work – it’s not very big and the lines were creeping along. To make matters worse, the foreign couple in front of me (I believe they were Chinese) was singled out for a through search. They had no idea what was going on, and rather than guide them gently through the procedure, one of Detroit’s cornrowed finest chose to bark at them and hold the rest of the line up. Wonderful.
Departing passengers walk out to the Concourse B rotunda via a connector that was built on top of the original one-story concourse. Along the way, I got a picture of a new-colors United 737 on Concourse A:
This time around, the Concourse B rotunda was packed – America West was sending an A320 to Phoenix on one side, while American had two MD80s going to DFW
and ORD and an Embraer jungle jet heading for LaGuardia on the other. Our flight to Chicago was the first out, and boarding began about twenty-five minutes before our scheduled departure.
American Airlines Flight 1623
Detroit Metropolitan (DTW) – Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
Departs DTW 12:43pm, arrives ORD 12:48pm
McDonnell Douglas MD80, seat 10F
Flying time: 40 minutes
I was sitting in coach this time around – I didn’t have an excuse to upgrade on this leg. Unfortunately, both the aisle and center seat were occupied, so I didn’t have nearly as much space as I did on the outbound.
Sunday flights to ORD are usually pretty full, and this one was no exception. Boarding took the entire twenty-five minutes. Some pax were constantly in and out of their seats during the boarding process, messing with their carry-on luggage and trying to get blankets and pillows. For chrissakes, it’s a 40-minute flight. I’ve never understood why some people insist on dragging all their belongings on board the plane.
We pushed back more or less on schedule and ran a quick engine startup and takeoff checklist. Here’s one of Spirit’s MD80s parked on Concourse C. I have to admit that of all the LCCs, their new color scheme does look pretty nice:
was hopping – from the look of things, we were departing in the middle of one of Northwest’s banks of flights. We joined the procession rolling toward the threshold of 4R and followed a Northwest 757 onto the runway:
Turning onto 4R:
Climbing out with a fantastic view of the Smith Terminal… take a nice long look, since it’s slated to be demolished in the next five years or so:
Over Interstate 94 just north of the airport:
We turned east over Livonia and headed toward Chicago. Here we are over the heart of Detroit’s suburban sprawl:
With such a full cabin, the flight attendants began their drink service as soon as humanly possible. Full cans were not an option today – I asked and was denied (“I’m sorry, I don’t have enough left to give you the whole can.”) At least she was sincere about it.
Our route took us pretty much straight across the bottom half of Michigan, but on a much more southerly track than the outbound flight. The high overcast obscured the view for most of the way, but as we passed Kalamazoo and neared the Lake Michigan shoreline the skies cleared:
In no time at all the engines were throttled back and we started our letdown into Chicago. Our slow descent across the lake seemed to take forever, especially with the drone of the flight attendant reading connecting gate information over the loudspeaker. I could see a heavy aircraft – it looked liked an American 767 or 777 – in the distance, descending from the northeast.
Crossing the Illinois shoreline near Highland Park. I didn’t think Lake Michigan could look so clear!
The weather was beautiful in Chicago this afternoon, and our arrival route gave us a pretty nice tour of Chicago’s north suburbs. Here’s the Palwaukee Airport in Wheeling…
… the Randhurst Shopping Center in Mount Prospect…
… and the Sears Roebuck & Co. headquarters in Hoffman Estates:
Downwind leg took us all the way out to Elgin before we turned onto base:
Leveling out on final over the Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale:
Crossing Interstate 290/355 just south of Schaumburg:
As we came on short final over Wood Dale and Bensenville I could see a United 757 making its approach to 4R alongside us. You can sort of make out the dot in this picture, although it didn’t come out as clear as I had hoped it would:
Finally we passed the cargo area and touched down firmly on runway 9R
Back in Chicago once more… Terminal 5 was relatively empty this time of day, save for two 747s freshly arrived from Seoul and Amsterdam, respectively:
We stopped on stand at Gate H11A right on time – and with the time change, I had only “lost” three minutes in the air!
That’s it for the report. I can’t complain about the service – the flight was really too short for anything substantial. Both flights were on time too, which is a good thing when flying in and out of Chicago. It’s nice to see such a short hop still operated with mainline equipment.
My next scheduled trip is a jaunt home to Dallas in December to see my family for the holidays. Rest assured I’ll figure something else out before then, though! I’m hoping to make it to Montreal or Toronto this fall, and maybe cross the pond to Europe sometime in November. We’ll see… but until then stay tuned!