02. September 2004
Ontario (ONT) - Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX)
Boeing 737-7H4 (WL)
N767SW (2000 model, msn 541)
Photo © Jason Whitebird
Photo © Reinier Munguia
Photo © Brian Casity
Photo © Steve Dreier
At around 08:00 in the morning I was dropped off in front of Terminal 4 of Ontario International Airport. ONT is very busy with Southwest all day and so I had to wait in line for a while. When I was called to a counter I handed over my passport and the female agent smiled and first of all told me that her husband's name was Udo as well. It's amazing again and again how personal check-in can be in the US…while in Europe stoned and automated faces often seem to expect an apology from the passenger for being forced to serve at the counter at all…
Within two minutes I had my boarding pass and entered security. An agent checked passports and decided on which lane you were sent. Of course I was sent to the tightened security lane, including a close body check and a total search of my bag. There must be really something about my hairstyle which is not liked…
I had so much stuff in the bag, including several cans of soda, sandwiches, jelly beans and a cup of pineapples, that the TSA guy had to smile and he said: "Hey, you take all your lunch with you?". "Sure" I replied, "it'll be a long day at Phoenix." Of course I didn't add that I was planning to stay on top of the airport's parking structure in order to WATCH planes!
After being back in my shoes and wearing my belt again I had a look around for registrations. Still pissed about the incident on my flight to LAX I acted discretely once more, I just wasn't in the mood of explaining. At least not so early in the day. I took a seat at my gate and found out that my flight 526 was due to arrive from San Jose. I got some FedEx planes while waiting and the usual Southwest crowd. The terminal is just about four years old and very convenient. ONT is a good alternative to LAX for all those who want to avoid severe traffic or congestion.
Arriving exactly on schedule from SJC, N767SW turned in to the gate. Unfortunately it still carried the old color scheme, but already had winglets mounted. It really fits the -700 well and makes it appear quite sexy, definitely more than the -800.
Only around 40 passengers were boarding the flight, and as expected most of them took a seat in the front and the middle section. I went to the far end and had my window seat in the last row. The interior is nice, with the blue and brown leather seats looking sharp and being very comfortable. There's plenty of legroom due to only 132 seats in the aircraft. Cabin crew was ok, but not as motivated as I remembered and expected it from the "Love airline".
We left the gate slightly late but without any waiting we could turn on the runway and head for Arizona. Take off was powerful and followed by an immediate left turn. FAs soon gave out two bags of Southwest's famous honey roasted and salted peanuts and took orders for drinks. These were then prepared in the galley and brought to the seats.
Since there was only desert visible outside I had a lavatory check and was first a bit confused as I didn't find the lavatory where it is usually located. There was the galley section first attached behind the seat rows, the lavatory is then located on the right side behind the galley installations.
Descent was started soon and without turning much we directly approached PHX. Unfortunately on my side there were just industrial buildings visible while the skyline was on the left. Touchdown was hard and thrust reverse stopped us fast. We quickly taxied to our gate at Terminal 4 and passed Southwest's "Lonestar One" on the way.
After deboarding I didn't try to get many registrations as I preferred to do that once on the parking structure. I first walked around for a while searching for the way out there but then I spotted an elevator along with magic P for parking signs. It showed nine levels and I knew I was right - I chose level 8 and went up. As soon as I left the elevator it took my breath, it was so damn hot out there! I don't know in Celsius, but Fahrenheit temperatures must have hit 110 that day, making it even one of the warmer days for Phoenix. But well, no time for complaining I thought, I had my "mission" and that was LOGBOOK FILLING!
Level 8 turned out to be the perfect place for spotting, giving shade all over from the top level. Since the parking structure is extremely long and wide it's not possible to cover both runways in total, but most of the traffic could be caught. I got the rest by just walking around once in a while. It was windy up there but the wind was so hot that it felt as if you open an oven…
Surprisingly many people parked their cars up there and many of them took notice of me…I expected police to show up all the time but there was none all day. One guy parked his car and after staring at me for five minutes he just asked me if I did plane spotting. He added it would be "a dangerous game in these days"…well, I thought not as dangerous as climbing up rocks or eating killer pretzels…
At 18:30 I had enough from the heat and was just about to go when finally the long awaited cavalry showed up. Two cop cars, one from each side would have made it impossible to me to flee…if I had wanted doing so!
Wearing shorts as part of their uniform btw, they asked me what I was doing there and when I said plane spotting they understood. However they filled a form and said they had to check whenever someone calls in. But they said it was absolutely ok to be up here, no problem at all! They were just surprised hearing that I flew in for the day just for spotting. And they asked: "Did you really spend all day up here, in the heat?" Well, it' s all about training!
02. September 2004
Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) - Ontario (ONT)
America West HP640
Boeing 737-277 (A)
N186AW (1982 model, msn 832)
Economy seat 15D
Photo © Jay Piboontum
Photo © Timothy Keeney
Photo © Kevin E. Cook
Photo © James Richard Covington, Jr
At around 19:00 I approached the America West check-in desks at level 2 and was surprised to find only check-in machines. However, they turned out to be handled very easily, via touchscreens. I entered my booking code and first of all I was offered an upgrade to First Class for 50 USD on the Las Vegas-Ontario leg. Of course I rejected and went on with the processs. It showed my two flights as planned and boarding passes were printed. As already chosen while booking, I had my window seats printed on. Departure time was 20:40 and I went on to my gate. This time I wasn't sent to the tightened security lane. Yeah!
