I needed to set up a meeting about some financial matters that I am involved with, but I had very limited advance notice. I currently live and work in Rockford Illinois. The original plan was to go to Los Angeles for the weekend. I looked up tickets to leave on Friday September 23rd and return Sunday September 25th first the Saturday before. Tickets were about $300 roundtrip on United, so I said I could go to LAX. I was going to fly out of ORD. However when I got around to booking the tickets on Sunday, the United and American nonstops were pricing at over $650 for economy. Since I was paying for this ticket out of my own pocket, I needed to find something less expensive; however I was only booking tickets five days in advance. I then looked at flying other airlines with connections from ORD, but nothing was coming out under $600. Finally I reluctantly looked up flying out of MDW on WN. Well the only fares left on WN were full fare unrestricted tickets. I did find a ticket on Denver’s other airline from MDW to LAX for about $450, which was reasonable, but the timings of the flights weren’t great and on top of that MDW is on the completely wrong side of Chicago to get to from Rockford, so it would be a long drive. I then looked up Midwest Airlines and they were charging about $500 to go from MKE, which was more decent. I was about to book that when I looked at the thread Allegiant To Announce Rockford-LAS On Wednesday (by FATFlyer Sep 14 2005 in Civil Aviation) and noticed that I could fly directly out of Rockford and go into Las Vegas. I have never flown out of RFD before. There aren’t that many flights, and NW charges a lot and has poorly timed flights. I called to try to get my meeting switched to Las Vegas, and it worked. I went to Hooters Air’s website, however they don’t fly the route daily. They fly LAS-RFD on Sundays, which would work for me one way. So I then went to Transmeridian’s website and saw that they fly RFD-LAS on Fridays which would also work for me, and the timings of the flights worked out great. Both airlines are public charter airlines and sell all tickets on a one way basis. So it isn’t a big deal to go on both airlines. I called up both airlines and booked tickets. I tried to reserve a first class ticket on TMA (TransMeridian) and they gave me a first class seat assignment, but told me that I would have to pay an upgrade fee at the airport. I agreed and the total for that leg in first class was $275. I then called up Hooters Air and reserved the return flight for $198. All in all I get to fly out of RFD which is only 10 minutes away from where I work instead of ORD which is 90 miles, and get to save money and fly in first class on one leg. It was a win win win situation especially because I would get to try two new and rare carriers.
Friday September 23rd, 2005
Departs Rockford: 3:35pm (act: 3:45)
Arrives Las Vegas: 5:10pm (act 5:18)
Flight time: 3:20
Equip: MD80 Seat 4F (First Class)
Load Factor: 90%
Photo © Andrew Conville
First of all, all public charter flights require you to reconfirm your flight 24 hours in advance. I felt that this was really weird. I have never flown on a charter flight before, so I wasn’t very familiar with the procedures. I call them up the day before and confirm my flight, and the agent on the other end ran through the airline’s policies. Travel day finally came, and I left my desk at 1:45pm to go to the airport. TMA requires that you check in 60 minutes before a flight and the agent that I confirmed my flight with told me to get to the airport 90 minutes early. I arrived at the airport 95 minutes before my flight. RFD is a nice small little airport. It has five gates, and only a few flights a day. NW is the only scheduled airline to fly in, but there are public charters to various vacation destinations. Parking is ample and free, which is so much nicer than having to go to ORD. ORD is a messy crowded and expensive place to fly in and out of. RFD is quick, simple, easy and laid back. The airport at Rockford is trying to do all it can to get passenger service. The airport is offering rebates for flights to many destinations that are as much as $100 if you fly on NW or other connecting flights. It is amazing what the city is doing to try to get more air service. I highly recommend that anyone in Northern Illinois or Western Chicago suburbs to think about RFD if you have travel plans because it is a nice little airport.
Outside of Rockford International Airport’s Small Passenger
There are a number of UPS and some general aviation flights out of RFD and probably about five passenger flights per day. I went inside the terminal and found a huge line of very well dressed college age men. They were all in line. I then noticed the TMA checkin area and there was a very short line. After waiting no more than three minutes, I went up to the counter. I showed my ID and the agent typed away at her computer. She was wearing a TMA polo shirt. She then asked for my credit card, since the extra upgrade fee had to be added, which was $75. TMA has first class on many of their flights, but does not sell it separately. They offer it as an upgrade at the airport on the day of flight if your plane has it. I didn’t mind the extra $75 so that I wouldn’t have to sit in a narrow seat in the back of the plane. She passed me my boarding pass and told me to go upstairs and through security.
