Tuesday, January 11, 2005
America West Express, flight 6491
Operated by Mesa Airlines
Monterey, California (MRY) to Phoenix, Arizona (PHX)
Photo © Jason Whitebird
Arrived at the airport a few minutes before 0530 with another classmate. There was just one person ahead of us to check in, and the TSA agent checked my bag and passed it to the America West Express counter. I checked in, then waited for the security checkpoint to open as more friends arrived. Once the checkpoint opened, we went through security. I was held up as the screener had seen something in my bag in the x-ray machine, which turned out to be a roll of quarters.
At 0605, boarding started, with all passengers invited to board. We went outside, through gate 3 and out to the waiting aircraft. It had been a rainy night, including the time we were driving to the airport, but it had while the flight boarded.
We were all ready to go, the flight attendant had started her safety demonstration, when the door was reopened. Apparently a few passengers has been elsewhere in the airport and had missed the boarding announcements, and after some discussion were ultimately allowed to board. They got settled, the flight attendant started over with the safety demonstration, and we still managed to pull out of the gate 1 minute early at 0629. The rain had started up again.
We made our way to the end of runway 28L, but then pulled off to the left. A United Express EMB-120 came and passed us, and took off, and then we pulled back towards the runway and stopped again. One of the pilots came on and let us know that we were waiting for air traffic control to release us, which should be in about five minutes. At 0643 we pulled onto the runway and took off; from my seat near the front it was a quiet and smooth liftoff.
Photo © Cameron Bowerman
I looked out the window for a bit, watching the sun rise, and after a few minutes got out my iPod and started listening to music. The flight attendant came around with a beverage service, and I had a glass of cranberry apple juice. It was served stand-alone, with no peanuts, pretzels, or anything else (unless you desire to count the napkin).
I noticed another issue I hadn't noticed before with RJ's, and I don't know yet whether it's just Mesa, the CRJ, or all RJs. The legroom on this aircraft was decent, but the seat bottom cushion was rather short.
When our flight began it's descent, I put away the iPod. As we turned onto our final approach, I saw another aircraft turning for a parallel approach. It was an America West A320, and we stayed pretty much adjacent to each other all the way down to the ground, when I lost sight of it, as we were landing on the south side of the airport, and the Airbus on the north. We touched down on runway 7R at 0859, and six minutes later, at 0905, we pulled into our parking spot on the ramp, nose towards the walkway that connects the four gate concourses on the north side of the Barry Goldwater terminal, home to America West and partners, with Southwest occupying the south side of the terminal. During the taxi, the flight attendant thanked us, on behalf of the Phoenix based crew, for flying America West Express operated by Mesa Air Group.
Photo © Jerry Search
We disembarked, and the valet checked bags were already there waiting for us. I did note that at neither Monterey nor Phoenix was a cart used; the bags were placed directly on the ground. We walked across the ramp and up the stairs that led into the jetway for gate B18.
Our scheduled connection had been tight, at just 30 minutes. The early arrival helped make things a bit more comfortable. Especially seeing as our connecting flight was clear on the other side of the terminal, at gate A19.
America West Airlines, flight 44
Phoenix, Arizona (PHX) to Washington/National, District of Columbia (DCA)
Photo © Josh Akbar
When we got to gate A19, we saw that boarding had not even begun. It wasn't too long before it did, starting at 0927. From where we were standing, we had trouble hearing the announcements. I heard then call preboarding and first class, and after a few minutes I was wondering if we had missed something, so I went to the counter and asked how far along boarding was, and found out they were up to Group 4. I had a Group 2 boarding pass, so got on board and headed to my seat, in the very last row of the aircraft. There was nobody in the middle seat, and one of my classmates in the aisle. In his pre-departure announcement, the Captain told us that we had the "Absolute three finest flight attendants in the entire world."