At my gate I sat down and read for a while but unfortunately they had a TV turned on loudly with G.W.Bush's speech at the Rep's convention and I found it quite disturbing, to say it diplomatically. Some people were even applauding at his verbal outcomings, well, must have been the heat that day…
I was getting more excited with every minute as I was hoping to find a special colored B757 being towed to the gate. Chances were not too bad as two regular painted 757s had departed only two hours before. The flight 778 to Vegas was due to arrive from Baltimore and right on time an aircraft showed up - but it was an A320! I was puzzled for some time but then assumed they would let passengers deboard and bring in a 757 later. However, trouble began. An announcement was made that "unfortunately our scheduled aircraft is not available". Damn I thought, so much for the special 757. Thanks, bad luck…And then they added: "But instead canceling the flight we decided to bring in a smaller aircraft to operate the service." Wow, what a miracle…I was starting to wonder about the number of passengers when they said: "There are less seats than passengers booked, so please get in line again and have your boarding passes stamped. Only stamped boarding passes give you access to the aircraft." I was number 100 or so in line and thought I would be on the flight, but then at the counter I got a "not on" mark on the boarding pass. I tried to explain I had a connection at Las Vegas but the two guys just answered: "please wait at the gate, we deal with that later". About 20 passengers in total were rejected boarding and I still don't know which criteria they used for choosing them. There were people in front of me and behind rejected, while others were accepted. Probably related to fares paid, and my 49 USD fare for two flights might haven't been a good argument. Some people were really upset and started arguing and shouting. Then they were seeking volunteers and offered a next day departure to Vegas on Southwest, including a hotel stay and a 300 USD travel voucher. I was thinking about it but it wouldn't have helped me to get to Vegas only, with my final destination being Ontario. I guess it would have been a good choice for Vegas only passengers. I went to another agent and told him about my connection at Vegas and they finally reacted to my request. They had a look on the computer and said there would be seats on the nonstop service to Ontario. They suggested I should just go to the gate and speak up. It seemed it was the only alternative available and quite pissed I went to the other gate. While a very kind female trainee welcomed me, the other agent was not kind at all, just took my boarding passes and didn't react to my rear cabin, window seat request. He just said: row 15, seat D, aisle. That was it…how kind! How about a customer service training at Southwest or jetBlue, guy?
I was really annoyed for being stolen not only one flight but also the option of flying one of their old 757s. Before I took a seat at the gate I had a short look outside and saw a B737 nose and thought "wow, a damn boring -300, what a superb aircraft type!".
But then, in order to get the number on the gear door, my look fell at the engine which appeared very small in diameter…and surprise, it was indeed an old JT8D! The number was N186AW and it was a -200, at least a small, well very small, positive aspect. I then remembered I had seen that type while seeking my flights on the Internet. I could have got it for 29 USD but I decided to take the connection via Las Vegas. Last year I had booked two Ryanair trips just to get the -200 and I almost broke a leg to finally get it in one out of eight flights…and now I got it due to a very stupid coincident. But you can be sure, if I had wanted to get the -200 on America West intentionally, I wouldn't have made it…
The flight was quite well booked, I guess load factor was somewhere around 90%. I was surprised the interior didn't look worn at all, the cloths seats were comfortable, so was leg room. However the seats were really high and didn't give a good view at the aisle. I had never seen this type of seat before.
Boarding seemed to be completed but it took another while until a last group of passengers arrived. About 15 minutes late we left the gate. Taxi was fast and we didn't have to line up. The two good old JT8Ds roared loudly and roll began. And we rolled long, it seemed really long until we finally took off, shaking quite a bit.
Cabin service was started soon, but in contrast to Southwest no peanuts or pretzels or anything else was served. However, they indeed had my all time favorite "Arizona Ice Tea" and America Worst got a positive remark from me. Cabin crew were motivated and cared well about pax. I couldn't see much outside and so I chatted with my seat neighbor for a while.
There was nothing special anymore to report on that flight, and soon descent into Ontario was started. We hit some winds coming down from the San Bernadino Mountains which shook the plane a bit, but not much unfortunately. Approach was straight and touch down quite hard, followed by the "music in my ears" thrust reverse that was just awesome loud.
We taxied to the very last gate at Terminal 4 and deboarding was immediately started.
At the end I was not sure being happy about the day or not. First of all I got lots of numbers at PHX, mostly America Worst, Mesa Airlines and Southwest. The missed B757 and A320 flights really annoyed me, but much more the fact that one flight was stolen and I had paid some 25 USD for nothing. I decided to complain with America West Customer Relations, though I don't really expect anything. But I just have to tell them I'm pissed about one flight being taken away…and not to forget, I will complain about the non caring gate agent and his lack of customer orientation. I know his first name which might help.
At the end, a "normal" passenger would say thanks to America West for dealing well with the problem, flying to the destination nonstop, instead of a connection. And for arriving at ONT two hours earlier than originally scheduled. But hell, I am not a normal passenger!