There were a lot of people in security. I noticed that it was the Northern Illinois University football team on its way to Ohio for a game. They were flying on a charter flight. They all had their cards and were dressed in their best. I felt odd since I was just wearing a polo shirt and dockers. I went through security. They didn’t check ID here at all, which I thought was odd. They only looked at the ticket. I put my bag on the belt and made it through with no problem. Security seemed less intense than at most airports. I then walked into the relatively small departure lounge. There was a small stand selling drinks and snacks, and then a nice waiting area. The waiting area at RFD felt more like a lounge, than a terminal. The airport is really trying to get airline service, and is doing all it can. This is the only airport I have seen that has couches just sitting out in the departure area rather than those typical seats.
Overview of RFD’s Departure Lounge
I then walked around a bit because I had some time to kill. It only took about 10 minutes to get to the gate from the time I arrived at the airport. I did a little spotting of the planes that were at the airport. There was a Champion Air 727 for the sports charter, a Hooters Air 737 that just arrived from somewhere and some Ryan planes parked in remote locations.
Hooters Air 737-300
I sat around reading a book for a bit, and then walked towards the gate. They were taking their time at the gate here. None of the personnel at the gate was wearing any TMA apparel or badges, so they were probably outsourced to Swissport or someone else. Finally boarding was started. They preboarded families, minors, and people needing assistance. However they didn’t announce first class, and went straight to the back of economy. I continued to sit as I had no rush to get on the plane anyway since I only had a small bag for this two day trip. One thing disturbed me though when they were boarding. A lot of people were drinking beer in the boarding area (which I thought was unusual), but when boarding started, a number of people tried to bring open containers aboard. Probably about five or six people had to be turned away and told to finish their beer. People were loud and obnoxious in the boarding area. There was a group of twenty people drinking quickly and waiting till the last second to board so that they could finish their beers. I have never seen so much drinking in an airport before.
Our TMA MD-80 waiting for passengers (taken from LAS because of bad window view in RFD)
The plane was in the Ambassadair livery. I finally did board the plane as one of the later people to get on. First class was almost full when I got on. There were 16 seats in four rows on the MD80. I was surprised to see such a large first class cabin, especially on a discount charter carrier that doesn’t advertise having first class. I looked around to see if there were any distinguishing markings from a previous owner, but couldn’t. The MD80 was very clean and looked nice and comfortable although it seemed a little old.
First Class Seat on TMA MD80
I took my leather seat and relaxed for a bit. The rest of the passengers in first class were being very loud, and it was obvious that some had consumed a good deal of liquor before getting on the flight. The last few passengers boarded, and we sat and waited. The captain then came on and introduced himself and said that they were working on some last minute weight and balance calculations and that we would be ready to go shortly. I had a quick chat with my neighbor in 4D and noticed there were no magazines whatsoever. He was a friendly retired man that commuted between Riverside CA and Rockford on this flight and was said to hear that it would be cancelled soon. Finally a gate agent came on and said that we would first have to hear a joke and then we would be allowed to go. She told a stupid airplane joke and left. I guess she was being entertaining and the slightly intoxicated passengers seemed to enjoy it. About half the plane laughed pretty hard, and the other half didn’t get the joke or maybe could not hear the intercom. Finally they pull back the jetbridge and we are ready to go. The plane is pushed back and the flight attendants give the safety demonstration. It was pretty generic, and then we were taxing on our way to the runway. The TMA pilot taxied extremely quickly. Probably faster than I have ever seen a plane go on the ground. We then made it to the runway and were first off since there was no other traffic at all since RFD is pretty much an empty piece of land in a city of 150,000. I am pretty confident that the engines spooled up as I felt us lunging forward, but I couldn’t hear a sound from them. On the ground, the front part of an MD80 is so incredibly silent.