We pushed back from the gate at 0952, and started our slow taxi to the runway. Notable aircraft I saw included America West's Arizona 757, an America West 737-200 on one of its last days of service, and a Sun Country 737-800. There was a bit of a line to take off on runway 7L, and as we turned onto the runway, I could see that there were plenty more aircraft waiting behind us. I knew PHX was America West's main hub as well as a major focus city for Southwest, but I hadn't realized it was that busy. Finally at 1013 we started our takeoff roll and headed for Washington. Estimated flight time was about 3.5 hours, at 37,000 feet.
Photo © Nathan Zalcman
Photo © Jason Whitebird
Photo © David Mueller
A preview for the in-flight movie, "Taxi" starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon, was shown. The flight attendants then began the beverage service, drinks and peanuts. This was followed closely by the In-Flight Cafe, America West's buy on board meal service. This was my first time on a flight with buy on board. I had the "Turkey Capri" sandwich, and at $5, was pretty comparable to what I'd get in the airport at a higher price. I noticed that they tray tables had ads for the Travel Channel on them, but I didn't find it too obtrusive. It's only on the side that faces up when the table is down, so when it is stowed you don't see it, and it's covered by your meal or laptop. I find it no more offensive than advertising on the tray liners that come with a hot meal service on other airlines.
I watched the movie, as I had little else to do besides listen to music on the iPod and read the America West Magazine. It was amusing, not a bad way to kill a couple of hours on a flight. I wouldn't pay to see it, though. After the movie there were some short features, but I didn't find them all that interesting, so listened to the iPod and read the magazine instead.
About an hour before landing, one of the pilots reminded us about the DCA 30-minute rule, giving us a warning so that we had time to use the facilities. At the appointed time, the rule came into effect and we began our descent. From my window seat, I had an excellent view of the Capital as well as the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson monuments. We touched down on what I think was runway 19 at 1551, and after a short but slow taxi, we blocked into gate 16 and 1555.
Being in the last row, I knew it would be a few minutes before I would be able to disembark, so I waited patiently until I was able to do so. We headed down to baggage claim, where we waited several minutes for our bags to come out. All of the checked bags for our group arrived, and we headed up to take the Metro to our hotel.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
America West Airlines, flight 140
Washington/National, District of Columbia (DCA) to Phoenix, Arizona (PHX)
Photo © Jason Whitebird
We arrived at DCA by Metro at about 1500, and made our way over to the America West ticket counter. The agents were assisting other passengers while the three kiosks were not being used, so I went up to one and checked myself in. After handing my suitcase to the agent, I sat down and waited for the rest of the group to get checked in. Once everyone was done, we headed over to the security checkpoint. The line I went in was pretty short and moved relatively quickly, and I had no trouble this time, having moved that roll of quarters to the suitcase that I checked. Once everyone was through security, we went to gate 16 to await boarding.
This flight is the return segment for the flight 44 we had taken two days earlier. It does not spend much time in DCA at all, as evidenced by the agents announcement that boarding would begin in precisely 16 minutes when the aircraft had not even landed yet. I didn't time him to see if his statement was accurate. The flight was oversold, and they were asking for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for a $300 travel voucher, overnight accommodations, and a seat on a flight Friday morning. I probably would have taken them up on it, but I had other things I needed to do Friday morning and there would be some complications if I didn't get back Thursday night.
Interesting aircraft I saw while waiting included several Spirit MD-80s, AirTran and Midwest 717s, and a US Airways Express Embraer 170. Boarding started at 1607, again by groups. We pushed back at 1639, and as we taxied to runway 19, I noticed Delta MD-90 N916DN had been updated with the new/old angled widget. At 1652 we took off, and the clock started ticking on the 30 minute rule.
Photo © Rafal Szczypek
Photo © Daniel Wojdylo
Photo © Mick Bajcar
Photo © Rafal Szczypek
The flight itself was virtually identical to the outbound flight, with a different movie. This time it was "Mr. 3000" starring Bernie Mac and Angela Bassett. Another movie I wouldn't have paid to see, but wasn't too bad. I was planning to try the Snack Box, which featured Goldfish crackers, potato chips, raisins, Oreo cookies, and and snack sandwich, but they were out by the time they got to my seat in the second-to-last row of the aircraft, so I settled for another Turkey Capri.