We roared to life and lifted off the runway and made a sweeping right hand turn towards the west and on our way in the late afternoon sun to Sin City. One particularly drunk fifty year old lady with too much make up and that had been denied boarding at first because she was holding a beer bottle was screaming “here we go” “up up and away” and “lift off” through the take off roll which disturbed the first class cabin’s quiet ride on the MD80. We climbed rather quickly and smoothly. There were very few clouds around as it was a nice day. At 10,000ft the captain told flight attendants to do their after take off checks, and the first class flight attendant sprang into action. She was about thirty and quite pleasant. She began taking drink orders and giving out pretzels. They had announced that this flight was to have a “snack”, which to me meant probably a little bit of nourishment, which was good because I was hungry. TMA’s website claims that they serve real food on flights at meal times, so I expected this flight to qualify. However when the flight attendant came to me, she handed me one of those tiny airline pretzel bags. I was quite disappointed to find out that this was our “snack”. I ordered a Pepsi. I think I was the only one in the entire first class cabin though that did not order some form of alcohol. Many people got beer, but there were a number of others that enjoyed rum and coke, as well as other alcoholic drinks. I was just simply amazed at the amount of consumption on this plane. I am used to flying United, which has a rather refined crowd, especially in first class which includes a lot of business travelers, but I think I was the only one on that plane heading to Las Vegas for business instead of gambling and other pleasure. People were wearing ratty old clothes, and drinking heavily. I know some here on Anet complain about people that don’t wear collared shirts and nice clothes in economy let alone first class, but this flight was something else. People were drinking heavily and were in beer stained tshirts and had not showered adequately in first class. It was horrible. These people were not a pleasant group at all to spend time with. I took some pictures during the drink service to occupy some time.
Inflight First Class Cabin
A View of Nebraska
I then started reading more of my book, which on today’s flight was Rich Dad Poor Dad by Kiyosaki about how to be rich. There was no IFE of any type on the flight (unless you count watching drunk people stumble through the aisle). I just read and looked out the window some. The MD80 is a great plane at slow speeds, but the wind noise at high speeds is extremely high. Even though there is little to no engine noise in the front, the wind noise alone makes it louder than a 737NG or A320 in flight. The deafening sound did a good job of covering up the drunken conversations.
All the while, the first class flight attendant as well the others were taking good care of the passengers. I had more pretzels, and the flight attendant kept checking on me. She refilled drinks, and was always coming through the cabin. Her service was extremely attentive without being annoying. The flight attendants on this flight were probably the best flight attendants on any domestic flight I have had. They did a good job of keeping the passengers comfortable and served alcohol enough to the point people were happily drunk, but not destructive. Another nice feature about this plane was that it was spotless. This was a second hand MD80 I believe, but there was no evidence of a previous owner and everything was clean. There were no loose threads or stains. I was quite happy with the plane.
After about an hour they had run out of rum, then vodka and then whiskey. People were consuming, and they liquor supply was running out on the plane. By this point we were flying over the mountains and I zoned in and out of my book. The flight was being pretty uneventful.
A View of the Rockies with a Few Clouds
I started up a conversation with my seatmate again, and casually chatted until we began our decent. During this time the same drunken lady that was screaming from seat 2C earlier was up and helping passengers now get to the lavatory and was pretending that she was a flight attendant. The first class flight attendant did a good job of humoring her while making sure that there was no danger from her actions. If you haven’t realize yet, I think they served a little too much alcohol on this flight and that they should have stopped serving it to people that were intoxicated earlier. However everyone was excited to go to Vegas and was in a good mood, so there were no problems.
The captain came on to announce our decent, but was not very audible. The PA system did not do a good job of competing with the wind noise for attention. We made a smooth decent in to Las Vegas and flew over Lake Mead some. There was almost no turbulence for the entire flight. The plane touched down rather smoothly. As soon as we hit the runway, drunk lady started shouting “show me the money!” again and again all the way to the gate. This got other passengers going too, which by this time was giving me a headache. I needed a big drink myself I think, but couldn’t especially because I was headed to a dinner meeting, so I needed to be focused. We taxied to gate four in the international/charter terminal. This is a special terminal at Las Vegas. All of the scheduled airlines use terminal one which is much larger. It is crowded and there are slot machines everywhere. Terminal two is much smaller and a lot like RFD. It was very convenient. I finally got off that plane and headed outside. I was to be picked up where I would be heading to the JW Marriott. I think I was the only passenger not going to the strip on that plane, but also was one of the few that would be gaining money instead of losing money in Vegas due to my meetings.
Ground Service: 6 (good check in, but shady gate agents)
Service: 5 (only served drinks. I think some food should have been served on a 3 hour flight in first class)
Inflight Crew: 10 (Incredibly attentive and good flight attendants)
IFE: 0 (none whatsoever including no airline magazine)
Comfort: 9 (good for first class domestic)
Cleanliness: 10 (the plane was in perfect shape)
On time: 7 (ten minutes late)
TMA is a nice little airline. They are charter and have different policies, but have good last minute fares. Service could be improved, and newer planes would be nice, but I was very content with what they offered and they were a good value for the price. The biggest problem with them is their clientele is not a very nice bunch to travel with. On the upside the cabin crew were wonderful. They did a great job serving (and are on par with top of the line Asian carriers) and were attentive while not being annoying. They were calm and everything you would want them to be. I was impressed and would consider flying them again! Also smaller airports and terminals can be nicer and more convenient. This is a much different way to fly compared to the regular airlines.
Hooters Air (Operated by Pace Airlines)
Sunday September 25, 2005
Depart: 9:00am (Act: 9:25)
Arrive: 2:11pm (Act: 2:25)
Flight time: 2:30
Equip: 757 Seat 12F
Load Factor 95%
Photo © Andre Quiros
After spending two days and having some successful discussions, I was ready to head back home. I left at 7:00am to get to the airport. Sunday morning traffic in Las Vegas was almost nothing, so I got the airport very quickly. I was very happy that I did not spend any time listening to the clanks of slot machines. I have been to Las Vegas before and am not really interested in the strip stuff that much. It is fun for the first few times in small doses, but it can get very annoying quickly. All the glitz and glamour turns into annoying rowdy crowds and artificial light and color. I went into the terminal, and a man directed me to some agents checking in passengers for Hooters Air and TransMeridian. I was headed to RFD on Hooters Air this time and was excited about the flight. I got a lot of teasing from people that heard I flew Hooters Air. Anyway, there was a very short line and then I got to the counter. I handed over my ID and received my boarding pass. The agents were not affiliated with Hooters air or Pace Airlines, which is who Hooters contracts the flights out with. The boarding pass was on generic paper.
Hooters Air Boarding Pass:
I went upstairs and into security. There was no line, and I showed my ID to the agents. I then got checked and had some secondary bomb screening on my bag. Security in LAS seemed a lot tighter than in RFD. I had an hour before boarding, so I went to get a Cinnabon. I ate in a quiet part of the terminal. There were a few other planes there. An Omni charter headed to HNL, a Hawaiian 763 and a few others. I waited until just before boarding to go to the crowded gate. There were a lot of people waiting, but they were a lot better than the crowd in RFD. These people had already been cleaned out of their money I guess.
Hooters Air 757 (taken from RFD since there was no good view in LAS)
Boarding time came and went and nothing happened. A person with a mental disability walked up and tried to get through the door to the jetbridge, and then got on the PA system trying to find someone, but there were no agents anywhere. Finally some agents came and boarding began at 8:50am. They called preboarding and then began with rows 1-8 and 25 and higher. I sat and waited, but noticed that everyone was just getting on. So I joined the crowd. Only about ten people were waiting for their rows. Everyone just pushed on, which was ok I guess. I walked down the jetway and there were two hooters girls greeting us on it. I then got to the plane and was again greeted by a flight attendant and found my seat after putting my bag in the overhead compartment. The seats were nice on this plane and made of a high quality leather. Though they seemed taller than most airline seats and were higher than the windows, which made looking out the window difficult. I then sat back and watched the rest of boarding.
Passengers Boarding in LAS
Boarding was finally completed and the two hooters girls got on the plane. They came on the PA and greeted us all and then took a seat in the back of the plane. The flight attendants did their normal checks and did their normal things. The flight attendants on this flight were extremely old. Only one was under fifty. It felt like a transpacific flight with all of those grannies. The door was finally shut twenty five minutes late. No coherent reason was given for the delay. The captain came on though and said that they had a problem with getting garbage off the plane, which held us up, though that explanation didn’t really make sense. During boarding the overhead monitors were displaying “LTU International Airlines, Welcome Aboard” and all signs on the plane were in German and English. It was quite obvious who the previous operator of the plane was. At least the seats were new and belonged to Hooters and those are the most important part. The flight attendants did the safety briefing manually despite there being overhead televisions hanging above the aisles.