The other difference between the flights was the length. Due to being slowed down by air traffic control, the flight dragged on for five hours. Finally, at 1951, we touched down on what I'm pretty sure was runway 25L. This was followed by another very slow taxi to the gate. I'm not sure where America West gets their Airbus pilots from, but I do know it's not Southwest! As we approached the gate, we pulled into the alley between the two concourses that make up Concourse A. I was hoping we would turn left, which would bring us that much closer to the America West Express gates in Concourse B, but no, we turned right. America West was not going to make this easy on us. And this was actually supposed to be our longer connection.
We blocked in at gate A27 at 2003. The flight attendants asked passengers staying in Phoenix to let those of us with tight connections get off first, but this wasn't that helpful since most of the passengers seemed to be connecting. I sent word forward to others in our group to just get over to the connecting gate and not to wait for those of us in the back of the plane.
I got off, checked the monitors to find out what gate my connecting flight was going out of, and started walking quickly, then jogging, continuing to maneuver around other passengers on the moving sidewalk. After the first section of moving sidewalk, I decided it would be easier not to use it, and broke into a full run through the concourse. You can't accuse me of not getting any exercise.
Somehow, one of our group members managed to get a guy driving an electric cart, and we filled it up with Monterey-bound passengers. We filled it up, and as we drove through the concourse, he called the gate to let them know we were coming, and was told by the gate agent he had to close the flight in two minutes.
The gate agent, seemingly not to care whether we actually made it or not, called again and told the driver he was running out of time. By this time we were halfway up the concourse to the gate, and the driver responded that we were 30 seconds away.
America West Express, flight 6138
Operated by Mesa Airlines
Phoenix, Arizona (PHX) to Monterey, California (MRY)
We made it. When we reached gate B14, I hopped off the cart, tipped the driver, and gave my boarding pass to the gate agent. When I got on board, I saw someone was in my seat 3A, I asked him about it and he said he was supposed to be in 3C, the aisle. I said I'd just take the aisle, since I figured it would be easier and quicker than trying to switch around.
The flight attendant did the safety demonstration, we pushed back from the gate, and stopped. The door reopened, and I could hear noises coming from the back of the plane. I later found out that we stopped to allow more bags to arrive, most likely ours from the DCA flight. At 2029, the door was closed up and we started moving again.
Again we had a bit of a wait before finally taking off on runway 25R at 2047. In-flight service was drinks and peanuts. I listened to music on my iPod for most of the flight, as well as talked to one of my classmates sitting right across the aisle from me. Not having time in PHX, I also paid my first visit to the cramped confines of a CRJ lavatory.
Eventually we began our descent, and flew our approach south of Salinas and over the Monterey Peninsula for touchdown on runway 10R at 2120. As we taxied to the terminal, I wondered why the pilot on the previous flight didn't taxi that quickly. We stopped on the ramp at 2123, disembarked, claimed bags, and went home.
As an aside, it's not until tonight as I'm writing this up that I noticed that the MRY-PHX and PHX-MRY flights were the same aircraft.
Overall, my impressions of America West were fine. Nothing exceptional, but certainly no worse than any of the other domestic airlines. I'd fly them again.
The most negative thing was the seeming indifference of the PHX/America West Express agent. Just the tone of voice coming over the radio. He didn't seem willing to hold the plane a couple of minutes to allow 20% of his aircraft (10 passengers on a 50 seat jet) to actually make the flight. America West has just two daily flights to Monterey, a CRJ-900 and a CRJ-200. That's 136 seats a day.
It's not the first time this has happened; my brother once missed an America West Express flight because his inbound flight was waiting for its gate, when he reached the connecting gate, the aircraft was still there but the door was closed. His bag actually made it, but he didn't.
Someone also needs to raise the minimum connecting time at PHX. 30 minutes just doesn't cut it if the planes are operating on schedule, or worse, late, especially if the airline isn't willing to hold the last flight of the day for a few minutes for connecting passengers.
David / ABQ
[Edited 2005-01-19 02:40:34]