The engines finally started and we began our taxi. We had an extremely long taxi to get to the active, and the pilots seemed to be going rather slowly. We were number five for takeoff when we made it to the one runway that was being used for take offs that morning. When we got to the runway the engines spooled up and we began our 38 second roll. The climb was pretty smooth as we turned over Lake Mead again before heading towards Rockford. The overhead monitors were now displaying GPS positioning and updates on the plane. I have never seen these on a domestic flight before shown on the main screens. I guess they don’t have any other type of IFE. Nonetheless, it was nice to see our position and know the facts about the flight. We cruised at 649mph relative to ground and at 35,000ft. After we leveled off the captain did a short briefing, and then flight attendants came through the aisles with bags. To my amazement, there was food on the flight. They served warm sausage and cheese biscuits on the flight! I was extremely impressed since I haven’t had hot food in economy on a domestic flight since before 9/11!
Breakfast Came with a Napkin, but no Tray
I ate my biscuit, which was quite good and tasted a lot like the McDonalds ones. I stared out the window some to and noticed the beautiful canyons of Arizona and Nevada.
After my biscuit, I was quite thirsty, which was good because the flight attendants came by with the beverage cart. The four FAs served the food first and then drinks. I had some coffee, and then settled down and read my book. I had forgotten how loud the 757 is, but it wasn’t bad. As for the seat, it was ok. The cushion was nice and it was comfortable, but seat pitch was just adequate. I am 5’11’’ and just was able to fit in with out too much uncomfort. Hooters Air claims they have extra legroom, but this felt no better than the 31’’ pitch in economy on any other airline. The Hooters Girls came by and collected garbage. This was the first I had seen them since boarding. They really only seemed to be there for a gimmick and didn’t do anything for most of the flight. I just sat back and read and took some pictures while checking out the GPS positioning on the screens.
A View of What I Believe is Colorado Springs
Clouds as it Got Bumpy Later on in the Flight
After the service, the flight attendants pretty much disappeared. There were no further services given and they didn’t come checking people very often. The service was no way up to the standard of the TMA flight attendants (even the ones in coach). I just sat in my small seat reading. Fortunately it wasn’t a very long flight as we had a bit of a tail wind. About an hour before landing the Hooters Girls finally returned to the mid cabin area. They came on the PA and announced that they will do some games. They started by offering a Frisbee to the first person to find a picture of Cindy Crawford in the magazine. A man got that instantly, and then the girls asked if we wanted to play bingo. There was some response, so they passed out bingo cards to everyone. We were playing for a lapel pin. They called out the numbers and about 50% of the plane was playing. It was ok entertainment. I lost, but it was ok. Just then we got into some moderate chop and the seatbelt sign came on. The hooters girls apologized and took their seats. That was pretty much it for the “entertainment”. The hooters girls wore their scantily clad outfits. Here is the only picture I could get as they were getting out prizes from the overhead compartment.
Hooter Girl Gets Out Prizes
We began our decent and it was pretty choppy. The grannies came out again and cleaned up the cabin for landing. We made it through some clouds on our way down. I finished off my book and just looked out the window. The plane made a right turn and we were on final approach. The landing was a pretty hard one on the pavement in RFD. The flight attendants thanked us for flying as we taxied to the gate. We came into gate four I believe. As soon as we made it to the gate, the hooters girls rushed up so they could say good bye and sell some tshirts. Apparently the turbulence stopped them from being able to sell the shirts, so they did it in the jetway as we left. I wanted a picture with one of them for fun, but it was too crowded.
I went out of the jetway and down the terminal to my car. I made it out to the parking lot quite quickly and exited the free parking lot on my way home.
Ground Service: 7 (gate agents didn’t show up until late)
Service: 9 (served hot food in economy which was nice, but a tray would have been good rather than a foil wrapped biscuit)
Inflight Crew: 5 (Hooters girls didn’t do much, and the flight attendants were unattentive grannies)
IFE: 5 (hooters girls were some fun, but not really much however at least there was a magazine!)
Comfort: 7 (Generic)
Cleanliness: 9 (clean plane, although a lot of LTU stuff was retained)
On time: 6 (fifteen minutes late)
The Hooters Girls are a gimmick. They don’t really do much at all other than collect trash and occasionally play some games. They only serve as eye candy I guess. I would not go out of my way to fly them again, but the service was decent and fine. The lackluster flight attendants were made up for by the hooters girls. It was fun to try though. Also the food was a nice surprise. I guess the problems though are pretty much with Pace Airlines. I don’t think they are that great. Maybe if Hooters contracted out with TMA or Ryan it would be better.
Thank you for reading my trip report, and I welcome all feedback and comments. I apologize for grammar errors.